Kitay-Gorod, Part II

The lower part of Kitay-Gorod situated next to Moscow River was a living area mainly for poor people. Floods were a frequent event. The first port could be found there. Two storey houses dominated, with shops in the first floor, and apartments in the 2nd one.


Il’inka Street (ильинка ул.) was the place to negotiate and close financial deals. Street hosted several hostels for merchants. Most hostels belonged to Moscow monasteries. Pictured above is such building that once hosted such a monastery hostel. The former stock exchange was located at Birzhevaya square (Биржевая пл.).


Nikol’skaya ul. (Никольцкая ул.), today the most vibrant and fancy part of Kitay-Gorod was the area for academic purposes back then. Bookshops and printing presses could be found there.


In the area around Varvarka Street there was also an Open Market Space with several small lanes designated to particular good. In Rybny lane (russ. Рыбныи переулок), which still exist today (pictured) one could get seafood for instance.

Nowadays Il’inka Stree (ильинка ул.) is home to several financial state institutions. You can spot the front of the Federal Ministry of Finance, for instance. Passing by HSE’s Political Science Department (also very important) the Constitutional court can be recognized by its impressive clock (though not by an informative label such as mounted on the Ministry of Finance).


In current Moscow terms, Kitay-Gorod is quite small. At the height of Kitay-Gorod Metro Station there were closing wall and gate. Lubyanskaya square (Лубянская пл.), and also Myasnitskaya Street (Мясницкая ул.) were and are not part of Kitay-Gorod.



Kitay-Gorod, Part I

Today, Anna Lapidus and Narina Dadayan from the Higher School of Economics delivered a splendid walking tour through one of the oldest parts of Moscow: Kitay-Gorod.


Russia history is complex and multifaceted (too multifaceted for Google’s algorithms; typing Китай-город into Google Translate yields ‚China Town‘ – a translation that is at least misleading. Kitay-Gorod has neither strings attached to China nor anything in common with similarly named districts common in North American cities). There are two sense making explanations for the name. The first one is that Kitay derives from the old Russian word кита, fence; the district of wooden fence. The settlement of Moscow was founded in 1147, with the Kremlin at its centre. Kitay gorod is the area that was constructed next to the Kremlin and fortified with wooden fences.


The second potential explanation refers to the Italian word città, town or city. Italian architects designed large parts of the Kremlin’s architecture in the 15th and 16th century.


The former explanation is the more popular one. The latter one makes more sense, at least to me.


The district of Kitay-Gorod was and is still composed of three main roads: Nikol’skaya ul. (Никольцкая ул.), Il’inka ul. (ильинка ул.), and Varvarka Street (Варварка ул.). Varvarka Street was the religious street. Several churches have been located there. The first Romanov tsar was born in one of the houses located in Varvarka Street. Literally the Russian word Варвар comes from Barbars. Back then all foreigner that did not speak Russian were entitled to be called Barbars. So Varvarka Street was the street for the foreign traders. Nomen est omen.