Bolshaya Ordinka: Street of the Golden Horde and Golden Domes
Text and Photos by Katrina Marie
The words Golden Horde evoke mystery, the Orient, and certainly another space and time. But a walk down Moscow’s Bolshaya Ordinka unearths multiple layers of Russian history in the Zamoskvorechya district, from where Mongul-Tartars once launched raids against the Kremlin. Indeed, the name Bolshaya Ordinka itself is derived from the Golden Horde (Zolotaya Orda) and served as the main route from the Kremlin south in the 14th century.
We begin at 69 Bolshaya Ordinka, the affiliate stage of the Moscow Maly Theatre, located just off the renovated Dobrininskaya Metro station. Dressed in Victorian-style blue and white scroll, the Maly features performances of Russian classics, such as Ostrovsky’s Wolves and Sheep and Chekhov’s Seagull.
At 60/2 Bolshaya Ordinka is the Russian Orthodox church of St. Catherine the Great Martyr-in-the-Fields, quite a beautiful discovery on a Saturday morning when angelic choral voices fill this airy church with song. Funded by Catherine the Great, the church was built in the 1760s and stands on the site of a bloody battle in 1612 during the Times of Troubles, when Moscow was threatened by Polish and Lithuanian invaders (who reportedly were driven hence out of Russia). The church offers an English service once a month.
At 39 there is another charming pink gem, the Church of Iveron Icon of the Mother of God-in-the-Fields, built between 1789-1802. It sustained heavy damage from fire in the Napoleonic wars of 1812 but was refurbished in the late 1800s. During the Communist period, the church was used as a club for a bus depot. But fortunately early frescoes once painted over are being revealed. One shows a heart-breaking pitiful woman gazing fervently toward heaven; others gleam in rich blue and red.
At 34, set off the busy street, is the unusual Marfo-Mariinskaya Convent, which envelopes the weary traveller in an oasis of tranquillity. Built between 1908-1912 by architect Shchusev (also the architect of Lenin’s Mausoleum), it houses the Church of Intercession of the Mother of God, a splendid mix of art nouveau and medieval Russian architecture. The murals are worth a special visit, earthy blues and yellows, modernist and wholly Russian, particularly the pastoral scene of Christ amongst the sick and needy. It was one of the last churches to be built before the revolution, and therein lies the tragic story of its founder, Grand Duchess Yelizaveta Fyodorovna, sister of Empress Alexandra (wife of Nicholas II). She established the convent after the murder of her husband by revolutionaries in 1905 only to perish herself two days after the 1918 execution of the royal family.
Cross the street to 27, listening to the burgeoning talent of the State Musical College of Bandstand and Jazz, and take a peek at the Church of Saint Nicholas in Pyzhy, a 17th century grandiose, pristine, white church. Perhaps more impressive on the outside, its icons are still certainly beautiful. The church’s bell tower was reportedly seized by the Communists and given to the Bolshoi theatre in the early 1930s.
At 20 is the Church of the Consolation of all Sorrows. Neoclassic and ornate, the church was funded by a wealthy merchant in the mid 1700s who lived just opposite in the mansion that now houses the Russian Academy of Sciences department of Latin America. Rumour has it that an underground tunnel was built by the late owner between the mansion and the church, possibly for those frigid Moscow winters?
Though a stoic babushka cried from her window that there was nothing to see at 17, this apartment complex once housed famous Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. Indeed, while not much remains of that time, a soothing sculpture stands in the courtyard lovingly dedicated to Akhmatova.
Continuing north, the vivid onion domes of St. Basil’s cathedral are now in clear view. As you leave Bolshaya Ordinka, perhaps for an outdoor coffee on Red Square, close your eyes for a moment and breath in the rose and incense that has followed you from church to church. The glistening gold of the past will remain with you, a souvenir of Moscow’s incredible history.