Gorky Park

30 Mar 2018

Gorky Park, also known by the somewhat unpronounceable acronym of ‘TsPKiO’, the Central Park of Culture and Leisure, has got the be the best-known park in Russia. For much of the last twenty years it has been somewhat overgrown with the hulking dinosaurs of dodgy rollercoasters and tacky Nineties paraphernalia. But 2011 spelled change for Moscow’s best loved park. It has always been a faithful mirror of its time, so its transformation last year from caterpillar to butterfly says a lot about the new Moscow that is emerging from its chrysalis.

Aristocratic Gorky Park
A scenic route to Gorky Park could start with a wander through the Neskuchny Sad, heading northwest from Leninsky Prospekt metro station into the park’s quieter, more refined half. The pavilions and ornamental bridges of Moscow’s oldest park, the Neskuchny Sad - endearingly translating as the ‘Not Boring Garden’ - tell the story of the very earliest days of this shady slice of land along the river bank. In the good old days of petticoats and Pushkin, the summer palaces of Moscow’s wealthiest nobles were dotted throughout the pristine forest of the Moskva’s sloping banks. With plenty of cash to splash, they shipped in rare plants and wildlife from around the world, grew pineapples and palm trees in orangeries, and built open air theatres where they would gather on summer evenings. Nowadays it remains a quiet haven in the city centre.

The People’s Park
Another way to enter Gorky Park is to cross the bridge from Park Kultury metro station and go through the imposing Soviet entrance gate, whose towering columns bearing hammers and sickles stand out from the leafy park like the ruins of a Greek temple. With the park’s founding in 1928, this was no longer the playground of the rich: a new Soviet vision for a communal space for all citizens to relax, play sport and enjoy exhibitions was being implemented. A few years later in 1932 the finished park was renamed in honour of Soviet writer Maxim Gorky. Slightly surreal, perhaps, for Gorky himself, who was still living at the time; but then, ‘Gorky’ was only his pseudonym, a pen name meaning ‘bitter’ to show his discontent with the quality of life of the working class, which the Gorky Park of the Thirties set out to improve. But by the arrival of perestroika, the city’s beloved green space was already changing with the times; a tangle of fairground rides and small enterprises sprung up like brambles, entrance to the park was no longer free and the park slowly fell into disarray.

The New Gorky Park
In 2011 Russia’s eye was once more drawn to Gorky Park and Sergey Kapkov was commanded to wave a magic wand over it and make the park into somewhere that would attract locals and visitors alike. And abracadabra, it worked. Gone are the cheap attractions and increasingly precarious fairground rides, in their place, a garden to rival the best of city parks in capitals around the world. In a way, Gorky Park is now a little more similar to its Soviet incarnation, with its sports facilities and exhibitions. Only this time round, it’s skateboarding, yoga, and the latest in contemporary art from the ‘Garage’ culture centre.


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