Moscow’s Des Res Districts: (5) East Central & Kitai Gorod
By Ross Hunter, Headmaster ESS Lefortovo; and with data from David Gilmartin, Troika Relocations. Sketches by John Harrison
Editor’s Welcome: The fifth part of our introduction to the best central residential areas hits the most central of all. Do join in and share your opinions: we will incorporate your knowledge, which is vital and welcome. Look back over RK for Chistye Prudy, Taganskaya, Patriarshy Ponds, and Zamoskvorechye. Coming soon: Frunzenskaya, Prospect Mira and The Arbats. – JH
Kitai Gorod – Key Features in Cameo:
A Buzzing, nestled into the heart of Moscow, packed with life and with individuality
B Moscow in miniature – a great way for an expat to feel in the middle of it all
C Full of history, photographer’s and painter’s views: constant but ever changing
D Just a stroll from the centre, but also easy to escape to the green sites along the Yauza
E Noisy round the edges, peaceful inside – a cul-de-sac cloister
F Agreeably hilly, so not ideal for the infirm or immobile
Z1 But: Can be further to a Metro or a daily shop than it ought to be for such a central place
Z2 Short of green spaces or parks – maybe not ideal with a young family.
Kitai Gorod is the most central, oldest, most interesting, most varied and most confusing of all the popular residential areas of Moscow. Kitai = China(town)? An ethnic enclave? No. Kitai also means wall, and as Moscow’s oldest expansion, it enjoyed its own protection, which still exists in parts. There are few residential buildings within this area, having been replaced by retail and administrative functions, but new developments are coming. This lively and varied area has extended eastwards and nowadays runs from almost Red Square, across the Boulevard Ring and towards the Garden Ring by Kurskaya. The river Yauza defines the southern edge, and the area blends into the equally attractive Chistiye Prudy to the north.
There is lots to enjoy, withshops and entertainments full of life, and the city next door. All of Moscow is on your doorstep:Red Square, GUM, Lubyanka, Slavyanskaya Ploschad and the Polytechnical Museum (currently closed for restoration). There are too many interesting buildings & statues to list or even count. Look out for the monks Cyril and Methodius, of eponymous alphabet fame, the Crimean war memorial, the Old English Court museum, all the churches hidden in the civil service quarter, surviving bits of 1920s constructivist architecture which looks surprisingly fresh, and agreeable views of distant Stalin skyscrapers and Kremlin spires when they appear. Moscow’s museum of archaeology is easily missed, hidden beneath the under-renovation Moscow hotel, despite being within a few steps of Zhukov’s horse at the top end of Red Square. Among other exhibits, the museum has a splendid maquette of Moscow in the middle ages. The central street pattern of the Kremlin and surrounds is immediately apparent, and has changed remarkably little. All the buildings have been changed, but their layout has endured. Note that today’s busy Kitagorodsky street is built over a river and one time earth rampart.
As a residential quarter, Kitai Gorod has mixed blessings, but is becoming more popular. As a place to see, a ‘Moscow in miniature’ it is without parallel. The area is steeped in history, and the relatively steep and narrow lanes have helped it resist modernisation. Equally, any stroll along the various art markets at Ismailova or Krimsky Val will show that Kitai Gorod is the most popular subject for painters, once the clichéd views of the Kremlin, Arbat and Venice have been passed by. Kitai Gorod invites exploration on foot, with sketchbook or camera at the ready
Getting away from the bustle is surprisingly easy. Sneak down any side street into blissful quiet. A Sunday stroll is to the tune of the many peals of church bells rhythmically tinkling, bonging or mellowly resounding from their towers. With white painted walls and gilded domes round seemingly every corner, interspersed with trees, dogleg lanes and shops, the whole area exudes rustic charm and tranquillity. Even the monastery is Trappist.
The Moscow side of our area, Staraya Ploschad, is a delightful boulevard, with ample paths and benches, frequently occupied by office workers having a snack or a chat, or students from the several colleges nearby. This, plus the radial roads Maroseyka/Pokrovka and Zabelina at the top and bottom respectively are bustling with shops, restaurants and night life, but is short of daily bakers, grocers or chemists’ shops, for example. Without the pomp or the prices of the city centre, there is a superabundance of opportunities to eat, socialise and shop for fancy goods. This area is rightly recommended for a walk in almost every tourist guide.
Deciding where to live is less simple. There are plenty of apartment buildings of all ages, and most qualities, mostly tucked away in random locations without any obvious pattern or logic. Redevelopment is in progress: this might mean a building site close by. On the other hand, rents are more flexible, and as buildings get completed, there are expanding selections of interesting properties. Views are not guaranteed, but with the hilly terrain, they can be delightful. Choose among pre-revolutionary, art nouveau/style modern, constructivist or Stalin era (maybe we’ll not look too closely at the Khrushchev and Brezhnev era edifices, even while they last, and you can find buildings done up or ready for the treatment. There are plenty to choose from, close to the Yauza, either side of the Boulevard ring or getting towards the Garden Ring. Avoid the last named itself, as the traffic is ghastly, and Kurskaya is throbbing with ‘life’, especially at night – like many main railway termini, well worth avoiding.
Nearby? If you like this area but can’t find what you want, Chistye Prudy, Taganska and Zamoskvarechye all have their own charms and attraction.