For many centuries, Moscow has been a city of books: great writers lived here and great libraries and Universities were founded here. Moscow's first printed book was produced on Nikolskaya Ulitsa in the sixteenth century. The first Higher Education Academy was set up nearby a century later and numbered the renaissance man, Mikhail Lomonosov, among its students. Lomonosov in turn founded the Moscow State University in 1755. The Empress Elizabeth issued the decree ordering its creation on January 25th which has been celebrated ever since as "Students Day" or "Tatiana Day". In the spirit of academic celebration, this walk visits museums and book shops, printing houses and writer's rooms. You can also have lunch with the students in the University canteen or downstairs in one of Moscow's oldest bookstores. The "Book Museum" inside the Biblioteka Imeni Lenina is a great place to start. The Russian State Library began in the nearby Pashkov House in 1862. The present Soviet-era building is suitably grand and serious with storage space for 36 million books. Go through the imposing collonade, away from the main road and the monumental statue of Dostoevsky reading, through a wooden door with a carved surround, and up to the fourth floor. The exhibits focus on the book-as-artefact and include original copies of "The Apostle", that first book printed in Moscow. There are also beautiful engravings, huge silver-bound tomes and tiny thumbnail-sized collections of aphorisms. The museum is open 10-5, Mon-Sat and admission is free.
The Moscow State University still has some faculties in the neoclassical buildings further along Ulitsa Mokhovaya behind a statue of Lomonosov. The next building, on the other side of the church, houses the Institute of Asian and African Studies and the "Stolovaya". This canteen is open to the public and serves cheap and reasonable food every weekday from 10am to 6pm and from 10-3 on Saturdays. Although students pay even less, the 150 ruble set lunch is a fantastic bargain, especially considering the central location and the new tent-like dining hall with paintings of the MGU campus.
Go on, past the Geological Museum and the National Hotel, and turn left up Tverskaya. From the Yermolova Theatre you can get cheap tickets for classic comedies or a marathon romantic drama about the life of Pushkin, before crossing under the perekhod to Kamergersky Pereulok with its statue of Chekhov and the famous Moscow Arts' Theatre. Here you will find an old-fashioned medical bookshop with old surgical tools and a skeleton. The shop has been there for seventy years and has an album under the counter bulging with letters and postcards from grateful students around the world. One of the pedagogical branches of the prolific Dom Khigi is at the end of the road with a further branch straight on across Bolshaya Dmitrovskaya, opposite an Art Nouveau house with a mural of a falcon. This venerable children's book shop has chandaliers and paintings of famous Russian authors.
Cross over two more roads, heading in the same direction, to reach pedestrianised Kuznetsky Most. The wonderful "Atlas" map shop is here, along with an antiquarian bookstore and Dom Knigi's "House of Foreign Books", which has a great selection of fiction and non-fiction in the wood-panelled interior. Turn right into Rozhdestvenka and right again into Pushechnaya Ulitsa. Past Moo Moo and a Sushi bar, an unpromising door advertising a travel agents at number 7/5 leads to the Ex Libris Museum on the second floor. Open 10-6 Monday to Friday, this is another hidden treasure trove of unusual books, etched illustrations and artistic book-plates. Admission is free. Go back to Ulitsa Rozhdestvenka, turn right and cross under Teatralny Proezd. The statue on the far side, in front of the Mazerati show room, is Ivan Fyodorov, the printer who produced that first book in 1564.
The printing house where Ivan Fyodorov worked was on Nikolskaya Ulitsa which is through the huge archway to the right of his statue, and along Tretyakovsky Proezd. Looking right along the shop-lined street, you can see the ornate pillars of the white and turquoise Synodal printing house which has replaced the older workshop. If you go to have a look at the building, which still has the print yard's lion and unicorn motif above the door, you will also pass the site of the Slavyanskiy Bazaar where Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko were dining when they planned the foundation of the Moscow Arts' Theatre. A little further on, a church in a dilapidated courtyard, is all that is left of the Zaikonospassky Monastery. This was where the Slavo-Greco-Latin Academy was established, where Lomonosov studied. Walk all the way back along Nikoslkaya Ulitsa, past the archway you arrived through, to the underpass under the road junction at Lubyanka. On the way, you pass Bolshoi Cherkassky Pereulok on your right. If you are particularly interested in French books, you should definitely check out "Pangloss", hidden in the courtyard at number 13/14, building 4 (Mon-Sat, 10-7).
The experimental poet, artist and playwright, Vladimir Mayakovsky, lived and died in a tiny room in the apartment block at 3/6 Lubyansky Proezd, on the far side of Lubyanskaya Ploschad. The whole block has been made into a museum (10-5, Fri-Tues 50/90 rubles for residents/foreigners) which is well worth visiting even if you have no interest in avant garde poetry. The (literally) iconoclastic exhibits use surreal and distorted installations to represent aspects of Mayakovsky's life and work. The entrance, near a sculpture of the poet's head, is through a funky bookshop at the start of Myasnitskaya Ulitsa.
The Biblio Globus book shop next door is one of Moscow's bigget, oldest and most crowded. It has an excellent selection of books about Moscow on the way downstairs. In the basement the "Literary Cafe" serves business lunches. Lubyanka Metro station is very close by, but there is one more literary landmark in the vicinity. A little further along Myasnitskaya Ulitsa, the bright blue rococo mansion at number 7. The nineteenth century archeologist, Chertkov, compiled a huge collection of books here, which later formed the foundation of the Russian State Library. Visitors included Pushkin, Tolstoy and Gogol.
The exhibits in the Book museum are diverse, from papyrus and quills to seashell-encrusted mock-maritime journals. The most appealing museum on the route is probably Mayakovsky's house whose surreal exhibits and spiral ramps appeal to the whole family.
Another place along the route that is worth a look is the Mkhat museum inside the theatre building on Kamergersky Pereulok with its collections of elabourate costumes and wonderful doll's house-like set designs.