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Kitai-gorod is one of the most ancient and interesting districts of Moscow. The origins of the “Kitai-gorod” name have still not been fully resolved: one version suggests that it is derived from the Old Russian “kita” – a bundle of wooden poles – as this is what the very first Kitai-gorod wall surrounding the city was made of; another proposal lobbies a Turkic word for “wall”, which is “kitai”. Kitai-gorod was traditionally the trading and business area of Moscow. In fact, this still holds true today. In the mid-16th century it was surrounded by the Kitai-gorod wall, and that is when the merchants started settling in here, following the order of tsar Ivan the Terrible. By the early 18th century half of the territory belonged to the clergy and the churches. Yet in the end of the 18th century Kitai-gorod was once again a merchants’ place. In 1930 the wall was demolished as part of the reconstruction plan for widening the streets.
According to the ancient city structure principles, the “city” as such referred to the Kremlin, where the prince lived with his militia and his servants. All the buildings outside the Kremlin walls were called “posad” (or suburbs), and further out you had the outskirts. The Great marketplace was located near the eastern Kremlin wall, and this place was later named the Red Square. Three ancient roads led up to the tsar’s village residences – the Semenovskoye, Preobrazhenskoye, Rubtsovo and Izmailovo, – and stretched on towards such cities as Rostov the Great, Vladimir, Suzdal, Kolomna and Ryazan. Tradesmen and craftsmen settled along these roads; churches and monasteries were built. Some of them gave names to the streets of Kitai-gorod – the Nikolskaya steet, Ilyinka, Varvarka, and many others. Some of these streets are over seven hundred years old!
In the old times Kitai-gorod was the district of choice for out-of-town merchants and foreign envoys. Everything here breathes and smells history; one can find architecture of different styles and times. A Muscovite of today considers all the territory up to the Boulevard Ring to be Kitai-gorod, yet historically this area was confined within the Kitai-gorod wall. In 1538 it was annexed to the corner towers of the Kremlin: the Beklemishevskaya and the Arsenal. The soviet demolition left only a few segments of the ancient Kitai-gorod wall standing. You can see the original structure on the other side of Kitai-gorod, right behind the “Metropol” hotel.
Kitay-gorod is one of the oldest parts of Moscow. It appeared nearby the old wooden Kremlin. Although the name translates as “Chinatown,” it probably derives from kita (wattle), referring to the wall that surrounded this early Kremlin suburb. Today, remains of an old city wall and colorful churches are scattered throughout this ancient neighborhood.
The stone walls were erected in the 16th century by an Italian architect known under the name Petrok Maly and originally featured 13 towers and six gates. They were as thick as they were high. The last of the towers were demolished in the 1930s, but small portions of the wall still stand. One of two remaining parts of the wall is located in Zaryadye and the other near the exit from the Okhotny Ryad station of Moscow Metro behind the Hotel Metropol.
Kitay-gorod starts at Red Square. Apart from Red Square, the quarter is bordered by the chain of Central Squares of Moscow, notably Theatre Square (in front of Bolshoi Theatre), Lubyanka Square (in front of the KGB headquarters), and Slavyanskaya Square.
Since time immemorial Kitay-gorod has been developing as a trading area. And for centuries it was known as the most prestigious business area of Moscow. Its three main streets — Varvarka, Ilyinka, and Nikolskaya — are lined with banks, shops, and storehouses. There are also lots of historical buildings that relate to the heritage of the federal and global importance now.
In our tour you will walk along Nikolskaya Street that is famous for being the site of Moscow's first university, the Slavic Greek Latin Academy, housed in extant Zaikonospassky monastery (1660s). Another monastery cathedral, the main church of Epiphany Bogoyavlensky Monastery (1690s), is the oldest male monastery in Moscow, stands in the middle of Kitay-gorod in the eponymous Bogoyavlensky Lane. The 18th century survives in the exterior walls of the otherwise rebuilt Gostiny Dvor (Guest Merchant's Court) by Giacomo Quarenghi.
A whole quarter of Kitay-gorod adjacent to the Moskva River and known as Zaryadye (now just Varvarka Street) was demolished in the 20th century, sparing only those structures that were classified as historic monuments. These include the Cathedral of the Sign (1679–84), the Church of All Saints (1680s), St. George's Church on Pskov Hill (1657), St. Maksim's Church (1698), St. Anna's Church at the Corner (1510s), St. Barbara's Church (1796–1804), the Old English Embassy (1550s), and the 16th century Romanov boyar residence. The two last are the museums. You can visit them to see the life of the first Romanovs in the 16-17th centuries.