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Building No. 1, with the wrought-iron canopy above its door, proclaims itself to be the Moscow premises of the Muscovite vodka distiller Pyotr Smirnov. On the facade we see the signboard “Pyotr Smirnov, Purveyor to the Court of His Imperial Majesty”. Very possibly you've seen Smirnov (with a 'v') vodka on sale in shops? This is the company's contemporary output.
Pyotr Smirnov built the premises at No. 1 Pyatnitskaya for both himself and his business in the mid-C19th. For many long years the rear of the building housed the distillery itself – Smirnov and his family lived on the upper floor, while the ground floor, as now, had the sales showroom. A later descendant of Pyotr's, Boris Smirnov, undertook a full-scale renovation of the building in the 2000s. Once again today, the ground floor has an elegant sales showroom, where the full range of the Smirnov company is on sale to customers. Upstairs Boris Smirnov now has his office – and over his impressive oak desk hangs a picture of his ancestor, “The Vodka King Of Russia”.
The name of Pyotr Smirnov is legendary in Russian history – yet the man behind the name remains almost forgotten. Despite this, it's pleasant to notice that there are now more and more well-researched articles and books on the history of Russia's merchants and entrepreneurs, and in Smirnov's tiny home village of Myshkin, near Kolómna, there's now a Museum of Vodka. This is the rural backwater where Pyotr Smirnov was born into a Russian family of indentured serfs. Smirnov was released from serfdom by his master at the age of 30 – he moved to Moscow and sought work at a distillery. He learned the trade well, and by hard work managed to save enough money to buy the business from his employer, with its nine staff. Thirty-three years later, Pyotr Smirnov would find himself the employer of over 5000 employees.
Smirnov picked the right country to sell vodka – it's always been the favourite tipple in Russia. Pyotr Smirnov broadened his product range, with something to suit every taste and pocket – cordials, liqueurs, wines, ports, and of course vodkas – both classic and flavoured. Smirnov's success was due to the way he ran his business, which he often boasted: “Our secret is to offer the very best, made from the finest Russian ingredients, and never to cut corners or economise on top quality merchandise”. His scrupulous approach to business quickly made him not only a millionaire, but the 'uncrowned Vodka King of Russia”, and winner of awards at trade fairs all over Europe. He designed the bottles for his drinks himself, and had a special glass-making plant installed to supervise their consistent quality. He was obsessed with image and reputation, and designed the company's stands at trade fairs himself.
There was an occasion, at the prestigious Trade Fair at Nizhny Novgorod, when it was announced that the Emperor himself would visit Smirnov's stand. Smirnov seized the initiative, and had a special display of vodkas made in bottles corresponding to the colours of the coat-of-arms of the Royal Family – black, yellow and white. The display was then back-illuminated, to create a stunning and sophisticated effect. Viewers were astounded by the result – a predecessor of the modern 'light-box' that now dominates outdoor advertising. During the closing 25 years of the C19th, Smirnov not only sold over 100 million bottles per year – he increased the product range of his goods to over 400 different varieties.
Yet Imperial favour proved fickle. In the closing years of the C19th vodka was declared a Royal Monopoly, and Smirnov was ruined. He died soon after, leaving his legacy of millions to his five sons and three daughters. Shares in the business were divided equally among his sons. But in 1902 a conflict between the sons about the management of the business reached such heights of fury, that the business had to be closed - and its assets divided between the shareholders. After the events of 1917 one of the surviving sons sold the rights to use the family name to an American distiller, who produced “Smirnoff” vodka – spelt with “two f's” - and now is a leader in the vodka market worldwide. The sale was hotly contended by the remaining members of the family, who declared it to be illegal. The issue of how the family name is spelt in English became crucial in the resulting legal case. In 1992 the family won the right to use the name “Smirnov” - with a “v”, and no f's – and to produce fine-quality vodka under this name in Russia, and also for export. The two vodkas are now quite different, and the Russian Smirnov family utterly disassociate themselves from the stuff made in the USA by their emigrant relatives. The Moscow Government has returned ownership of the house by the Cast-Iron Bridge to the Russian branch of the family.
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.