Photos by John Harrison
“Belorusskaya: this lively corner of Moscow,” writes Vladimir Gilyarovskiy in Moscow and the Muscovites. A junction of modern yet vintage, sleek yet chaotic, and foreign yet familial, Belorusskaya is a true duality; a place where one can explore dilapidated Soviet factories with a Starbucks caramel macchiato in hand. Millions of Moscow drivers curse this messy construction-laden intersection, but an afternoon meander amongst its backstreets sooths the senses.
We begin at the Belorusskaya Metro station on the Koltsevaya (Ring) line. Opened in 1952, this airy homage to Belarusian folk features ornate overhead mosaics and red and cream tiles underfoot resembling a Belorussian quilt.
Follow exit signs to Lesnaya ulitsa. The aptly named “Forest street” was home to a lumberyard and market up until the 20th century, which is still echoed in the neighboring streets of Novolesnoy. With the invention of the tram and the trolleybus, the area became a central depot. You’ll see them tucked here and there, lining side streets and filling parking lots.
Turn right at Aleksandra Nevskovo ulitsa. At left, the neighbourhood Miusskaya park is popular with grannies pushing prams, no matter the time of year. Fathers bustle and holler at football while children tackle the looming monument of Soviet author Aleksandr Fadeyev.
The area retains its historical contrast between blue-collar factory workers (who initially lived in cheap wooden cabins) and the scientific and educational institutes that rose up in the late 1890s.
Round the corner left onto Chayanova ulitsa, named in honor of scientist and economist Aleksandr Chayanov (1888-1937), an expert of Russian agrarian economics. For his service to the state, like so many, Chayanov was swept up in the purges of the 1930s and executed in 1937.
At #15, say hello to the pillared beauty of the Russian State Humanitarian University, a charming example of neoclassic style. Just left of the university entrance is the lovely Tsvetaev Museum, which features an impressive collection of treasures from Ancient Egypt to Medieval times. The museum is open Tuesday - Saturday. More information may be found at museum.rsuh.ru/tsvetaev/museum.htm
Continuing on, turn left onto 1-Miusskaya ulitsa, passing the noteworthy buildings of the Russian University of Chemical Technology named after Mendeleyev at left, and Institute of Applied Mathematics at right.
At Lesnaya ulitsa, turn left to return toward the Metro, noticing immediately at #20, the sprawling masonry of the trolleybus park. Part of the building is now a furniture and design store, but it still retains an old-school stolovaya. From this depot, during World War I, special “sanitary” trams were used to transport the wounded from major train stations, such as Belorusskaya, to local hospitals.
At #18, the notable Zuyev House of Culture, initially created as a club for local tram workers, was built in 1928 by architect Ilya Golosov. Architectural lovers are drawn to this perfect example of Moscow constructivism. Its main dramatic feature, a pedestal-like cylinder of glistening glass blocks, plunges into an impervious concrete rectangle.
Continuing on, one passes the gloomy apartment house at #8, the infamous location of the death of journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Flowers are sometimes left at its entrance in her memory.
Ahead at right lies the new business center White Square. The remains of Moscow history fall away like dust as the vestiges of new Moscow become visible: Starbucks, Le Pain Quotidien, Coffeemania, Toro Grille, and even an organic Bio Market, to name a few. Built of polished stone in neutrals and sleek glass, for a moment, one could be in any American downtown.
Not to be ignored, the distinctive cathedral of St. Nicholas in Tverskaya Zastava appears to bristle at its current state, sandwiched between the busy metro entrance and Starbucks, flanked by unrelenting traffic and earsplitting construction.
The gleaming gold onion dome, stark white exterior, and dramatic belfry of this Old Believer church makes this one of Moscow’s landmark buildings. Completed in 1921 in ancient Novgorod style, St. Nicholas in Tverskaya Zastava beautifully captures a former time. The church’s doors didn’t remain open long, however; in 1935, the church was closed and used as an air defense storehouse during World War II, and later a sculptors’ studio. But perhaps it was just happy to survive intact; two neighboring churches completed in a similar style were destroyed.
Today’s sprawling Tverskaya Zastava square bears no resemblance to its former self. Indeed, it feels less like a square than a giant jumble of streets, construction digs and awkward pedestrian-packed wooden “sidewalks”. The impressive Belorusskaya train station even appears to draw back from the maddening mayhem.
From the 1800s to the mid-1900s, the square was dominated by a Triumphal Arch, first erected in 1814 to commemorate Russia’s victory over Napoleon (removed in the 1960s). Now the square is perpetually torn up, with hopes that a new interchange will eventually improve the nightmarish traffic situation. Underground, the architects plan a large shopping mall with grocery stores, movie theaters and restaurants. But of course, nearly six years later, construction timetables have slipped, and the chaos continues.
Heading east, Butyrskiy Val bears the name of the infamous near-by Butyrska prison (Novoslobodskaya ulitsa 45). Founded by Catherine the Great, the prison was the starting point for the harsh forced march to Siberia exile that so vividly captured the empathy of fellow citizens.
From the square, round St. Nicholas to re-enter the Koltsevaya line of Belorusskaya Metro. Follow signs to “Belorussky Vokzal” (upon exiting the station, head left). Featured briefly in the Bourne Supremacy, this beautiful neoclassic and gothicstyle train station opened in 1870 and was later reconstructed in the early 1900s. It is the departure point for journeys westward, including Smolensk, Kaliningrad, Vilnius, Warsaw, Berlin, Minsk, and is also Sheremetyevo airport via the Aeroexpress.
More notably, Belorussky Vokzal served as the primary departure and return point for troops headed for the front in World War II, as evinced by the Russian 1970s psychological war drama “Belorussky Vokzal”. The station was the scene of tearful sad good-byes, and later happy hurrahs as returning troops were greeted by cheering crowds. In 1945, the station temporarily took on the nickname “Victory Station”. It is also the sister-station of the Berlin Hauptbahnhof.
Return to the Metro and transfer to the green Zamoskvoretskaya line. Opened in 1938 and designed by architects Ivan Taranov and Nadezhda Bykova, this pretty station is again decorated in Belarusian motives. Inviting pink marble is elegantly intermixed with contrasting black marble, leaving an impression that, much like this “lively corner of Moscow”, is both disparate and fresh.