Moscow’s most famous street, the Arbat, is an eclectic art market filled with portrait painters, soapbox poets, and street musicians, with more than a few sidewalk cafés and souvenir stands. In the struggle between the freethinkers and the moneymakers, the latter seems to be winning the battle for the Arbat. But nonetheless, the historic and artistic atmosphere on this avenue endures.
Start at the eastern end, a traffic-clogged square known as Arbatskaya Ploshchad. The attractive 19th-century building on the corner houses the historic restaurant (1) Praga (Ulitsa Arbat 2/1; www.praga.ru), which has been in existence since the 1890s. It was always a meeting place of the elite, and the restaurant today claims to have served many of Moscow’s most celebrated writers, artists, and musicians. These days, the extravagant interior is worth a peek.
Stroll west on the car-free Arbat. On the right, look for the (2) Wall of Peace (Ulitsa Arbat; www.wwfp.org) an edifice covered with hundreds of hand-painted tiles, all expounding on the theme of international friendship.
Continue for a few blocks, turning left on Krivoarbatsky Pereulok. This tiny lane contains one of the city’s most remarkable examples of Constructivist architecture, an idealistic and futuristic movement that swept the Soviet Union in the 1920s. The (3) Melnikov House (Krivoarbatsky Pereulok 10; www.melnikovhouse.ru) is named for the architect who designed it in 1927. An experimental design, the house is formed from two connected cylinders and dotted with hexagonal windows. “Tucked behind the Arbat on its own plot of land it is like a spaceship from another world,” says Clementine Cecil, co-founder, Moscow Architectural Preservation Society. “Plans are afoot to create a museum here, but even before that happens it is worth going to peer through the fence.”
Continue on Kirvoarbatsky Pereulok and turn right to return to the Arbat. A bronze statue of (4) Bulat Okudzhava (corner of Krivoarbatsky Pereulok and Ulitsa Arbat) stands at the center of the intersection. One of Moscow’s favorite bards, Okudzhava lived on the Arbat (nearby at No 43) and often performed here. His music—a mix of acoustic guitar and heady poetry—became known as “author’s song.” It inspired a whole movement of liberal thinkers to take to the streets.
Head straight up Spasopeskovsky Pereulok to get a glimpse of the pretty (5) Church of the Savior on the Sands, or “Spasa-na-Peskakh” (Spasopeskovsky Pereulok), dating to the 18th century. At the far end of the lane is the elegant (6) Spaso House (Spasopeskovsky Pereulok 10), home of the U.S. Ambassador to Russia. Make your way back to the Arbat, and turn right to continue walking west.
On the right, you will notice a bronze statue of the national bard, Alexander Pushkin, and his wife Natalia Goncharova. After their wedding at the nearby Great Ascension Church, the couple lived in the blue house on the left, which is now the (7) Pushkin House-Museum (Ulitsa Arbat 53).
The Arbat ends at Smolenskaya-Sennaya Ploshchad, which is dominated by the massive (8) Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Smolenskaya-Sennaya Ploshchad 32/34). This is one of seven skyscrapers known as the Seven Sisters, which were built in 1947 to commemorate Moscow’s 800th anniversary. The massive size and wedding-cake style made them favorites of Stalin.
From here you can hop on the metro, or stroll over to sample the brews at (9) Tinkoff Brewery and Restaurant (Protochny Pereulok 11; www.tinkoff.ru).
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