Зарядье: Moscow Historical Trade Centre

12 June, 2015

In the heart of Moscow in front of the Kremlin there’s a less known area of great importance for the city during medieval times. Зарядье (Zaryadye) is an historical district located between Kitay Gorod and the Kremlin. The main street, улица Варварка (Varvarka Ulitsa) is known to be the oldest street in Moscow and takes its name from the Church of St. Varvara, patron saint of merchants. It was indeed according to their will that the church was built. During the Middle Ages Zaryadye was the dwelling place of artisans and craftsmen who came to sell their wares on Red Square.

This district had been the main trading settlement for ages until Peter I decided to relocate the court in Saint Petersburg. As a result many small businesses closed and most of the tenants left. Later a fortification was built to separate Китай-город (Kitay Gorod) and the river Moscova, closing the sewage moats and consequently trapping all the waste in Zaryadye that became extremely unhealthy and unsafe.

The situation got better when in 1812 after a terrible fire, the State banned all the wooden constructions from the area and the poor landlords had to sell their properties. The new owners developed the area, built cheap rental houses, and Zaryadye turned into the garment district of Moscow.

Since 1826 part of Moscow Jewish community settled nearby Zaryadye, after being allowed to settle freely in the city. At the beginning of the 19th century the amount of business decreased and tenants moved to other worker’s neighborhoods. The State took their properties and engaged with many project to develop the area. In 1967 they built the Rossiya Hotel which was demolished in 2007. Now the area is under construction since in 2013 the government approved a project to create a “landscape architectural concept park” in Zaryadye.

Even if most of Zaryadye has been under periodically destructions and reconstructions it still preserves ancient medieval buildings and ruins. In addiction this small area hosts more churches than any other street of Moscow.

Close to the Church o St. Varvara there’s a building known as English Court. This palace was build by the wealthy merchant Bobrishchev and later during the 16th century Ivan the Terrible gave it to the Muscovy company, a delegation of English merchants, hoping to get a share of the profitable fur trade. The English company lost the Tzar’s favour when he understood that his efforts to win Elizabeth I’s hand had failed. A century later Tzar Aleksey expelled the English traders and during the 20th century the English Court opened as a museum.

Wealthy merchants ordered the Church of St. George and Church of Saint Maksim which were both built in the 17th . The last one is located next to the English Court and takes its name after a holy fool who was buried in the original wooden church.

On the other side of the street there’s Stary Gostiny Dvor witch replaced old stalls and warehouses between the 18th and 19th century. Gostiny Dvor means “guest court”: merchants from out of town used to live and store their goods there. Originally it was used for wholesale trade, and now after many restorations the building reopened as a luxury mall and exhibition centre.

Not only trades but famous aristocratic family are connected with this area. The Romanov family dominated part of Zaryadye until they moved into the Klemlin. In 1613 the Boyars’ Assembly elected Michail I as Tzar, the Romanov gave over the area to the Znamensky Monastery. The name of the monastery, Monastery of the Sign, refers to the famous icon “The Sign of the Sacred Virgin” which was made in Novgorod during the 16th century. The Romanovs were spiritually devoted to the icon and the monastery which also held the first printed Bible in Moscow. Today is possible to visit the Cathedral of the Sign, a brown-brick church with four green domes and the Palace of the Romanov Boyars, turned into the museum of the lifestyle of Moscow’s medieval nobility.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons

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