The Garden Ring

Red Gate and Church of the Three Holy Hierarchs

The Garden Ring (Sadovoye Koltso) is one of Moskva’s five ring roads, corresponding to the 17th century ramparts around the city’s outer ring, Zamlyanoy Gorod (Earthworks Town). There are seventeen streets and fifteen squares within this 16-kilometer road.

After a 1591 raid by Ğazı II Giray, puppet tsar Boris Godunov ordered the construction of the Skorodom (Quick House). These quickly-built fortifications included a moat and rampart.

During the Smutnoye Vremya (Time of Troubles), Polish forces burnt much of it to the ground. A new fortification, the Earth Rampart (Zemlyanoy Val), was built from 1638–41, and had 34 gates. It mostly served as a customs border.

By the late 18th century, its military value had diminished, and much of the fortress and rampart had collapsed, creating spacious thoroughfares and public squares in their places. The Fire of 1812 destroyed most of what was left.

Sukharev Tower

Since the ramparts served no real purpose anymore, what remained of them were razed instead of rebuilt. The western side was given to the upper-class, who acquired central boulevards flanked by side streets. Pre-existing residents on unused land were allowed to remain if they planted and maintained gardens out of their own pockets.

By the 1850s, many of the buildings on the road were hidden from view by gardens and trees. Travelling around it was indeed like going through a garden.

From the 1830s–60s, Novinskiy Boulevard was full of carousels and cheap theatres, and had a short railroad which functioned as an amusement park ride.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-13139 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Electric trams débuted in 1899, and the Garden Ring at large was electrified from 1907–10. Moskva’s tallest building to date, the eight-story Art Nouveau Afremov Building, was unveiled in 1904.

Violent street fights were fought in the wake of the failed 1905 revolution, and the western part of the road was thickly covered by barricades to protect the workers from Imperial troops.

Bloody battles reigned again after the 1917 October Revolution. The Provisional Government’s troops signed their surrender to the Bolsheviks in a building on Sadovaya-Triumfalnaya Street.

Sadly but predictably, many historic buildings were torn down or repurposed under Bolshevik rule. During the 1930s and again after WWII, its architecture underwent a Stalinist remodelling, though no section was entirely redone.

Today, the Garden Ring tells the story of a wide historical and architectural range of styles, from the 1820s till the modern era.

The Garden Ring crosses the Moskva River via Krymskiy Bridge (connecting Krymskiy Val Street and Crimean Square) and Bolshoy Krasnokholmskiy Bridge (connecting Taganka Square and Nizhnyaya Krasnokholmskaya Street). It also crosses the Vodootvodniy Canal via Maliy Krasnokholmskiy Bridge.

Notable sights include Prince Sergey Aleksandrovich Shcherbatov’s house; the State Academic Theatre; Moskva Academic Theatre of Satire; the Church of the Dormition of Theotokos [the Virgin Mary] of Gonchar; the former Hospice House; the Sukharev Tower; Red Gate Building; and many old homes of famous Muscovites.

Old building of the U.S. Embassy, with the house museum of singer Fyodor Ivanovich Chalyapin on the right, Copyright NVO

Copyright NVO

Copyright; Source

Church of the Dormition of Theotokos of Gonchar, Copyright Solundir

Today, city government wants the Garden Ring converted to a one-way, 18-lane street, fully separated from radial street traffic. The common people, however, by and large reject this plan.

Red Gate Building, Copyright NVO

Aquarium Garden, Copyright Vladimir OKC

Krymskiy Bridge, Copyright A.Savin (Wikimedia Commons)

In my first Russian historical and the future second prequel, title characters Lyuba and Ivan, and a number of their friends, live past the Garden Ring, near the Moskva Zoo. Every day on their way to and from school, they see the beautiful buildings and foliage from the tram windows.

In early spring 1920, Lyuba and Ivan also stay by a Garden Ring boarding house run by a Mr. Andropov. A major kink is thrown into their on-again, off-again relationship when they arrive, as antagonist Boris is also there, on an illegal visit from the U.S.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Copyright Armineaghayan

Maliy Krasnokholmskiy Bridge, Copyright Kaluga.2012

IWSG—A plethora of progress


The Insecure Writer’s Support Group meets the first Wednesday of each month. Participants share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

What do you love about the genre you write in most often?

I love stepping back in time to another world which now lives only in memory, like 1840s Boston, 1890s St. Petersburg, or 1940s Manhattan, with all the bygone fashions, demographics, architecture, cost of living, cars, films, streetcars, social movements, technologies, etc.

I finished the surprise two new chapters and epilogue for the book formerly known as The Very First. Not counting front and back matter, it’s about 90K. The hot mess of a first draft was only 38K. I’m really proud of the work I did on this radical rewrite and restructuring.

Coupled with the fact that the book formerly known as The Very Next went from 25K to 75K, after another radical rewrite and restructuring, I’ve started thinking maybe my Atlantic City books aren’t meant to be as short as I thought they were.

Granted, by my standards, 75–90K is still pretty damn short!

Ignore the obviously non-Russian names like Amy and Leon, and the pretentious use of accent marks. I was only 21 when I made these notes.

I was inspired to type up synopses for my planned future sixth Russian novel, along with both of the prequels. (You can now find them on the About My Russian Novels page, either in the drop-down menu or the page itself.)

I also came up with titles for all three, and started pulling ideas together for the seventh book, to be set from 1966–sometime in the Seventies. Lastly, I finally typed up the Cast of Characters section for the second prequel, from the handwritten family-by-family pages I made at 21.

The Wrangels are now the Vrangels

Finally, I finished the hiatused Chapter 33, “Quintuple New Leaves,” of my fourth Russian historical, A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University. It clocked it at my longest of this book so far, at 17,282 words. Prior, my longest chapter was the 17,247-word “Union with a Snake” of The Twelfth Time: Lyuba and Ivan on the Rocks.

Pages counts hyphenated words, like twenty-two, as two words, so I know the wordcount is slightly higher than it really is.

Chapter 34, “False Paradise,” is going very quickly and easily. I think I’ll have an easier time from this point out, though I also still need to get back to my alternative history for a 17 July release date.

I’m confident I can finish writing and editing it in time if I approach it very strategically. Part I is done, Part II is 99% done, Part III is at least 85% done, and Part IV is maybe 25% done.

This beautiful little boy is counting on me to give him the happy ending he was cruelly denied in real life. I have an obligation more pressing than merely finishing what I started already.

Nevskiy Prospekt



Nevskiy Prospekt, 1880s

Nevskiy Prospekt, the main thoroughfare of St. Petersburg, could perhaps be compared to Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, the Champs-Elysées in Paris, and Unter den Linden in Berlin. Even today, it’s where the majority of the city’s shopping and nightlife are located. The famous street, which runs three and a half miles from the edge of the Neva River to the Aleksandr Nevskiy Monastery, pulsated with even more life in Tsarist days.


Horse-drawn tram on Nevskiy Prospekt, 1899

Nevskiy Prospekt was like Iverskaya Chapel, teeming with people from all walks of life. Members of the Imperial Family could promenade alongside outlaws, prostitutes, starving artists, murderers, factory-workers, soldiers, and sailors. No matter what time of year, the street was always packed with traffic, be it sleds, automobiles, trams, troikas, landaus, carriages, bicycles, or coaches. It wasn’t unusual to see the mingling of long-haired, dark-frocked priests; peasant women with scarves over their heads; high-ranking officers in their dress uniforms; and high-society ladies draped in ermines, silks, and diamonds.


Postcard showing Yeliseyev Emporium (note the pre-Revolutionary letters I and ѣ)

Some of the most famous buildings on Nevskiy Prospekt include The Passage, a venerable old department store; the Aleksandr Nevskiy Monastery, containing the Theological Academy of the Russian Orthodox Church and several cemeteries; Aleksandrinskiy Theatre; Stroganov Palace; Yeliseyev Brothers, an emporium; a dozen churches of various denominations; Gostiny Dvor, an arcaded bazaar; many hotels; bookstores; Gambs Brothers, which sold housewares; the Russian National Library; and Chicherin House, which went through many uses.


Nevskiy Prospekt, 1874

The Admiralty, which housed the Ministry of the Navy, was at the northern end of Nevskiy Prospekt. Anichkov Bridge runs over Fontanka Canal.  Each corner of the bridge contains a rearing bronze horse held by a groom. Legend has it that sculptor Peter von Klodt was so angry over Tsar Nicholas I’s demands and how he gave several first casts to his brother-in-law, he retaliated by depicting the Tsar’s features in the swollen groin vein of one of the horses.


Crossing between Nevskiy Prospekt and Mikhaylovskaya Street, view of Volysko-Kamskiy Bank

St. Petersburg was a quite international, not-very-Russian city in Tsarist days. The city was largely designed by foreign architects; the court spoke English, French, and German better than Russian until fairly late in the Imperial era; quite a few members of the Imperial Family used English and French forms of their names; many foreign languages could be heard along Nevskiy Prospekt; and many magazines and books sold along Nevskiy Prospekt were in a veritable cornucopia of languages. Many store windows displayed signs advertising which languages were spoken there.


Nevskiy Prospekt as it appeared in the days of Nicholas II’s coronation

Maslenitsa (Butter Week), which corresponds to Carnival and falls eight weeks before Easter, was also celebrated along Nevskiy Prospekt. There were many stalls selling blini and blinchiki (small, thin, dessert-like pancakes) soaked in butter, along with other festival foods and products such as roasted nuts, hot drinks, live birds, puppets, gingerbread, satin ribbons, jewelry, and bright, elaborate fabrics and wooden toys.


Nevskiy Prospekt near Kazan Cathedral

From 1918–44, it was renamed Proletkult Street, and then changed to Avenue of the 25th of October. Today, the original name has been restored. Obviously, the name is taken from the Neva River, which also gave its name to Russia’s greatest national hero, Prince Aleksandr Yaroslavovich Nevskiy.

Modern view of Yeliseyev Emporium, Copyright Potekhin

Nevskiy Prospekt features in my alternative history, and will also feature in both of my Russian novel prequels (1889–97 and 1897–1917). The first prequel will open on Nevskiy Prospekt in December 1889, as young sisters Yekaterina and Margarita Iosifovna Gammerova (Lyuba’s mother and aunt) window-shop and daydream about all the things they’ll never be able to buy.


Stroganov Palace along Moyka Embankment, Copyright Florstein