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To the right of the St.Nikolai Monastery - on a small kind of drab-yellow manor-house building at Nikolskaya 13 - there's an advertising sign of the “Coffee-House” (“Кофе-хаус”) café chain. Before it was “Coffee-House” this place housed a sandwich shop – well-known fast-food point around Moscow in Soviet times.
Until the revolution the building No.13 on Nikolskaya Street which now houses the the “Coffee-House” café was a part of the St.Nikolai monastery – in fact the monastic cells were here. Under Soviet rule the monastic premises were converted into a canteen. For half a century there's been a location just a few steps from the Kremlin where you could get a low-price bite to eat. The former “Sandwich Shop” sign (instead the present “Coffee-House” sign) looked wildly out of place – this kind of eatery was typical of Moscow in the 1950s-70s. But like a kind of time-machine, until the very recent time, the “Sandwich Shop” was still dishing out its wares, along with vodka & beer in Soviet-era glasses, in today's fast-food era. The shop was listed in a huge number of guidebooks – in some as a bizarre hangover of Soviet times, in others as a don't-miss place for a lunch with atmosphere included.
Unfortunately, the beloved Soviet “Sandwich Shop” on Nikolskaya 13 couldn't last long against the fast-food invasion. Nowadays you won't find either vodka in Soviet-era glasses now, or the atmosphere either… Just standard coffee, ice-cream and cheesecakes, like anywhere else.
You'll hear a popular story that the traditional six-sided drinking-glass of soviet-era fame was designed by sculptress Vera Mukhina (who famously designed the statue “Factory-Hand and Farm-Girl”). But it's not true. The first six-sided glasses were produced by the early stove-glass presses used at Gus-Crystalny in 1914. These glasses are first shown in use in one of Petrov-Vodkin's paintings in 1918. At the end of the 1940s the authorities were weighing in mind what kind of crockery would be needed in the nation's canteens. It had to be simple, durable, and most of all it needed to be washable in a dishwasher.
The sculptress Vera Mukhina was getting deeply involved with glassware in the late 1940s – at exactly the same time when the authorities were thinking about glasses which were durable in worker's canteens and could withstand soviet dishwashers. She came up with a drinking glass which had a smooth circular rim. This kind of glass – produced with 16 or 20 sides and a circular rim – was called a Mukhina, or sometimes a Malenkov, after Georgy Malenkov, one of Stalin's cronies. This kind of glass holds up to 200ml. Sometimes you find one with an odd number of sides, like 17. This kind were usually home-made.
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.