Kitay-gorod

In fact, Kitay-gorod is the first big expansion of Moscow. It was initially a haven for merchants who were ordered out of the Moscow Kremlin due to the chaos and fires they had been causing.

The origin of the name “Kitay-gorod”

The name Kitay-gorod can be literally translated as “China town”. However, this place has nothing to do with the Chinese. The word “Kitai” originated in the language of a people living on the territory of Russia. It just means a “wall”.

After the new district of Moscow – Kitay-gorod – had been formed, people replaced its wooden pale with a stone wall to protect this trading quarter.

The trading quarter

At first Kitay-gorod had no wall. It was a settlement of merchants and handicraft workers which fulfilled the same function as in any other medieval fortress – it protected the Kremlin from sudden attacks.

Apollinary Vasnetsov. At the junction in Kitay-gorod (a junction is the same as a crossroad)

In fact, the Moscow Kremlin repaid the trading quarter by providing patronage and even protection against constant raids from both East and West.

Kitay-gorod gradually expanded. Merchants replaced their temporary counters with permanent stalls.

These trading rows were being improved and finally turned into whole trading streets.

As a rule, trading stalls were built on hills to present goods in a favorable light and keep them away from damp ground.

Once the Kitay-gorod defensive wall was built, this district of Moscow became extremely popular among traders and citizens. Common handicraft workers could not afford to live in Kitay-gorod anymore.

Vasnetsov

Apollinary Vasnetsov. Near the Varvarka Gate in Kitay-gorod 

Boyars (the noble man of that epoch) built their chambers, i.e. places of residence, in Kitay-gorod since they could not afford to live inside the Kremlin which was called the Tsar’s Court.

Today’s Kitay-gorod

Nowadays most buildings in Kitay-gorod are given to governmental organizations from well-known ones, like the Administration of the President of the Russian Federation, to those of little notice.

In 1917, the political system in Russia was changed, and the Soviet government nationalized most of the buildings that belonged to individuals and religious organizations.

Only the Upper Trading Rows (currently GUM, Glavnyi Universalnyi Magazin, which is literally the main department store in Russia) preserved their trading functions.

Three major streets of Kitay-gorod

There are three major streets of Kitay-gorod which have survived to this day, including Varvarka, Ilyinka and Nikolskaya. While walking along these oldest streets of Moscow you can feel their historical background.

Varvarka Street is rich in churches; Nikolskaya Street is full of restaurants (one of its alleys – Tretyakovsky Proyezd – is known as the most expensive trading street in Moscow); Ilyinka Street is famous for its numerous ministries and state organizations.

A stroll along Kitay-gorod

Along with the Kremlin, Kitay-gorod is a great representation of the history of Moscow and Russia. A stroll along the popular streets of Kitay-gorod is an interesting experience. However, some of them can lead to a dead end as the territory of state organizations is often not limited by mere walls of their buildings.

The remnants of the Kitay-gorod defensive wall

The Kitay-gorod defensive wall was built in conformity with all the requirements of that time. It was relatively low, but had prominent width and special niches for fortress cannons.

All in all, this fortification was made to endure a prolonged artillery siege.

Later the Kitay-gorod wall lost its defensive function and became neglected.

Tramps made the wall their home and covered it with garbage.

As the Russian capital was rapidly expanding, it suffered from overpopulation and the lack of public transport.

Old defensive constructions were demolished; new streets and boulevards were built in their place. Thus, the Kitay-gorod wall was replaced with new roads, while the Belogorod wall (the third expansion of Moscow following Kitay-gorod) gave way to the famous Boulevard Ring. The Garden Ring (the fourth expansion of Moscow) changed the walls of Zemlyanoy Gorod (literally, earthworks town).

The remnants of the Kitay-gorod defensive wall can be seen near the Varvarka Gate where Varvarka Street ends in Varvarka Gate Square close to the metro station “Kitay-gorod”.

For instance, you can see the setting of the Varvarka Gate towers while crossing the underground walkway.

1 Kitay-gorod defensive wall

A fragment of the Kitay-gorod defensive wall on Varvarka Gate Square

2 Kitay-gorod defensive wall

A fragment of the Kitay-gorod defensive wall on Varvarka Gate Square

The Resurrection Gate of Kitay-gorod that has two towers (this restored gate leads to Red Square) is situated near the State Historical Museum.

Gate

The Resurrection Gate is located to the right of the State Historical Museum. George M. Groutas (CC BY 2.0)

Kitay-gorod is one of the best places in Moscow to get acquainted with its old architecture and feel a breath of the past.

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