Kitay-gorod - the Historic Moscow District
View Larger Map
Kitay-gorod district is the very center of modern Moscow. In fact, Moscow basically started from there, as the Kitay-gorod was built right after Kremlin. It also was surrounded with a fortification wall, just like Kremlin before, so as you can guess the place was pretty important.
Its name is also interesting, because "Kitay" means "China" in Russian, so you would think it was some kind of Moscow China town, but in reality it had nothing to do with Chinese immigrants. Plus, back then China had a different name in Russian.
The most accepted version is that "Kitay" comes from "Kita" - a bunch of poles that were used in the construction of fortifications. That makes sense, because as I said - Kitay-gorod was second after Kremlin to get protected with a fortress wall.
The construction of the wall started in 1534, during the rule of Elena Glinskaya - a wife of Prince Vasili III who later came to power through a coup. Moscow principality needed protection from attacks back then, and Elena decided to dig a new trench (the old one just wasn't good enough).
The whole population of Moscow participated in that project except maybe the nobility, so everything was finished pretty fast. Hmm, I wonder if it would help today as well?
Anyways, after the trench was finished, it was decided to compliment it with a wall. Elena hired an Italian architect to oversee the works, and in the end the wall came out even tougher than the one that was guarding Kremlin. When it was finished in 1538, it was more than 2.5 kilometers long, had 12 towers and 4 heavy gates. What can I say - too bad that Italian guy isn't working for Moscow government today.
The territory of Kitay-gorod was between Kremlin, Moskva River, Okhotny Ryad and Teatralnaya Square in the north and Lubianka with Staraya Square in the east. It also included Zaryadye district, where the currently demolished Rossiya hotel used to be. By the way, the nearby Moscow metro station with the same name is in fact located on the adjacent territory of the old Bely Gorod (White City).
As I said, there were several gates in the wall around the district - Nikolsky, Ilyinsky, Varvarsky and Kosmodemyansky. The names came from the streets that were adjacent to the gates. Apart from those, there were two more gates - Spassky by Vasilievsky Spusk and Voskresensky right in front of them on the other side of the Red Square.
In the beginning of the 18th century the gates were blocked with stones in fear of the upcoming Swedes attack. After the war, it turned out that it was easier to breach the walls near the gates then to unblock them. So, new gates appeared near the old ones.
Only in the 19th century Muscovites were able to open the old Ilyinsky Gate, but that was not the case with Nikolsky because the newly built church was blocking them. Ahh, that's Russia!
The last breach in the wall of Kitay-gorod was made in 1871, when Tretyakovsky Proezd (Tretyakov Drive) was opened next to Metropol Hotel.
Nothing good happened to the wall after that, as it was nearly completely demolished in 1934 by the Soviet government. That was a tremendous loss for our city, because the wall had a huge cultural value and was a real beauty. Plus, it did it job pretty well back when it was built.
For example, once it helped defend the city against the forces of Tatar Khan, and another time it helped the occupying Poles to defend themselves against the militia of Minin and Pozharsky. Well, the second case doesn't really serve to prove my point, but again - if we're talking strictly about protecting the city, then it was hard to think of something better than the wall.
Although it couldn't help protect Moscow after the introduction of gunpowder and cannons, the Tsars didn't even think about demolishing it. On the contrary, in the end of the 19th century it was seriously restored. Unfortunately, the wall seriously constrained the growth of the Soviet Moscow.
Right now there's only a small piece of Kitay-gorod wall left on Revolution Square in front of Teatralnaya Square and Bolshoi Theatre. You can also see it if you get behind Metropol Hotel, where you can even see Tretyakovsky Gate, the only one that's left. Plus, there's even one of the remained wall towers near them.
In 1960-1970, part of the wall near Kitaygorodsky Proezd was restored. In addition, Iberian Gate ("Voskresenskie Vorota") was restored after Perestroika (next to the State Historical Museum near the Red Square).
That gate was quite important - it served as a main entrance to the Red Square. You see, Tverskaya Street was linked to it, and since the street itself was part of the road to St. Petersburg, all the Russian Tsars passed through it to get to Moscow for their coronation.
Later on, the Iberian Chapel was built near the gate. It was demolished in 1929. The gate itself was demolished in 1931 despite all the effort to save it. The reason was just too serious - it interfered with the military parades on the Red Square. Later on, during the restoration of Iberian Gate, the chapel was restored as well.
There's also one more "restored" tower and a part of the wall on Revolution Square. However, it's actually a dummy built to host a restaurant. You can't confuse it with the real wall - you'll see it's made of modern bricks right away.
In the beginning, Kitay-gorod was a part of Veliky Posad - a central quarter of Moscow where merchants and artisans used to live. Later on, when Dmitry Donskoy decided to expand the Kremlin, part of the quarter was moved to the east, creating a new district.
In 16th century, the nobility started to settle there, which made it a very prestigious place to live. However, at the same time it was also a center of commerce - the famous Gostiny Dvor and trading rows that were later replaced with Moscow GUM all sit in that area.
By the 18th century it became the main commercial district of Moscow, and merchants began slowly regaining their numbers there. In the 19th century, all kinds of commercial buildings appeared in the district, including an exchange, banks and commercial firms. You can still see some of those beautiful buildings if you walk across Ilyinka and its alleys.
In addition, a first Russian printing house was built on Nikolskaya Street - Moscow Print Yard. You could also find a lot of churches, chapels and academies there. Many of them were demolished during the Soviet times, but still - Kitay-gorod surely has a lot to show.
If you get there, just walk around and see for yourself - that place is not historical, it's history itself. There aren't many of those left in modern Moscow, so don't miss your chance to learn about our city's past!