Larisa Skrypnik, senior researcher at the Museum of Moscow
It is always noisy and crowded here: street artists and musicians, dancers, students of the Shchukin Institute reciting poems, and numerous cozy cafes and shops. The festive street is always crowded with lots of people taking walks. But if you want respite from the noise and bustle of the city and to delve into the true atmosphere of the “old Arbat,” you just need to turn onto one of the lanes, such as Spasopeskovsky, for example. I will tell about it today.
History of the name and a famous church
Spasopeskovsky Lane got its name from the Church of the Transfiguration of the Savior on the Sands (na Peskakh, in Russian). The soils here were sandy, hence the name. A wooden church built by the Streltsy already existed in 1639. But the white-stone temple, with its tent-shaped bell tower, was erected in 1711. In 1849, a stone wall and front gates were built using parishioners’ donations.
After the revolution, the church was closed in 1933. The premises were used by various Soviet organizations, and, for 40 years starting in 1956, it housed the stop-motion department of the Soyuzmultfilm studio. So, the much-loved Gena the Crocodile, Cheburashka, and Shapoklyak were born here!
In 1991, the Church of the Transfiguration of the Savior on the Sands was returned to the faithful.
Both in poetry and in pictures
The church is familiar even to those who have never been to Moscow, as it is depicted in Vasily Polenov’s famous painting Moscow Courtyard. In 1877, the artist was looking for an apartment on the Arbat, noticed an ad on one of the houses, and went in to look. The view from the window was so splendid that Polenov immediately sketched it, and he later put it on canvas.
There is now a square on the site of the courtyard, which can be reached by simply proceeding down the lane. The place is officially called Spasopeskovskaya Square, but the name “ploshchadka” (little square) is more familiar to Muscovites. The lanes in this part of old Moscow were surrounded by three small squares. Nikolopeskovskaya and Sobachya squares have not survived, but Spasopeskovskaya was more fortunate. The locals even called it the “circle.” Bulat Okudzhava wrote about it in one of his poems: “Our childhood is lost at the circle near the Church of the Savior.” Grandmothers gossiped on the benches, mothers with baby carriages walked on the paths, girls jumped ropes, and boys rode bicycles and played war games. And in winter, the circle was used as a skating rink.
Monument to Alexander Pushkin and an ambassador’s residence
In 1993, in memory of the fact that Pushkin’s life in Moscow was closely connected with the Arbat, a monument to the poet by the sculptor Yuri Dines was erected on the square using money from the Austrian historian Gerhard Jagschitz.
Spasopeskovsky Lane bounding the small square is also famous for Spaso House, the residence of the U.S. Ambassador in the mansion at No. 10. The mansion was built in 1914 in the New Empire style to a design by architects V.D. Adamovich and V.M. Mayata for the millionaire N.A. Vtorov, one of the wealthiest members of the Moscow bourgeoisie. When diplomatic relations were established between the USSR and the USA in 1933, the first American ambassador, William Bullitt, took up residence here.
The residence of the Spanish ambassador is located in a mansion with a six-column portico next to Spaso House. The main building of A.G. Shchepochkina’s manor house was originally built of wood in the early 19th century. It was rebuilt in 1884. Unfortunately, at the end of the last century, the half-ruined building was dismantled and recreated more closely to its original appearance.
The Arbat is one of my favorite places in Moscow. It is not the street itself, but the labyrinth of lanes between Povarskaya and Prechistenka. Their names are intriguing and promise amazing stories: Sivtsev Vrazhek, Bolshoy and Maly Mogiltsevskiy, Serebryany, Kaloshin, Glazovsky. Wander slowly along, looking into the arches of the houses, and you will suddenly find a quiet courtyard where you can still feel the breath of the old Arbat.
The “History of Moscow Movements” excursion with Larisa Skrypnik is available for purchase via the RUSSPASS digital travel service.
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