Today: March 13, 2007

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Main | Archive | Issue 1/2007

Ilyinka: A Bank on the Left, Another on the Right
Column: Foot-Loose in Moscow

There is an old road in the very center of Moscow. It used to lead from the Kremlin to the villages of Semyonovskoye, Preobrazhenskoye, Izmailovo and Rubtsovo which were closely connected with the tsars court. In our day this road is divided into three streets Ilyinka, Maroseika and Pokrovka. Today we shall walk along Ilyinka.

There are no apartment houses on this street, and by night it is deserted and dark. But back in the mid-19th century it was one of the liveliest streets in Moscow, with brisk trade and numerous pubs on both sides.

By the end of the 19th century, traders began to be ousted from Ilyinka by financial institutions. In place of the old-fashioned shops, buildings of banks, exchanges and trade offices designed by famous architects were erected. Journalists nicknamed Ilyinka Moscow City, and it has remained so to this day.

The first building on the left side of Ilyinka is the State Department Store (GUM), which before the 1917 revolution was called the Upper Trade Stalls (1890-1893, architect A. Pomerantsev, member of the Academy). The Smaller section of GUM (3, Ilyinka), also built in a neo-Russian style, is separated from the main section by Vetoshny Lane, where vetoshka textiles - expensive cloth for making shirts worn by rich people- used to be sold. Then comes a number of dilapidated buildings which used to be part of the Tyopliye Stalls (1864-1869, architect A. Nikitin). Their shops were heated in winter and were the envy of the shop-owners nearby. It is there that the Church of Ilia the Prophet of the Novgorod town church (the 16th-20th centuries) stands. It is what remains of the Ilyinsky Monastery closed back in 1626 that gave the name to the street. The church is still in ruins, but restoration work is underway now, and services are already being conducted in a small section with a cross. The five-story building at 5 Ilyinka is the former town church of the Trinity-Sergius Lavra (Monastery) (1876, architect P. Skomoroshenko), which was one of the tallest buildings in Moscow at one time. The monastery rented it out. There were storehouses, offices and apartments in it, and on its first floor was the posh Novotroitsky pub frequented by merchants and brokers since the Exchange was nearby.

On the right side of Ilyinka there is a huge building (No. 2) similar to GUM in architecture. These are the Middle Trade Stalls (1894, architect R. Klein). In 1918 this was the building of the Revolutionary Military Council headed by Leon Trotsky. After the archaeological work now being done, the building will be restored. Building No. 4, the Old Gostiny Dvor (Inn), which has been restored, stretches for the entire block between Khrustalny and Rybny lanes. It was designed by J. Quarenghi in 1791, and completed in 1805. Along its faade there were two tiers of open galleries with arcades where there were shops, big and small. After the great fire in Moscow in 1812 the building was restored by Osip Beauvais who united its four parts into a single ensemble. It used to be the main center of wholesale trade in Russia with storehouses, offices and inns for merchants. In Soviet times there were dozens of small offices and departments there which paid virtually no attention to the maintenance of the building and it became very rundown. In the late 1990s it took much money and effort for the municipal authorities to reconstruct the Old Gostiny Dvor, but they managed to preserve its historical image while meeting modern requirements. Today, like in the old days, there are boutiques and restaurants in the arcades and the interior is roofed with a glass cupola and has been turned into a huge viewing hall where trade and industrial fairs, exhibitions and congresses are held.

Now were back again on the Birzhevaya (Exchange) Square (1782, architect I. Starov) with the already mentioned former town church of the Trinity-Sergius Lavra and, after crossing a lane, we see the former town church of the St.Joseph Volokolamsky Monastery (No.7), which was built in the Slav-Byzantine style (1883, architect A. Kaminsky). In the lane to the left there is a five-story building with glazed tiles on its faade-it used to be the bank that belonged to the Ryabushinsky family (1903, architect F. Shekhtel). On the other side of the street is a small building in neoclassical style, also designed by A. Kaminsky-the Stock Exchange (No. 6). It gave the name to the square. It now houses the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation.

Further on, Ilyinka fully justifies its nickname Moscow City. As one character in Ostrovskys play said, You go along Ilyinka and see a bank on the left, and another bank on the right. Two heavy-looking buildings in neoclassical style have street number 9-the former St.Petersburg Bank (1911, architect A. Erichson) and former Azov-Donetsk Bank (1912, architect A. Zeligson). Their size and intricate and expensive facades were designed to emphasize the power of Russian financial capital and instill trust in investors and shareholders. Its quite logical that at present both buildings house the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation. Building No. 11 was designed by architect V. Mayat in the constructivist style in the late 1920s for the Moscow construction department. The plain building No. 13 houses the Ministry of Taxes and Fees. There is only a small lawn where a magnificent monument of the Russian baroque of the 17th century used to stand-the Church of St. Nicholas of the Big Cross that was torn down in 1933. Two impressive houses (Nos. 21 and 23) built by architect I. Rerberg in 1910-1911 for the Northern Insurance Society are at the end of the street. A tower with a clock and dome crowns No. 23 and the facades of both buildings are decorated with reliefs, vases and medallions.

On the right side of the street, up to Novaya Square there are pompous, richly decorated buildings with caryatids, towers, vases, and what not (Nos. 8-14), which used to belong to long-forgotten banks. In Soviet times they housed different departments and sections of the CC CPSU. Building No. 12 is now the seat of the Administration of the President of Russia.

We now come to Novaya Square. Until 1934 Ilyinka ended there right at the Ilyinskiye Gate of Kitai-gorod, with a tower and narrow archway. At the end of the Ilyinsky Gardens bordering on the square there is a chapel built in honor of the Russian grenadiers who fell in the battle at Plevna for the liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman yoke on November 28, 1877. The money to erect the chapel was raised by the participants in the battle who remained alive (1877, architect V. Shervud). There is a small altar with lit candles inside the chapel. This monument is taken care of by Muscovites and members of the staff of the Bulgarian Embassy. To the left is the narrow street Maroseika, where we shall go next time.

Oleg Torchinsky.
Drawings by Yevgeni Matsiyevsky.


-, 2006