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Across from the bust of Shmelev, behind impressive wrought-iron gates and railings, we see the magnificent mansion of the Demidovs – Urals gentry who made millions in business.
The Demidov Mansion can't fail to catch your eye if you walk along Bolshoy Tolmachevsky pereulok – a richly-adorned wrought-iron fence with cast-iron urns standing on pillars, and ornate wrought-iron gates. Behind this amazing ironwork is the mansion itself – a colonnaded manor house in classical C18th style. It was given to Countess Maria Sollogub by Count Demidov, a vastly rich tycoon from the Urals, where he had factories making all kinds of ironwork – the gates and railings were made in his factories. Before the 1917 Revolution there had been a Girls Private School in the mansion.
One resident in this ornate mansion was Amos Demidov, the son of the metal-producing magnate Prokofy Demidov. The gates and railings around the palace were cast in the Demidov factories in Nizhny Tagil, by a master craftsman named Timofey Sizov. You can imagine how difficult even casting one single leaf of the decorative work would have been? No-one knows for certain who was the architect of the mansion – perhaps Bazhenov, or Matvei Kazakov? Entrance to the courtyard is permitted, so you can take a closer look. The current design of the house's exterior appeared after restorations following the Napoleonic War fires of 1812 – a portico of Corinthian columns was added, and the far windows decorated with columns.
In the mid-C19th Countess Maria Sollogub organised a literary salon in the Demidov Mansion that rivaled that of Countess Volkonskaya's on Tverskaya at the 'English Club'. Here it was possible to speak freely about politics without fear of consequences – in spite of the political police-force organised by Emperor Alexander II. Frequent guests included the authors Gogol, Turgenev and the Aksakov brothers.
Nowadays the building houses the Ushinsky State Scientific and Pedagogical Library. The library originally opened as a small reference collection, but soon swelled to become one of the most important scientific libraries in the world.
Prokofy Demidov was one of the most colourful personalities of the reign of Catherine the Great. He was a prodigiously rich man from a family of Urals foundrymen and Tula gunsmiths – known throughout Moscow as an eccentric and show-off. The Empress frequently became cross with him, calling him a self-opinionated chatterbox. He sold his share in the family foundry business in order to devote himself to his hobbies of gardening and natural history. He grew medicinal and exotic plants in his hothouses. He set about growing oranges, pineapples and other exotic fruits which don't thrive in the Moscow climate, and bought a plot of land just a kilometre away, on Sadovnicheskaya – or Gardener's Street. He erected an orangery and hothouses. But rumour got out that certain ladies were sneaking in and breaking his plants. Demidov devised a way to get his revenge on them. He replaced the statues in his gardens with naked men painted white, who crept up on female intruders. However, the story itself is very doubtful, and probably invented.
Prokofy Demidov was educated in Hamburg. His peculiar personality attracted strange anecdotes. For example he is said to have offered 35,000 roubles to anyone who could lay on his back at his house, and not get up for a year. Another time it's claimed he organised such a gigantic booze-fest for his friends in St Petersburg, that 500 people ate and drank without limit. When spectacles became fashionable, he had a pair made for everyone in his household and insisted that everyone wear them. He not only had the glasses made for himself and his wife (who was 36 years younger than himself), but also for their children, domestic staff, cooks, horses and dogs.
Demidov drove around town in a bright orange carriage drawn by three pairs of horses – only the Tsar himself was permitted more. He ordered that there should always be silver fountains, with a permanent flow of fine wines available. He had another house on Basmannaya which he had decked-out entirely in cast iron from the outside. In one way it was purely his whim – although it also showed-off the family business – but in other ways it paid off... as it was one of the only Moscow houses to escape damage during the Napoleonic occupation of 1812.
Yet the prankster Demidov could be a generous philanthropist. He even lent money to the State Treasury, if they needed it. But even joked about this too – when Catherine the Great needed four million roubles to pursue her war against Turkey, she asked Demidov – who said he would lend the money not to Her Majesty, but to her male admirer. When asked why, Demidov said he'd only lend money to someone he could whip later. Later Demidovs put up money for founding Moscow University in 1755, contributing 21,000 roubles. These funds enabled students to receive a bursary for free study for a year. When the Foundling Hospital was opened in Moscow, Demidov immediately donated a million roubles – although the Empress gave only 100,000. The building of the Foundling Hospital these days houses the Military Rocket Institute named after Peter the Great.
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.