on USSR / Russia · travel

Yet Another Attempt at Understanding Moscow

Moscow

Moscow is one of those cities that you either love or hate from the first sight. However, there’s a thin chance that you might get to understand this city with time. It’s my 6th time in Moscow if I’m not mistaken and I still have a long way to go if I want to get to grips with this giant open air museum of Stalinist megalomaniac architecture interspersed with white-washed walls of Medieval monasteries and all sorts of unexpected things.

Moscow

However this time I started my Moscow trip with a visit to a – supposedly – the place to explain the architectural mixed salad that Moscow represents, the Museum of Architecture of Moscow. However the museum proved to be almost void of ANY exhibits! Together with a family of foreigners we searched in vain for anything substantial in that place. But in vain, in vain indeed.

Moscow

The only thing I did like was this underground room with several old grates and doors and stained glass windows lightened up from behind. You might not believe me but the current exhibition was ABSENT (ill?) and the temporary exhibitions were to say the least weird, like the main one with TWO objects on display in an empty very cold ancient room or another one with photo retrospection of some architect’s works in Moscow with no explanation or anything.

Moscow

Meanwhile I learnt for example that there was a plan back in the 18th century to rebuilt Moscow Kremlin into something like a palace with classic columns and galleries, so that it looks more like St Petersburg, the country’s brand new capital back then. This project has never gone beyond an impressive hand-made model (which was on display at the museum) though. I wonder what if it were actually realized? Then it wouldn’t have survived the Soviet era for sure…

Moscow

And talking about the Soviet Moscow, here it is. This is a building housing one of the Post of Russia offices. Full to the ceiling as usual 🙂

Moscow

Having seen so little at the museum, I set off for a stroll from Kremlin to the south of the city, meeting this all squirrels-and-trees building dating back to 1936 which was to house the elite of the Narkomles, the People’s Commissariat for Forest Industry.

Moscow

I guess back in 1936 this house must have been very colourful and really reminding you of a forest… And at the same time you can come across this white masqueron on a perfectly St Pete-like building:

Moscow

I also stumbled upon an open air exhibition of black and white photos made by the Soviet informational agency TASS right in front of its building. It was raining lightly and the rain drops created a special extra effect to the photographs. Like this mysterious Moscow night:

Moscow

Or these Moscow girls happily discussing something on a fine summer day:

Moscow

But the real hit was this brilliant Red Square shot with a special guest of the 4th International Movie Festival of Moscow back in 1965.

Moscow

This mood was enhanced with our visit to a veeery Soviet Moscow place which has relevantly recently been revived and which still preserves the aura of the Soviet intelligentsia having a night out.

Moscow

It’s called Illuzion cinema and it reconstructs the atmosphere of the perfect Stalinist grandeur style with no problem. Why no problem? Then look where this cinema is housed!

Moscow

Yes, it’s one of those famous Stalin’s highrises that determine the look of the official Moscow center. It rises above the Kotelnicheskaya embankment and is known as The House on Kotelnicheskaya.

Moscow

It’s situated right next to Taganka district with the street names reminding you that there settled the potters, the official suppliers of the tsar family. One of the old buildings is decorated with Eisenstein’s portrait. And by the way inside the cinema there are portraits of the most loved Soviet actors as well as the all-star actors from the West. And there are old movies shown non-stop all around like this popular cartoon Kanikuly v Prostokvashino which we all grew up watching.

Moscow

Sit down to a cup of tea and listen to the pianist reworking some famous pieces of music before entering the hall to see some black and white Italian movie with the Soviet dubbing dating back to the 1950s. Chic!

    

Moscow

This is the highrise from the bridge which I took on my last day. It looks as if Moscow was made to be crossed from one end to the other. And people seem to enjoy it – with the convenient road conjunctions and broad avenues… which however do get jammed all the time. And even though there’s metro even more conveniently laid out than the one in St Petersburg (and larger and with a longer history) people still prefer the traffic jams. Well, you know 🙂

Moscow

In Moscow everything looks as if it was made to last. And everything was made to be vast and impressive. Lots of space when you look at Moscow from an avenue and on the other hand it feels so crowded when you get in the metro in the morning. Oh the grand metro stations of Moscow! Not all of them, but those built during the Stalin times were truly made to astonish and leave you speechless – especially in those times in early 1940s when the city was being just on the verge of being replanned and rebuilt to become the capital of the USSR. You know, they say Stalin hated the royal St Petersburg and so his grand capital would be nothing of the kind, of course.

Moscow

Talking about the dimensions of Moscow, here’s one of the places you can reach by metro and which however is about as far from the center as a suburb would be. It’s called Tsaritsyno and it was planned by the same person who had an utopia-like idea to rebuilt Kremlin into a classical palace. His name was Vasily Bazhenov and be sure that he had much more unrealised plans…

Moscow

We did not get much of the sun that day but the place is a very unusual one, recently reconstructed (been in relevant ruins from the middle of the 19th century) and representing several architectural styles all at once. You see, the residence was planned and built and then rebuilt by Bazhenov for Catherine and even after rebuilding it never appealed to the tsarine. So instead of the old military style picked up by Bazhenov (see the bridge above) another castle was built (the one on the previous photo) and the original one destructed. The park is large and there’s everything from people playing volleyball to romanticism-style ruins and mermaid’s arch.

Moscow

My last day in Moscow I made a really long walk across the center starting from that Taganka district which I wanted to visit after we saw it while walking to Illuzion cinema.

Moscow

Apart from several monasteries and churches planted here and there, it’s also full of Stalinist houses as if specially rising there to overdo the ancient Moscow remains.

Moscow

Here you can spot the same House on Kotelnicheskaya:

Moscow

This marvelous street has made me change my mind a bit about Moscow…

Moscow

The sun helped much too =)

Moscow

This small building on the right houses a nice vegetarian cafe where I sampled some thick spicy lentil soup with a thin khachapuri.

Moscow

Again that Stalin’s highrise and the monastery. And another glimpse of old merchant all-wood Moscow:

Moscow

And several meters away is this Soviet giant:

Moscow

And exactly after crossing the bridge this eeehm Soviet constructivist marvel:

Moscow

And after walking quite a bit you’ll find the French embassy:

Moscow

…in this pseudo Moscow style. Well, since it’s IN Moscow, we can call it Moscow style 🙂

Moscow

Walk a bit more along Leninsky Avenue and you’ll get tired from the Soviet architecture in the end:

Moscow

So, this time the Moscow check-list looks like this:

  • decent postcards – failed
  • post office – found but too crowded to be used
  • old town – a lot
  • market – at least three (sampled – fresh white cheese with thyme and super salty brined cheese, though both from Belarus)
  • local history museum – done
  • dairy products and baked stuff – sampled

Special thanks to my sister for taking me all over Moscow and making me feel at home in this huge city (once again fell in love with her oven while baking some Greek pies…).

Moscow

And yes, we did find a local history museum in Moscow which was informative and, well, contained some exhibits 🙂 It’s called Museum of Moscow and I recommend it to you if you travel to Moscow. There among numerous findings and stones and Vasnetsov’s fairy-tale paintings you’ll also see some modern art (which I usually avoid), like this expo which represented modern St Petersburg artists where I spotted this Ivan Tuzov’s glass mosaic called ‘Swan Lake’ (2014) – these are actually policemen in their most recognized Soviet uniform =)

More trips soon! Seems like I’m going to Arkhangelsk once more – after I assured myself that no matter what I would not go there again…

G.

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