Moscow's historic slum quarterThe winding, hilly streets east of Kitai-Gorod metro station are full of beautiful churches and history. An hour or so spent strolling through them will uncover the former homes of painters, generals and diplomats, the hospital where thousands of 19th century orphans lived and the convent where a princess and a murderess were imprisoned.
Follow the signs out of the metro toward Ulitsa Solyanka, the first part of the ancient road east to Vladimir. The name of this road comes from the old "Salt Court" at No. 1, where salt was processed and sold until 1733. There is now a huge, grey art nouveau apartment block on the site. Beyond it, the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin is shrouded in restorer's nets and scaffolding. The early neoclassical architect, Karl Blank built the nearby orphanage, the gate of which is opposite the church, framed by sculptures of Charity and Education. Catherine the Great gave 100,000 roubles to the "Foundling Hospital" and particular attention was paid to girls' education. The hospital's Ballet School was the first in Russia and went on to supply ballerinas to the Bolshoi Theatre.
Several buildings on this road survive from the 19th century, like the pink and white columned Court of Wards and the house on the corner of the road as it turns towards the Yauza River. There is a great view from this corner of the Kotelnicheskaya apartment block, one of Stalin's seven skyscrapers. Turn left, following the tram lines up the hill along Yauzsky Bulvar. Take a detour into Petropavlovsky Pereulok to visit the red and white Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. Built in 1700, there are some interesting 18th century icons inside and a little garden at the back.
On the corner of Podkolokolny Pereulok, you reach a 1930s apartment block with statues outside. In the courtyard through the monumental arch, you will find an 18th century mansion. From 1812, this house belonged to General Nikolai Khitrovo, who gave his name to the whole area. The college round the corner at 11a Podkolokolny Pereulok stands on the site of the old Khitrovka market, the most notorious slum area in 19th century Moscow. Stanislavsky sent his actors here as preparation for staging Gorky's play "The Lower Depths". Tolstoy was horrified by the "mass of destitute degenerate humanity" and wrote his essay "What Must We Do?" The Don-Stroi building company is planning an eight-storey office block on the site and the historic area is at risk from developers.
Turning right up Khitrovsky Pereulok, you reach another great little church: The 17th century "Three Holy Hierarchs" at No. 4/6, with its painted gables, wood-tiled domes and tent-roofed belfry. Turn left around the church. The orange mansion at the end of the road was originally built in the 17th century, but has been rebuilt numerous times. It once belonged to Boyar Vasily Shuisky who was tsar in the 1600s.
Turn right and right again to reach the ornate white gates of a turquoise mansion, which used to belong to the Morozov family. This powerful dynasty of old believer merchants had a crucial impact on the artistic life of 19th century Moscow. Savva Morozov funded the Moscow Art Theatre while his brother, Sergei, who lived here, sponsored the Museum of Folk Art. The playwright, Chekhov, and the opera singer, Chaliapin, were frequent visitors. The garden fence obscures the view of the studio in the garden, which Sergei Morozov gave to the painter, Isaac Levitan. Levitan painted some of his best-loved pictures here, including "Golden Autumn".
Turn left after the gates along a little lane passing the late 19th century mansion. Go on until you emerge onto Khokhlovsky Pereulok near the salmon pink Trinity Church, built in 1696 in a restrained baroque style. The cherub-design tiles round the tower are the work of Peter the Great's master ceramicist, Stepan Polubes. Walk left around the outside of the church and follow Khokhlovsky Pereulok, named after the 17th century Ukrainian fashion of leaving a long lock of hair or "khokhol" on their otherwise shaven heads. A famous Ukrainian diplomat, Emilian Ukraintsev, lived in the red-windowed house at No. 7.
The lovely, whitewashed "Vladimir in the Old Garden" with its layers of gables stands opposite a convent at the end of the road. The church dates from 1600 and takes its name from the imperial orchards that used to grow on this hill.
The Ivanovsky Convent was founded in the 16th century by the wife of Tsar Vasily III to celebrate the birth of her son, the future Ivan the Terrible. It became effectively a prison for inconvenient or insane noblewomen, including Princess Tarakanova (daughter of Empress Elizabeth and Count Razumovsky) and the infamous Darya Saltykova. Saltykova murdered 138 serfs, mostly girls whom she beat to death for real or imagined faults in their housework. In the 19th century, the nunnery became a widows' refuge and new buildings were added. The main St. Elizabeth church, built in the neo-classical style, is still being restored and is worth visiting, if only for the contrast with the other churches in the area.
There is little bakery/tea shop outside the monastery gates where you could get refreshments before turning left down Ulitsa Zabelina back to Kitai-Gorod metro station. There are lots more cafes near the station.
Landmark of the week
Sculptures on Yauzsky Bulvar outside block No. 2/16
The figures outside Ilya Golosov's apartment building are prime examples of the 1930s socialist realist style. The soldier and armed peasant woman are the work of sculptor Alexei Zelensky. Zelensky also contributed to sculptural elements of the metro, including the bas relief frieze of Red Army soldiers at Novokuznetskaya and the revolutionary worker outside Krasnopresnenskaya.