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This grey building with elements of white, a cast-iron front gate, and a few security booths is the residence of the British ambassador in Moscow.
At some point this building had housed the Danish Red Cross headquarters; it was later appropriated by the Head office of the Diplomatic Corps affairs and took on the role of a hotel for visiting diplomats, and, further on, that of the embassy. Rumours had it that the British were the ones most discontent when in 1964 the Sophia Embankment was renamed. Having the embassy of Great Britain located on the embankment named after a French communist Maurice Thorez, a citizen of Great Britain’s lifetime competitor at sea, was, to say the least, absurd. The Soviet government was not exactly happy with such a door-to-door vicinity of the British embassy to the Kremlin. Yet where could an island empire find a better location to represent itself, if not on the Island?
Every single time when the Brits were offered to relocate their office to another mansion in some other part of the city, they would give an emphatic “no”. The former workers of the “Krasny Fackel” (the “Red Torch”) plant that was next door insisted there was an undisclosed instruction to belch as much smoke as possible, the more the merrier, no matter what the production needs – what if the stubborn islanders finally get sick of that and leave?.. No chance. The embankment has gone back to its Sophia named self, the plant next door is shut and smoke is no longer a bother, yet the British are still sat right there – at number 14, in the former mansion of sugar king Kharitonenko. To be fair, it’s no longer an embassy, though – just the residence of the British ambassador.
In the early C19th you would see a large mansion with an impressively huge garden here. After the Moscow fires of 1812 that were initiated by Napoleon the mansion belonged to merchant Nikifor Starkov. In the end of the C19th an entrepreneur named Pavel Kharitonenko bought the place. The building we see today was completed in 1891, and in 1911 the interiors were seriously redone by a famous architect Fyodor Schechtel. Kharitonenko’s father left him an inheritance of the largest consortium in the Russian empire that consisted of seven sugar plants and one sugar refinery. He was a well-known philanthropist and a collector of art. His money was used to fund the famous Kiev memorial to Bogdan Khmelnitsky, now one of the city’s major landmarks.
The events of 1917 left Pavel Kharitonenko’s mansion nationalized – of course. It served as a hotel for foreign travelers for a while. Thus, back in 1920 the famous Herbert George Wells lived here during his daring visit to the revolutionist Russia. This trip resulted in a book titled “Russia in the shadows” that was essentially a collection of his articles. The British embassy had been quartered here since 1931. The mansion has been renovated recently, and you just have to give it to the British – they’ve done an amazing job. It seems that the islanders have it in their blood to respect the traditions. Even the drain pipe fixtures, as well as the pre-revolution-style worded plate on the gate and the coat of arms above the balcony, received a true royal make-over.
The territories of historical district Zamoskvorechye lie on the right (southern) bank of the Moskva River. They joined Moscow in the 14th century when Russian lands used to suffer from the Golden Horde raids. The settlers mainly were soldiers, handicraftsmen and merchants. Their life was organized in a patchwork sloboda system. In 1591-1592 during the reign of Feodor I the fortified wall on the site of the present-day Garden Ring was built. Even now, one can easily understand from the street names what occupation the residents had centuries ago. For example, royal garden attendants (садовники, sadovniki) settled in the beginning of present-day Sadovnicheskaya Street from 1495 until the fire of 1701; tanners specializing in sheepskin (oвчинники, ovchinniki) gave their name to Ovchinnikovsky Lanes; royal mint workers (монетчики, monetchiki) – to Monetchikovsky Lanes, Court translators (толмачи, tolmachi) to Tolmachevsky Lanes. Bolshaya Ordynka Street was named after Orda, was the road to the Golden Horde, and was initially home to the Tatar community.
During our tour we are going to tell you about famous historic buildings in Pyatnitskaya Street, the main walking street of the district. We will walk around the State Tretyakov Gallery and listen to the story about the Tretyakovs, famous Russian businessmen, collectors and patrons of art, and the history of their collection and Gallery building.
There is also the house and museum of another famous Russian businessman and patron of art - Bakhrushin museum of theater, built in 1896.
Famous Russian writer Alexander Ostrovsky also lived in Zamoskvorechye, in Malaya Ordynka street. If you like his works you can visit his house-museum.
Zamoskvorechye is famous for its churches: Church of St. Sophia Of God's Wisdom on Gardener's Island and its belfry, Church of St. George the Victorious in Endova, The Church of the Ikon “the Joy of All Who Suffer”, The Church of St Nicholas at Pyzhakh, etc. Each of them has its own history and mystery.
With Your Audio Guide you will go through all the streets and lanes, get familiar with some interesting yards, explore the legends and myths and find out the truth. You will relax on the benches of Bolotnaya square; take pictures of the Kremlin domes, Giant Peter the Great statue, river embankments, learn about the former Mamontov Hotel and super deluxe Balchug-Kempinsky.