Ulitsa Varvarka, in Afrikaans this would mean street pig. So naturally when I read this I just had to go down this street. My first but definitely not last walk down this historical street was on this lovely sunny day in May with my friend Yve.
The street is within walking distance of the Red Square.
On our way we stopped at one of the small carts in front of the Red Square and bought ourselves a glass of ice cold kvass. Kvass is a fermented drink made from black rye bread which makes the drink black. It is classified as non-alcoholic by Russian standards because the alcohol content is between 0.5 and 1%.
They only sell kvass in the spring and summer and it is very refreshing.
Varvarka Street was once the dwelling place of the artisans who sold their wares on the Red Square and holds a claim to being the oldest street in Moscow. Although this street is very short, it actually has the most churches of any street in the city. It took us some time walking down it and exploring all the churches on our way. Some of these old churches are hidden down alley ways or behind other newer buildings and you can see that most are in the middle of being restored.
Ulitsa Varvarka takes its name from the Church of St. Varavara, which stands on the right at the start of the street if you are walking from the Red Square. St. Varvara, who was killed by her father for her Christian beliefs somewhere in Asia Minor around the beginning of the 4th century, is considered in Moscow to be the patron saint of merchants.
Next to the church is the English Court (Varvarka, 4), which was originally a palace built for the wealthy merchant Bobrishchev and is one of the oldest buildings in Moscow.
On the same grounds as the English Court is the Church of St. Maksim a 17th Century structure. The church’s bell tower is famous in Moscow for being visibly off-center, known as the city’s ‘leaning tower’. I think this is a stunning church but we couldn’t go inside, it is locked up and not in use any more. It’s sad but at least they have restored the outside, it looked like they were working on the inside though. Most churches and Cathedrals in Moscow are undergoing restoration after they were left unused during communism.
The next section of the street is linked with the Romanov family, Russia’s rulers for three centuries. Before Mikhail I was elected Tsar by the Boyars’ Assembly in 1613, the family had long been prominent Moscow aristocrats, and this area was their domain. After the family moved into the Kremlin, the area was given over to the Znamensky Monastery.
The most noticeable feature is the monastery’s red-and-white bell tower which is separated from the rest of the monastery by the Rossia’s elevated ramp. The monastic quarters, which stand by the monastery’s main entrance, date from the 1670s and are now used as a shop selling Orthodox icons and religious souvenirs and worth a quick snoop.
The monastery also became the home of the first printed bible in Moscow.
The Cathedral of the Sign, a large brown-brick church topped with four green domes around a central circular one, was erected in 1684. Unfortunately this church has been locked every time I have tried to go inside which is a shame.
The centre of the complex is the Palace of the Romanov Boyars. It now houses a museum showing the lifestyle of Moscow’s medieval nobility. This tiny museum is only open on certain days and I never seem to get there at the right time to enter.
Our exploring took Yve and me across to the other side of the Rossia ramp where the Church of St. George stands, which dates from 1657, and was also built with contributions from wealthy merchants. This pretty church with its slender towers and spangled cupolas is typical of the period. The pale green bell tower was added in 1818. The church now houses another shop selling icons and Orthodox souvenirs. It seems like every church or Cathedral in Moscow has a small shop inside selling religious goods.
We also found the 17the century Church of the Trinity in Nikitniki hidden between other buildings down an alley way. It was built in the 17th century and during communism it was turned into a museum. Luckily it has been beautifully restored and is now a working church again. We actually got to attend a short part of a service when we went for a look inside. There are no seats inside, everyone stands for the whole duration of the service so you constantly have people entering and leaving during the service.
It’s amazing how many treasures you can find walking down one short street in Moscow.