Patriarch’s Pond

Copyright A.Savin (Wikimedia Commons · WikiPhotoSpace)

Patriarch’s Pond (Patriarshiye Prudy, whose name truly translates to Patriarch’s Ponds), colloquially known as Patriki, is a wealthy downtown area of Moskva’s Presnenskiy (Presnya) District. It takes its name from the beautiful pond. There used to be three ponds (as evidenced by the name), but now there’s only one.

The current pond is 107,000 square feet (9,900 square meters), and six and a half feet (two meters) deep.

Copyright Табуретка (Taburyetka)

Copyright A.Savin (Wikimedia Commons · WikiPhotoSpace)

The pond in turn takes its name from Patriarch Germogen (served 1606–12, at the end of the Smutnoye Vremya, Time of Troubles). Before this area became his residence, it was the Goat Marsh. Unsurprisingly, goats were bred nearby. Their wool went to the Imperial Court.

In 1683, Patriarch Yakim ordered the swamps replaced with three fish ponds. In the pond formed from the Presnya River, expensive fish for the Patriarch’s table were bred, while cheap fish were in the ponds from the Goat Marsh.

The ponds were abandoned during the Synodal period of 1700–1917, during which the election of a new Patriarch was forbidden.

Copyright Ksu25

The ponds took on their current form and were refurbished during 1830–31, during the massive rebuilding efforts necessitated by the devastating Fire of 1812. The gutted wooden buildings around the pond were replaced by stone.

Every winter since 1900, the Russian Gymnastic Society turns the frozen pond into a skating rink. At night, 16 floodlights illuminate it and project images of snowflakes and flowers onto the ice.

Copyright karel291

The pond was hurt again by the 1897 flood, and city officials considered abandoning it. Though it cost a lot of money to clean, the pond was saved and filled with fresh water.

In the early 20th century, cheap real estate sprung up around the pond, occupied by university students. During the failed 1905 revolution, it was occupied by left-wing student militia, and turned into a warzone.

Moskva’s first children’s hospital, Filatov, was also initially located here.

Copyright Elisa.rolle

Under Soviet rule, the beautiful apartments occupied by the wealthy were turned into communal apartments. The pond was also renamed Pioneer Ponds, though the new name never caught on. In 1992, the real name was officially restored.

Landmarks include the Gavriil Tarasov mansion; the House with Lions (the home of Red Army Marshals); a monument to fabulist Ivan Andreyevich Krylov (surrounded by twelve of his characters); and a stone pavilion.

House of Lions, Copyright NVO

Patriarch’s Pond famously features in the opening chapter of Mikhail Afanasiyevich Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. Bulgakov and his wife lived there in the 1930s, and today there’s a monument to him.

My characters Lyuba Zhukova and Ivan Konev skip gymnasium (high school) and spend the day by Patriarch’s Pond in April 1917, during their clandestine, month-long romance which forms the first “on” period of their on-again, off-again relationship.

Ivan dreamily tells her about the great life they’re going to have in America, and he shows off his rudimentary English. They also buy sweets from a vendor. In the unnaturally warm weather, they see a swan and her cignets, and compare themselves to swans mating for life.

The cover of my first Russian historical shows them by the banks of the pond. Initially, I wanted it to specifically show Ivan writing the English alphabet in the dirt.

Novodevichye Cemetery and Nansen passports

Copyright Ghirlandajo

Novodevichye Cemetery is the most famous of all Muscovite cemeteries (not to be confused with St. Petersburg’s Novedevichye Cemetery). It’s next to the 16th century Novodevichye Convent, Moskva’s third-biggest tourist draw.

Prolific architect and preservationist Ivan Pavlovich Mashkov designed the cemetery in 1898, though it was only in the 1930s that it truly rose to prominence. Under Stalin, the necropoleis of Medieval Muscovite monasteries were scheduled for destruction, and the remains were moved to Novodevichye.

Many other famous Muscovites were also moved from different abbeys for reburial in Novodevichye.

Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin, whom I have very mixed feelings about, but whom I ultimately feel was a decent person who started out trying to do the right thing. Copyright A.Savin (Wikimedia Commons · WikiPhotoSpace)

Also in the 1930s, a 19th century necropolis within the walls of the convent underwent reconstruction. Almost all the graves were destroyed, including those of 2,000 nobles and professors. Another former resident of the necropolis, Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (my third-fave writer), was moved into the cemetery.

Chekhov’s grave became the genesis of the Cherry Orchard section, where legendary actor Konstantin Sergeyevich Stanislavskiy and the leading actors of his company were buried.

Chekhov’s grave, Copyright Tatiana gothic

Nikolay Vasiliyevich Gogol, Copyright Petar Milošević at sr.wikipedia

In the USSR, burial in Novodevichye was second in prestige to that of the Kreml Wall Necropolis. Countless writers, artists, musicians, scientists, military people, athletes, cosmonauts, actors, directors, mathematicians, composers, and politicians were buried there.

Today, more than 27,000 souls rest in Novodevichye, and there’s little room left for future burials.

View of the monastery from the cemetery, Copyright giomodica; Source

Cemetery entrance

The cemetery is grouped into Old, New, and Newest sections, with maps available in the office. The grounds are arranged like a quiet, peaceful park, dotted with little chapels and large sculpted monuments.

A number of prominent sculptors’ work is on display at Novodevichye.

Nadezhda Sergeyevna Alliluyeva, Stalin’s second wife, Copyright Petar Milošević at sr.wikipedia

Other famous people buried here include writers Sergey Aksakov, Ilya Ehrenburg, Velimir Khlebnikov, Aleksey Tolstoy, Mikhail Bulgakov, Vladimir Mayakovskiy, Aleksandr Tvardovskiy, and Andrey Beliy; Nikita Khrushchëv; film director Sergey Eisenstein; singer Fyodor Shalyapin (called Chaliapin in the West); cellist Mstislav Rostropovich; and psychologist Lev Vygotskiy.

Copyright Bogdanov-62

Copyright Hello-Andrew

Copyright Stasa16

Copyright Hello-Andrew

My characters the Lebedev(a)s live very close to Novodevichye Cemetery after they move from Pskov to Moskva around 1905. This once-envied location becomes particular torture to Mr. Lebedev after he escapes from prison and returns to his house during the Civil War.

He has no choice but to stay hidden in the house (protected by a phony smallpox quarantine sign), and can no longer regularly visit Chekhov’s grave to pay his respects. Mr. Lebedev loves literature.

City Hall, Oslo, Copyright Ivan Vasilev

Nansen passports were the brainchild of Fridtjof Nansen, High Commissioner for Refugees for the League of Nations. They began being issued after the 3–5 July 1922 Intergovernmental Conference on Identity Certificates for Russian Refugees, held in Geneva.

Originally intended for refugees of the Russian Civil War (of whom about 800,000 became stateless in 1921), they were extended to Armenians, Assyrians, and Turks in 1933.

Though they stopped being issued in 1938, they were still honored by 52 countries.

Copyright Huddyhuddy

About 450,000 were issued to people who needed travel documents but weren’t able to obtain them from their home countries.

The Nansen International Office for Refugees earned the 1938 Nobel Peace Prize.

Famous holders include Vladimir Nabokov, Marc Chagall, Igor Stravinskiy, Sergey Rakhmaninov, ballerina Anna Pavlova, Aristotle Onassis, and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (the seventh and last Lubavitcher Rebbe).

My character Arkasha Orlov issues Nansen passports to Mrs. Brezhneva’s Kyiv orphanage during its partial relocation to Isfahan, Iran in June 1937, during a brief stop in Aden. Arkasha, who works for the British Consulate in Isfahan, is on Aden on business.

Inna Zhirinovskaya, a former orphanage girl who’s now Mrs. Brezhneva’s assistant, catches Arkasha’s eye, and he openly begins flirting with her while filling out the particulars on her Nansen passport.


Irkutsk, Russia

Our Lady of Kazan Church, Copyright Marcin Konsek

Irkutsk, nicknamed The Paris of Siberia, is one of Siberia’s largest cities, and Russia’s 24th-largest city as of 2010. It sits on the Angara River (a tributary of the Yenisey), which is joined by the city’s namesake river, Irkut, directly opposite.

Irkutsk is separated into a left and right bank, due to all the rivers and tributaries running through it. The main section is separated from several landmarks and the suburbs by the Ushakova (or Ida) River.

In addition to the rivers, Irkutsk is also nestled among rolling hills.

Decadence Art Theatre (now Art Cinema), Copyright Marcin Konsek

Church of the Epiphany, Copyright Marcin Konsek

In 1652, Ivan Pokhabov built a zimovyo (winter quarters) close to modern-day Irkutsk, for gold trading and collecting fur taxes from the Mongolic Buryat people (Siberia’s largest indigenous group). In 1661, Yakov Pokhabov built an ostrog (small fort) nearby.

Irkutsk received official town rights in 1686.

Irkutsk Synagogue, cropped from image copyright Suzko

In 1760, the Siberian Road became the city’s first connection to Moskva, and proved a boon to the local economy. Not only were they able to trade with Moskva, but they also began receiving goods from China, such as silk, diamonds, gold, wood, tea, and fur.

In 1821, Irkutsk became East Siberia’s Governor-General’s seat.

Dutch House, Copyright Tatiana Kuzniecowa Wiensko

Kazinskiy Cathedral, now demolished

Following the 1825 Decembrist revolt supporting Grand Duke Konstantin and opposing Grand Duke (later Tsar) Nikolay’s ascension to the throne, many officers, nobles, and artists were exiled to Siberia. Irkutsk became their grand cultural, intellectual, and social center, and took on their architectural stamp with beautiful, ornate wooden houses replete with hand-carved decorations.

By the end of the 19th century, there was one exile for every two locals.

Irkutsk Depot, Copyright Dmitry Afonin

Church of the Exaltation of the Cross, Copyright Rost.galis

A horrific fire destroyed 4,000 houses, many important buildings, government archives, and the library and museum of the Russian Geographical Society’s Siberia division on 4 and 6 July 1879. Three-quarters of Irkutsk went up in flames.

The city soon bounced back, and was electrified in 1896. Their first theatre followed in 1897, and an important depot arrived in 1898. By 1900, it had more than earned the nickname The Paris of Siberia.

Europe House, Copyright PIERRE ANDRE LECLERCQ

Our Lady of Kazan Church, Copyright Rost.galis

Many brutal, bloody battles were fought in Irkutsk during the Russian Civil War. Sadly, the White resistance essentially came to an end after the 1920 execution of Admiral Aleksandr Vasiliyevich Kolchak.

Monument to Admiral Kolchak, Copyright Kolchak1923

Irkutsk is home to many museums, schools, cultural heritage sites, theatres, TV stations, scientific research institutes, sports facilities, and a botanical garden. Twinned cities include Eugene, Oregon; Grenoble and Dijon, France; Pforzheim, Germany; Ulan Bator, Mongolia; and Kanazawa, Japan.

Many famous athletes, writers, cosmonauts, actors, musicians, military people, film directors, industrialists, naturalists, and scientists have hailed from Irkutsk. Writer Valentin Grigoriyevich Rasputin (no relation to the mad monk) set many of his stories in the area.

Angara River

Moskva Arch, Copyright Putnik.m54

My characters the Savvins are evacuated to Irkutsk in September 1941, to escape the invading Germans. Inga, going into her last year of high school, says her entire school is being evacuated, but that she’d never go anywhere without the rest of her family after losing her mother in 1937.

Mr. Savvin won’t hear of his only blood grandchild living alone, and decides the entire family will go. Besides Inga’s grandparents are her young aunt Nelya (a late-life surprise) and her cousin Karla, the adoptive daughter of her executed uncle Leonid.

In Irkutsk, Karla continues her Stalin-themed embroidery business, and Nelya attends Irkutsk University. After Inga graduates high school, her grandfather takes advantage of the relatively calmer political climate and far distance from Moskva to send her to safety in Shanghai.

Vtorov House, Copyright Kate Mikheeva

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

Arbat Street

My WeWriWa post is here.

This year, my theme for the A to Z Challenge is things, places, and people from my Russian historicals. Beyond Russia and NYC, locales include Ukraine, Belarus, Iran, Canada, France, China, and Poland.

Arbat Street is a historic street in the storied center of Moskva. Existing since at least 1493, it’s one of the city’s oldest. Its genesis is Arbat Square, about half a mile (800 meters) west of the Kreml. Arbat Square is also the meeting point of Vozdvizhenka Street and the Boulevard Ring.

The section of the square adjacent to Arbat Steet is Arbat Gate, one of ten gates of the Old City’s wall. This wall stood from the 16th to 18th centuries, and followed the path of what’s now the Boulevard Ring. After this, the street goes southwest, with a dozen side streets, and ends at Smolenskaya Square, which intersects the Garden Ring.

Ultimately, Arbat Street becomes the M1 Highway leading to Warsaw, Smolensk, and Minsk.

Arbat’s etymology is disputed. Most sources feel it comes from the Arabic arbad (suburb, outskirts), though others believe it hails from the Tatar arba (cart). A much more widely disputed etymology claims it comes from the Russian gorbat (bumpy). Unlike much of the rest of Moskva, Arbat Street is rather flat.

The nearby city of Kolomna also has an Arbat Street, which was often attacked by the Golden Horde. Thus, Moskva’s Arbat Street may have also been named during this period.

Some of the side streets’ names bear testament to the craftspeople who had workshops there in the 15th century, such as Plotnikov (Carpenters’) Lane and Serebryaniy (Silver) Lane. During this earliest period of the street’s history, there were also many churches, and houses where the craftspeople and clergy lived.

During the reign of Ivan IV (Ivan Grozniy, whose appellation truly translates more like “awe-inspiring” than “terrible”), the infamous Oprichina (secret police)  were headquartered there. After this period of Russian history ended, it once more became a trade route, and served as an important point of city defense against foreign invaders.

In 1736, about half the street was destroyed by fire, but by the second half of the 18th century, it became prime real estate for nobility, and was seen as Moskva’s most prestigious area. It was like a Muscovite Boulevard Saint-Germain.

Sadly, Arbat Street was one of the many victims of the 1812 Fire of Moskva, which started 14 September when troops and most remaining civilians fled Napoléon’s approaching army. A shortage of funds delayed the city’s reconstruction by at least five years, but by the 1830s, the city had largely been rebuilt.

By the late 19th century, much of the new architecture was Art Nouveau, as compared to the Empire style of the period of rebuilding which started in the late 1810s. In addition to the architectural change, the street also began attracting more artists, musicians, and intellectuals.

By the early 20th century, Arbat Street was attracting doctors, lawyers, wealthy academics, and the bourgeoisie.

In 1904, electric trams were introduced.

Predictably, after the October Revolution, the Bolsheviks confiscated all private property on the street and made it into state property. In the 1920s, many buildings were converted to communal apartments, and a great many residents were high-ranking Party functionaries.

In addition to old, beautiful apartments, houses, and businesses, most churches were also razed.

Today, Arbat Street is a no-vehicle zone, and much of the real estate is taken up by boutiques, cafés, coffeehouses, bars, souvenir shops and kiosks, restaurants, and street artists. There are also many unique street lanterns and statues.

Copyright NVO

Arbat Street features in Chapter One, “Storm on the Horizon,” of my first Russian historical, You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan. Lyuba and her friends attend a very left-wing gymnasium on Arbat Street, and her cousin Ginny (real name Mikhail) is in an adjoining annex for younger pupils.

Near the end of Chapter One, they’re expelled from school for their monarchist views and refusal to support either the Provisional Government or the Bolsheviks.

Arbat Street will also feature in the second of my two prequels, which will be set from 1897–1917, as Lyuba and her friends grow up.

Copyright Florstein