Boulevard Ring

06 Jun 2017

Originally, Moscow’s centre was known as the White City. The origins of this name are unknown, but a popular theory suggests that it came from the lime which coloured its buildings. Comprising the heart of Russia’s capital, it was surrounded by defensive walls dating from the sixteenth century. Fortified towers, known as gates, were spaced around these walls, and lend their names to many of the boulevards today. As the city grew, however, these fortifications began to lose their defensive significance. The eighteenth century saw particularly rapid growth, and the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw the White City’s walls demolished to be replaced by boulevards. Some boulevards were built following 1812, when the four-day fire that ravaged Moscow is estimated to have destroyed three-quarters of the city’s buildings, which included parts of the city walls. Although this appears to have been largely accidental, the fire was started in the confusion accompanying Napoleon and the French army’s occupation of Moscow.
As well as a slightly turbulent birth, the boulevards have been the site of political protest; the largest in recent years were the mass rallies following 2011’s state elections and the Occupy Abay camp in May 2012, which saw thousands of people attend. Their pleasant aspect, however, gives little sense of this historical unease. Trees sway green overhead, striking sculptures and monuments are to be seen at every corner, and the boulevards are altogether an appealing place to spend an afternoon – without even touching on the many restaurants, cafés and attractions which line their streets.
Taking an anti-clockwise path around the boulevards is to begin at Yauzsky Boulevard. Planted with linden trees and away from busy roads, this is the most secluded of all the boulevards, but no less beautiful for it! It was constructed in 1824, and its quiet neighbourhood makes for a relaxing stroll.
The next boulevard is Pokrovsky Boulevard. Much more lively, this is the youngest member of the Boulevard Ring. Previously the site of a barracks, space was made for a boulevard in 1954 and Pokrovsky joined the ring. The barracks still remain, and can be seen from the boulevard; although they, like many other buildings, were destroyed in the fire of 1812, they were reconstructed shortly afterwards. Here can also be seen the Iranian embassy – in the 1960s façade of number 7 – and a monument to N. G. Chernyshevsky, a Russian philosopher who was a proponent of rational egoism and new humanism, and spent over 20 years of his life in penal servitude for his ideas. A little more cheerily, Pokrovsky Boulevard is home to the cosy and hip Microbe bar (at no. 6/20) which will allow you to drown any philosophical sorrows in style. It also has occasional live music and serves food, including vegetarian options.
Chistoprudny Boulevard is next. This name means “clean ponds”, and has rather unsavoury origins; in 1703, the land was bought by one A. D. Menshikov, who wished to create the pleasant boulevard we see today. However, there was one slight problem – the water was entirely contaminated with trade waste from the longstanding butchers’ businesses centred around the adjacent street. Menshikov commissioned a dramatic clean-up operation, and henceforth the area was known as “clean ponds”. It is now a home to ducks and swans, and a popular green space. In the winter the frozen pond is used as a skating rink. Many of Moscow’s aristocracy lived in and around this area, and their mansions line the boulevard today. Particularly notable is number 14, a stunning example of Moscow Art Nouveau, built in 1908-1909 and featuring mythical creatures sprawled over almost the whole of its façade.


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