Sportivnaya: The Allure of a Beaten Path
Text and photos by Katrina Marie
Sometimes the beaten path offers unbeatable comfort, like well-worn shoes with a perfect fit. Perhaps that’s why Sportivnaya beckons for multiple return visits. Although best known for its proximity to the massive Luzhniki Olympic sports complex and the iconic Novodevichy Convent, its neighbourhoods are alluring in their easy, broken-in existence.
This suggested outing delivers the traveller to the well known sites, but also includes a pleasant wander through everyday Khamovniky district (one of Tolstoy‘s haunts), as well as one of the most picturesque waterfront walks in Moscow. The route ends at the Frunzenskaya station, but could easily be shortened or expanded as desired.
Begin at the Sportivnaya Metro station. Opened in 1957, the design is a subdued merging of soft white marble and embossed ceiling tiles. On the third floor resides the Moscow Metro Museum, though its operating hours are unpredictable and inconvenient (unlike the Metro itself). Run by former Metro workers, it features a full display of Metro history, including original blueprints, tools, and even a mock-up of the operator’s cab. The Metro is open only during the week, and usually by appointment. Tel: 232 7309. Location: Ul Khamovnicheskiy Val 36, 3rd floor.
From the Metro, follow signs to Luzhniki Olympic sports arena. Upon exiting the station, head straight, passing under the overpass and wading through one of Moscow’s largest outdoor clothing markets of nearly every imaginable shape, colour, material, and quality. In need of pink “pleather” platforms? You got it. Polk-a-dot pantyhose? No problem. Beyond the over-stimulating array of sparkly sequins and neon neckties, this is also an ideal people-watching venue, attracting characters of all sorts and circumstances. Just mind your wallet.
In the 1990s, the market became a bastion of Russia’s initiation into capitalism. Many who started out pushing Levis and Asian electronics graduated in time to own larger businesses. But the market’s days may be numbered. The city has reportedly given vendors until 30 June to close up shop, although many hope for a reprieve.
Continue ahead until reaching the Luzhniki Stadium. Opened in 1956, this colossal complex hosts nearly 150 sports facilities, including Russia’s largest stadium (seating almost 80,000). It is the venue for the infamous Spartak football club, as well as high rolling rock stars like Moby and Madonna. The stadium will also host the 2018 World Cup. In sight is a giant statue of Lenin harkening back to its origins (the Central Stadium of Lenin).
Return to the Metro, skirting to the left of the station and up a short flight of derelict stairs to Savelyeva Ulitsa. Turn left. This peaceful poplar-lined street immediately commands the rushing pedestrian to slow to a stroll—particularly during pukh season when the air fills thickly with the cottony white “snow”. Turn right onto Usacheva Ulitsa, passing a neighbourhood boulevard park at left and residential apartments at right.
Turn left onto Desyatiletiya Ulitsa, crossing Malaya Pirogovskaya and the Theatre of Music and Poetry, founded in 1992 by famous bard and actor Yelena Kamburova. Continue edging towards Novodevichy (New Maiden) Convent just to the northeast. Soon the convent’s striking domes will become visible through the trees. Proceed in that direction.
Founded in 1524 by Prince Vasily III (father of Ivan the Terrible), the snowy white and blood-red walls of the Novodevichy Convent remind one that despite its present tranquillity, these bricks once bore as prisoner Peter the Great’s arch nemesis (and sister), Sofia Alekseyevna, as well as his first wife. Spared from Soviet destruction, the grounds and churches were converted into museums (including some still affiliated with the State Historical Museum) as well as academic institutes. In 1994, Novodevichy again became an active convent.
As the former stomping grounds of Leo Tolstoy, the convent is featured in his works, including War and Peace and Anna Karenina. He often ice-skated on the Bolshoy Novodevichy Pond, which appears as the setting in Anna Karenina when Konstantin Levin meets his future wife, Kitty. Novodevichy is also the site of Russia’s most famous cemetery, where the “who’s who” are commonly buried in grandiose graves, including Yeltsin, Chekhov, Khrushchev, and Gogol.
After exploring the grounds, head toward the serene Bolshoi Novodevichy Pond, where an inviting waterfront wander passes fathers fishing with their sons, grandmothers feeding baby ducks, and on weekends, the omnipresent wedding party.
Circle the pond and exit up a short flight of stairs to Novodevichiy Proezd. Cross the street onto Pogodinskaya ulitsa. At # 16 is an attractive mansion, built in 1901. At # 12 is the former estate of the Pogodin family, now the Iraqi Embassy. But the real treat is at # 12a, a rare 1850s wooden izba, or log cabin. The bright sky blue hut and white fretwork window shutters are absolutely magnificent.
Turn back and take a left onto Abrikosovskiy Per, leading to Bolshaya Pirogovskaya Ulitsa. The district’s importance as a medical and academic hub emerges with each passing eye-catching building. With pronounced use of pillars, scrolls, and “wedding cake” design, the architecture is decidedly neo-classical—a nod both to the teachings of Ancient Greece and to state power.
Turn left onto Bolshaya Pirogovskaya, named after Russian surgeon Nikolay Pirogovo, who introduced advances in military field surgery in the mid-1800s. The sprawling buildings on the left-hand side belong to the Moscow Medical Academy in the name of Ivan Sechenov, father of Russian physiology. At # 2 is the Museum of Medical History, guarded by a memorial statue of Sechenov. The museum opened in 1990 and features medical instruments, photographs, and medical books from the 17th through 19th centuries. Open only during weekdays with appointment. Tel: 495 248 6665.
Across the street, at # 27, are the extensive remains of the 1901 Elektroluch light bulb factor, or simply Luch (ray). This classic gem of industrialization is under redevelopment, with plans to incorporate a large retail and restaurant space within its pre-revolutionary brick walls. If now in need to wet your whistle, the opportunity presents itself with the swank upscale Luch Bar and Restaurant. Luch has incorporated the gorgeous factory brickwork into its trendy loft-like space, wellappointed with artwork and classic furniture.
White-coated doctors and nurses are often seen ambling across the grounds of the stately Clinic of Childhood Illnesses at # 19, as are its young patients. At # 17 is the main and rather majestic building of the State Archives.
Across the street is the soothing wooded Devichyevo Polya, or Girls Field. In the 17th century, the park featured an apothecary garden of medicinal herbs for the nearby hospitals. Tolstoy again drew inspiration from his surroundings and Girls Field in War and Peace.
Turn right onto Kholzunova Pereulok, named in memory of celebrated pilot and Hero of the Soviet Union Viktor Kholzunov, (1905-1939). The splendid building at # 8 is the Main Military Prosecutor’s Office.
At right is the delightful Trubetskoy children’s park, well worth a turn. The eminent Trubetskoy boyar family owned vast estates throughout Russia, including the Khamovniky district. The park is an obvious draw for children and doting grandmothers, but is also popular during the week with local office workers taking a few minutes for ice cream, a chat with a colleague, and an easing of the overworked mind.
The Frunzenskaya Metro station is just up to the right, conveniently located next to a Starbucks, if in need of a caffeine jolt.