Aug 31, 2021
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What Moscow looked like shortly in the middle of the 19th century

Want to see what Moscow looked like when serfdom was still in effect? Today I will show you very interesting photographs of the city, mainly from the 1850s. But there are also earlier specimens. As usual, I will not analyze each year by events. First, there wasn’t much going on in those days. Secondly, not everything can be backed up with photographs. Let’s see what #Moscow was like more than 160 years ago!

The oldest views of the Mother See

In general, the first photograph in Russia was taken by Joseph Gamel. In 1839 he photographed the leaves of plants several times. And then he presented the results of the experiment at a meeting of the Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg. The scientist conducted research after returning from a trip to Europe. First, Gamel took a course in calotyping (developing with paper and silver iodide) in the UK. Then he went to France. There he mastered another development technology – daguerreotype (such photos looked like reflection in a mirror and did not always clearly convey reality).

This is what a calotype looks like. Photo taken by Briton Roger Fenton in 1852. Photo:

And this is already a daguerreotype. The photograph was taken in 1838 on the Boulevard du Temple in Paris by Louis Daguerre. Photo from Wikipedia. Photo:

The oldest photographs of Moscow that can be found in the public domain date back to 1842. Several photographs show us what the Kremlin looked like, as well as the area behind the fortress walls towards the modern districts of Yakimanka and Khamovniki.

View of the Kremlin from about where the modern Sofiyskaya embankment is located, 1842. Photo:

The same image, but colored. As you can see, the Kremlin was white at that time, 1842. Photo:

This is already a view from the Kremlin towards modern Khamovniki and Yakimanka in winter, 1842. Photo:

Since the exposure at that time was from 15 to 30 minutes, all the people we see in these photographs are drawn later. They did this to give the picture a liveliness. Already in the second half of the 19th century, the technology became a little different, but exposure still took a lot of time. You’ve probably seen photographs where there are no people at all. And the city streets seem to be empty. But they have already stopped drawing characters in the pictures.

Old bridge

The modern Bolshoi Kamenny Bridge appeared in 1938 after the reconstruction of the Moscow embankments. Its previous version was located in a slightly different location. It connected Lenivka Street with the road, on the site of which today there is one of the side ramps of Serafimovich Street to the embankment. But this design is not original either. It appeared only in 1859.

The modern Bolshoi Kamenny Bridge, built in 1938. Photo from here:

View of the Stone Bridge in 1859 near the Cathedral of Christ the Savior under construction. Photo 1859-1865. Photo:

Before that, there was an old Stone Bridge here. It was erected in 1692. The construction took almost 50 years in total. And the whole project cost so much money that the expression “More expensive than a stone bridge” appeared among the people. Muscovites used it when they wanted to emphasize the excessively high price of something. At the end of the 18th century, the bridge began to gradually deteriorate. Permanent floods have played an important role in this. Over time, the design has become simply unsafe for people. And it was inconvenient for many to climb the “humped” bridge. Therefore, it was demolished in the 1850s. Interestingly, it was made so well that the workers could hardly disassemble the structure.

View of the Stone Bridge (it also had the name Vsekhsvyatsky) from the place where Prechistenskaya Embankment is located today, 1852. Photo:

Closer stone bridge, 1852-1857. Photo:

Temporary bridge on the site of Kamenny, 1857-1858. Photo:

The modern bridge is just above the original one. Therefore, today Lenivka street looks strange on the map. Too wide for such a short length. In addition, it also rests against the embankment. Now you know why this is so.

Reconstruction of the Bolshoi

In 1853 # the Bolshoi Theater was once again engulfed in fire. Yes, so strong that they could not extinguish it for several days. The fire destroyed everything except the outer walls of stone. A competition for projects for the reconstruction of the theater was immediately announced. Among the participants were famous architects such as Konstantin Ton. However, the option of another architect, Albert Kavos, won.

This is what the Bolshoi Theater looked like in 1826.

The building was restored in just three years. The size of the building has increased and the decor has changed slightly. So instead of the sculpture of Apollo, lost during the fire, a quadriga was placed over the entrance. It is a chariot drawn by four horses. The composition was created by the sculptor Pyotr Klodt. That is, the appearance of the Bolshoi Theater has become practically what we see it today. Although in the 19th century, two more reconstructions were carried out. And in the early 2000s, the most scandalous restoration of the theater started. It lasted 6 years. The Bolshoi reopened only in October 2011.

Bolshoi Theater after reconstruction, 1859-1862. Photo:

Emperor’s coronation

And now something that you most likely have never seen. Old # photographs give us the opportunity to see how the coronation of Emperor Alexander II took place in September 1856. This head of state was remembered for numerous reforms that radically changed the life of not only Muscovites, but also all residents of the country. Speech, first of all, about the abolition of serfdom in 1861, the zemstvo and judicial reforms in 1864, as well as the reform of city government in 1870 and some others.

Iversky (Voskresensky) gates on the day of the coronation of Alexander II. There is no historical museum on the right yet, 1856. Photo:

Celebrations in Red Square on the occasion of the coronation of Alexander II, 1856. Photo:

Coronation of Alexander II, 1856. Photo from here:

All people were very happy that day. And not only because of the coronation. On the occasion of such a holiday, the Emperor announced an amnesty to the Decembrists, Petrashevists (a socio-political movement against autocracy and serfdom), suspended the recruitment duty for three years, and also wrote off all arrears from the peasants.

Gustav Schwartz. Illumination of the Resurrection Gate and the Kremlin in 1856. Picture from here:

I remember the coronation of Muscovites and one more event. The townspeople saw electric lighting for the first time. During the days of the celebration, ten searchlights were installed on the Kremlin towers and at the Lefortovo Palace. Unfortunately, there are no photos. However, there is a picture. Some townspeople at first thought that there was a fire in the Kremlin, the lighting seemed so bright to them. In a couple of decades, electric street lights will become commonplace for Muscovites.

A short walk through pre-reform Moscow

Of course, in those days, the city looked completely different. It is impossible to recognize most of the streets for a modern inhabitant of the capital. Let’s take a walk and see what the center of Moscow looked like. Let’s start with Red Square.

The monument to Minin and Pozharsky then stood here, near the Upper Trading Rows. Now in their place is GUM, 1856. Photo:

The monument to Minin and Pozharsky stood opposite the Kremlin wall until 1931. Then he was transferred to the Cathedral of St. Basil the Blessed. And in the background you can see the Upper Trading Rows. In 1893, the future GUM was opened in their place. Then we will go to the modern metro station “Kitay-Gorod”, closer to Varvarka. Now there is a square with a final stop for buses. In the 1860s there was only a fountain and horses. The space looks generally dirty.

Varvarskaya Square. Now it is called Slavyanskaya, right there is the Kitay-Gorod metro station, 1860. Photo:

The Vshivaya (Shvivaya) hill was considered the most successful point for viewing the city. It still exists not far from Taganskaya Square. True, these days you can’t see anything from it. The skyscraper on Kotelnicheskaya obstructs everything. And then a beautiful panorama of Moscow opened up. Although it is difficult to feel all the beauty from this photo. Apparently the quality is not very good.

View of the Kremlin and the Moskva River with Vshiva (Shviva) Gorka near Taganskaya Square, 1852. Photo:

There is a better quality photo. But the picture was taken later – in 1860-1865. Photo:

By the way, a little about the Moscow River. It was, of course, somewhat wider than it is today. But in the center, all the banks were forced with boats, barges and incomprehensible wooden structures. Therefore, in general, the main waterway of the city did not look very aesthetically pleasing. But closer to the outskirts, the river turned into a wide surface of water. I think that you are unlikely to recognize the place that is shown in the photo below.

View of the modern Frunzenskaya Embankment from the side of Gorky Park, 1856. Photo:

Now here (Frunzenskaya embankment) are huge Stalinist houses. The Nikolskaya Church has survived; it is located on Komsomolsky Prospekt. In the end, I want to say that each time is wonderful in its own way. In pre-revolutionary times, these were low houses in cozy alleys and chic churches. During the Soviet years – constructivism and the Stalinist Empire style. Today, architectural requirements have changed somewhat. Some people like new buildings, some don’t. However, it is now part of Moscow. It’s just that # the history of the city has developed that way.

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