Ideas for hiking in Moscow

© Alexander Roschin 2018
last update Jan 2018


Kolomenskoe Park

From-To: Metro Kashirskaya - Metro Kolomenskaya
Duration: 2-3 hrs
Conditions: relatively dry weather, footwear suitable for dirt trails

Park Kolomenskoe, although quite large, is far from being biggest natural park of Moscow. But it's surely one that is the richest in historical monuments.

The oldest of them is the archeological site of "Dyakovo Gorodische" from first millenium BC - first millenium AD. It had been one of administative and sacral centers of the then tribal population, later known to Slavs as "Merya". Their language was Finnish-like, they inhabited what are now Moscow, Vologda and Yaroslavl regions, had some part in transit trade with Europe and Asia, but lived rather poorly and had no writing. Still, many toponims in the region derive from their language, probably including "Moskva" itself.

The site center is a small sharp hill overlooking the Moskva river valley, with clearly visible several-meters-long moat and rampart. It was thoroughly excavated in Soviet time. In wet weather it's still a difficult-to-reach place, but when dirt dries one can approach it from both riverside (north) and inland (south). There's another archeological site "Chertov gorodok" on a lower terrace 500 meters away, but it is rather plain and has no panoramic views.

From the hill one can easily see the Temple of John the Baptist one kilometer northward. It stands in the middle of a village cemetery, but was built when Kolomeskoe was a Tsar's residence, most probably around 1550 AD, under Ivan IV "Groznyi" (The Terrible). It's one of the oldest temples in all Moscow, and, like the famous temple on the Red Square, is constructed of several distinct 8-sided towers, each of them having its own entrance and altar (Russian Wikipedia). The temple is opened only at prayer service hours, but it has lost the original decor long ago, so from inside it's not very interesting.

Just below the temple is a ravine with a funny name "Golosov". It seems likely that it was renamed from "Volosov", after Volos - the Slavic pagan god of wealth, cattle and lower world. There are some mystical, or fantasy, stories about the ravine (told in English in the Wikipedia article); on the south side there are two large boulders believed to have healing powers, maybe since ancient Merya times. Next to the ravine is also a big apple orchard, planted in mid-20-century, when Kolomenskoe was still a Moscow suburb, not a megapolis-encircled park.

The territory north of the Golosov ravine is an open-air museum of old Russian architecture. The most famous is the column-like Church of the Ascension of Jesus, 1532. Despite being biult by an invited Italian architect, it's a perfect example of the early Rusiian tent-roof style. To my view, from aside it resembles the first Soviet, and world's, space rocket Sputnik/R-7. The many arcs and passsages of its ground level are also worth a closer look. The interior of the Ancension temple is off-limits to visitors; as by photos, it currently has very few decorative elements.

Next to the Ascension temple is the "Peredniye vorota" (Front Gate) with another tent-roofed tower, some beautiful red-brick ornament and icon paitings over its eastern facade.

The nearby territory hosts many less-important old buildings, some of them remaining from Tsar estate, some brought to the museum from other parts of Russia. Most notable of the latter kind are a wooden temple of St. George, 1688, moved recently from northern Arkhangelsk Oblast, and an operational watermill on Zhuzha river. There are also cafeterias, souvenir shops and other features of a touristy place.

Metro station Kolomenskaya is to the north from the museum territory, on Prospekt Andropova. Metro station Kashirskaya is a few hundred meters west of southwest corner of the park.

Walking south-east along Moskva river is recommended only to the park's fence; further way to railway platform Moskvorechye is for the most intrepid only.

Moskva river valley John the Baptist Church
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Around the Kitay-gorod metro

From-To: Metro Kitay-gorod
Duration: 2 hrs

The name Kitay-gorod refers to a circle of Moscow city walls, about 1km in diameter, the first of several circles outside Kremlin (second was Belyi Gorod where now is the Boulevard Ring, third - Zemlyanoi Gorod where now is the Garden Ring, forth - the Kamer-Kollezhsky rampart more or less where now is the Third Ring). The stone and brick walls with towers were built in 1538 and demolished during Stalin's reconstruction in 1934. One 300m-long section remains near the Ploschad Revolyutsii metro; stone blocks of the Varvarskaya Tower are exposed in an underground passage of southern exit of the Kitay-gorod metro; a modern reconstuction of another 200m section can be seen between that exit and Moskva river. Certainly, these are not the main attractions in this area.

Before the massive removal of Soviet names in mid-1990s, the station and its square were called the Nogin Square, and were a symbol of bureacratic late-Soviet Moscow. All the territory between Kremlin and Garden Ring was full of state-run offices and institutes - civilian, restricted, or military, and of apartments for their emplyees. Numerous historical buidings were also used by these institutions, except a few beatifully restored churches, fully encircled in administration quarters. This kind of atmosphere is still in place - look at the fine All Saints church just at the metro exit, then at buildings behind it.

The corner building of Kitaygorodskii Proezd has several memorial plates, among others for Kuibyshev and Orjonikidze, the early Soviet "captains of industry", included in all-USSR cult list with, say, Kirov, Kalinin and Dzerzhinskii. After them important cities had been named, which in 1991 were reverted to Samara and Vladikavkaz. We had had a good practice spelling the difficult name of Orjonikidze, as literally any town had Orjonikidze street, Orjonikidze factory and Orjonikidze school. Reportedly, in 1990s the former apartments of mighty Commissars in this house were used for a brothel; but they were not cynical enough for "Orjonikidze brothel", and called it something like "Daydreams".

If you follow a small street beside the church, you'll meet more of this bureaucracy architecture, including the notorious Roskomnadzor - the state watchdog on Internet, nothing of dark Gotic, the most ordinary office buiding.

Southwest of the metro station there's the Russia's main government quarter; the political Kremlin actually resides there. The compound near Staraya Ploschad has changed ownership from Communist Party Central Commitee to President Administration, bloated and consumed neighboring blocks up to Varvarka street and western side of the metro square. It has recently encircled itself in a high fence of thick metal rods, with guarded checkposts. In theory, the guards should allow visitors to see the beautiful Trinity Church inside, in practice - you are free to try it yourself.

- Daddy, what is this big wall for ?
- Sonny, bad people cannot come over it and harm good people
- Daddy, to come from outside or from inside ?
(Soviet anecdote about Kremlin).

So, let's talk about the good. The Varvarka street connects the Kitay-gorod metro with the Red Square and has the biggest concentration of medieval buidings in Moscow outside Kremlin, so it's a must-see. Exactly the place "it's better to see once, than to read about a hundred times". A good idea is to walk all its 500 meters, then turn left around the last church and return by lower level along the border of the new Zaryadye park. That closest to Kremlin church is named after Svyataya Varvara (St. Barbara), and the whole street was called by it, as it was usual in Moscow (Il'inka street after Church of St. Elias, Pokrovka street after Church of Pokrov). There are 4 beautiful churches on Varvarka, dated from 1684 to 1804, and several masonry houses, which are even older. There are also two museums: The Old English Court and The Chambers of Boyar Romanov. For such a historical cluster, there's only little atmosphere, because all these antiques were cleaned and restored from early Soviet-era usage as storehouses and communal lodgings.

There's also the really charming Church of St. Anna in the southeast corner of the park, where Kitaygorodskii Proezd street comes down to Moskva river. It's the oldest church in this area (15-16th centuries) and is a clear example of old Bizantine white-stone cross-dome design, later supplemented with a gallery and other additions, still later restored. (Other surviving cross-dome churches in Moscow are St. Trifon's near Rizhskaya metro and the central church of Andronikov Monastery near Ploschad Il'icha metro, both 15th century.) It was recognized as a historical monument through Soviet era, and eventually outlived the Rossiya hotel, a tremendous square construction of concrete and glass, that covered territory of the now Zaryadye park. The park itself, although much advertised, is only a little better than that ugly "modern" hotel. It was born by the same power-plus-money intoxicated mind, that planned the winter Olympics 2014 in the only place of Russia which has no natural snow.

Coming from Kitay-gorod up the Zabelina Street we soon get to a crossing with Solyanka Street. The imposing building in far-right corner was in 1990-2010 a legand for advanced teenage Muscovites, calling themselves "diggeri" (a plural of "digger" adapted to Russian morphology). It stands on a really huge basement floor, with non-trivial layout, those days desolate and unguarded. With the University bomb shelter and numerous city water collectors it was considered a worthy beginners' "zalaz" (crawling-in). Advanced researchers went on to metro venting shafts and abandoned military objects; the ultimate target was Metro-2 - the legendary system of governmental command bunkers and tunnels at 200m depth. "Diggerstvo" is still flourishing in Internet, but in reality became much more difficult with new networked guard systems and stricter law enforcement.

The Solyanka street goes to the right of the crossing and connects (almost) straight to a square at Yauza river's estuary, from which you can continue walking towards Taganskaya metro (that deserves a chapter of its own). Straight from the crossing Zabelina street climbs a hill, topped with lovely and very old Church of St. Vladimir (1516/1660, build as a home church for King Vasilii III) and massive-walled compound of St. John Nunnery with St. John Cathedral. To the left of the crossing is a lane with funny name Spasoglinischevskii, leading to a sinagogue, a very rear kind of temple for Moscow. Just opposite the sinagogue a hillside is turned into a lovely park.

All area north and east of Zabelina street is a maze of bent lanes, connected by shorcut trails through yards. Most of houses are used as offices, but some are still populated by local families. Modern buildings are rare, but there's a really great variety of older ones. If you've got a navigator, I can encourage your quest by listing some of them with coordinates:

For a brief stroll, most atmospheric lanes are Kolpachnyi and Khitrovskii; you'll need a map to find the latter. Without map, if you start from Zabelina street and keep some direction for some time, you're certain to get through the maze to one of bigger streets around it: Maroseyka/Pokrovka, Boulevard Ring, or Solyanka. Maroseyka and Solyanka allow to return to the Kitay-gorod metro; from the Boulevard Ring there're plenty of interesting directions to go on walking: north to Chistiye Prudy and metro Turgenevskaya, east to metro Kurskaya, southeast to metro Taganskaya.



Novospasskii Monastery - Krutitsi church - Simonov Monastery

From-To: Metro Proletarskaya/Krestyanskaya Zastava - metro Avtozavodskaya
Duration: from 3 hrs

Monasteries on southern outskirts of Moscow were built as forts, encircled in good walls with towers and three tiers of gun ports. There are many of them: Novodevichii (near Sportivnaya metro) and Donskoy (near Shabolovskaya metro) are most popular tourist destinations; Daniilov (not far from Paveletskaya metro) is an office of Patriarchy; Andronikov (not far from Rimskaya metro) hosts the fine Rublev Museum of Ancient Russian Art. The Novospasskii Monastery near Proletarskaya metro is less-visited and less interesting by itself, but neighbours another fine old place - the Krutitsi church; the remains of the majestic Simonov Monastery are also not far from it, and all three can be done in one reasonable trip.

Generally, in less-touristy Russian Orthodox monasteries and churches they don't like idle onlookers and may even turn you away. You'll be allowed almost everywhere, if you: 1) do not smoke 2) do not talk loudly 3) put your camera and phone out of sight 4) take your hat off if you're a man, cover your head, arms and knees if you're a woman.

Still, there're no special attractions in the Novospasskii Monastery and you may not want to go inside at all. The real atmosphere lives outside it: there's a trail just under the western wall (you can touch it if you like) and a huge quiet pond between the monastery and Moskva river. From the riverside the Novospasskii Monastery makes a really fairy-tale view.

The very beautiful Krutitsi church is not far, but to get there from Novospasski is a challenge as there's a busy road between them, deceptively called 3rd Krutitskii Pereulok. One way is to go back to the Simonovskii Val crossing, cross the east-west road southward, and go on its south side towards Moskva river to the corner of Krutitskaya Street, which is the old access road to the church. The second way, for the adventurous, is to come from Novospasski Pond to the very Moskva river bank, go to the big bridge, pass under it, go further 300m just over the river, until you see big modern houses and a stairway up the slope. Cross the embankment driveway very carefully, get up that slope, turn left and enter the desolate back yard of the Krutitsi.

Krutitsi actually is a 17 century complex of the two churches, the chambers of the Krutitsi Metropolitan, and several unimportant buildings. Fortunately, there's an English Wikipedia article. The Krutitsi Metropolitan is a very high position in Rusiian Orthodox Church, higher than Archbishop, one of a few Metropolitans who are next only to the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia; I'm afraid he's unfrequent here. The site is not exactly a monastery, and not so long ago was a state-run museum, so they are not strict on visitors. Taking pictures formally requires permission, but that seems to be not enforced.

The charming gem of Krutitsi sits in a rather strange environment. There're some peaceful old village houses to the north of it; a retired sewage pump station, now Museum of Water, next to the bridge; the military Prosecutor's Office facing the big street with some military utility houses. The now backyard for centuries was a place for barracks and the Moscow garrison brig, notorious from a 1840 revolutionary Gertzen to caught-in-something-bad conscripts of 1980s.

If you are full, you can go back to main street and metro; but if you don't mind extra 2km walking, there's something more for you: the Simonov Monastery. (You can also take a taxi, but I'm afraid not many drivers know the place.) Get out from the back yard to the hillside trail above the Moskva river. It goes through the most tranquil yards above the river, than crosses defunct railroad and declines inland. Do not go too far left, find the Vostochnaya Ulitsa street.

After half a kilometer from a big crossing you'll see a high round redbrick tower on the right side - that's the corner tower of Simonov Monastery, formerly the biggest and richest in Moscow. There are two more towers and 200m wall section to the west of the street, and some buildings beyond the wall. I'm not sure if it's worth going inside, but the park in front of the wall is a really fine place with nice view over the Moskva river valley. The towers also are worth closer look.

The Simonov monastery was not only important as a fortress. It had close attention of the great St. Sergii Radonezhskii, and many outstanding figures of Russian Church were risen in here, like St. Jonah of Moscow and St. Cyril of Beloozero. St. Cyrill in particular has founded the important Kiriilov Monastery in Vologda Oblast, and likewise many disciples of Sergii took part in the great project of that time - monastic colonization of North and East, that greatly expanded the area of influence of Moscow and, eventually, of Russian nation.

Very unfortunately for the Simonov, in 1930s it found itself on the territory, planned for construction of tremendous automobile plant ZIL, so it's a wonder that the Communists haven't demolished it completely. The ZIL, USSR's glory, failed to become effective in the brave new capitalist Russia and finally collapsed around 2010. Most of its territory is now under luxury apartments and offices, but you may still see several desolate production blocks near MCC.

In 300m south from central tower there's a very old church of Virgin Mary. It was buried in the middle of a Soviet plant and was turned into compressor station; but in 1989 became one of the first in Gorbachov's USSR to be returned to believers. The plant's buildings are still there, transformed into commercial estate, but the way to church is marked by a sign. It's an important place for Russians, as national heroes Peresvet and Oslyabya are buried there, but, frankly, there's not much to see.

If you follow the Vostochnaya Street 500m more southward you'll see a big red M at the entrance to Avtozavodskaya metro. The Dubrovka MCC station is further 300m southeast, beyond the big crossing.

Novospasskii Monastery Krutitsi
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Losinyi Ostrov park - Yauza river - Rostokino aqueduct

From-To: MCC Belokamennaya - metro VDNKh or metro Preobrazhenskaya ploschad
Duration: from 2 hrs
Conditions: relatively dry weather, footwear suitable for dirt trails, navigator/compass/local guide for orientation
Dangers and annoyances: It's VERY easy to get lost in this park, do not try to go any deep without a navigator or at least a good compass. Some boggy or storm-beaten areas are really untraversable. Personal safety is at same level as in other Moscow parks: your may by bad luck encounter drunk people, crazy dogs with impudent owners. (There may be also wild dogs, but they usually avoid people.) There are littered spots in housing-bordered areas and mad cyclists on asphalt roads.

The biggest natural park in Moscow is Losinyi Ostrov (Elk Island). The Ring Road and MCC railroad divide it in three almost separate parts, each being a huge forest-park with its own mood. The territory outside the Ring Road contains the upper reaches of Yauza river - swamps, former peatery, and heavy forests. It is difficult to traverse, and even to reach from inside Moscow.

The middle territory between Ring Road and MCC railroad is a big forest with some boggy areas and small streams. It has a network of paved and unpaved trails and is extremly popular among Muscovites for skiing in winter and hiking and cycling all year round.

The innermost and smallest section of Losiny Ostrov between MCC and middle reaches of Yauza river is also a forest, crossed by several paved roads. It is also dotted with many fenced buildings, some of which are park utilities, others are hospitals and sanatoriums, built as Soviet state-owned, now apparently private.

Almost all huge park territory is encircled in modern city quarters and non-residential areas like storehouses and communal garages. Residential-bordered parts are the least pleasant, because of litter and, sometimes, crazy dogs walked by caddish women. By far the best way to get to green heartland is via the new MCC station Belokamennaya. It has exits both to north and south, to the middle and inner park sections respectively.

It's also possible to perform a combined green-urban-historical trip: start from Belokamennaya, find the way across the forest-park southwest to Yauza valey, follow Yauza 1-2 km northwest to the Aqueduct of Rostokino.

There are many ways from southern exit of Belokamennaya to Yauza valley, depending on your navigation abilities and taste for adventures. The simplest is to get by asphalt road (called Yauzskaya Alleya) to the #75 bus stop and to follow its route by Belokamennoe Shosse to the Bogatyrskyi Most bridge. The most nature-wise is to take a trail south to Losinoostrovskaya street, follow that "street" westward to Belokamennoe Shosse and some further west into forest, turn southwest and finally come through the forest trails to a high bank of Yauza valley.

The lower terrace of the valley is rather wet, there are big and small ponds on it, and some good paved trails. Yauza itself is not very attractive, but there are still ducks living in it (they live even in Moskva river).

Following the Yauza northwest we come to a passage under a busy railroad bridge. Just after it we need to decline right to bypass a small office and garages area, then road comes back to the river. The lower terrace here is like a small park, on another bank there's a big, but now quiet, industrial area with several impressive-looking metal towers. All this urban territory once had been very wet and now has many undeground drainage pipes, feeding into Yauza.

The Rostokino Aqueduct looks like a high (20 m) and long (356 m) bridge spanning all width of Yauza valley, built on archs of limestone and brick. It was constructed in 1780-1804 for the first Moscow centralized water supply. The water was taken from the Mitischinskiye Klyuchi springs (now in the northwest corner of Losinyi Ostrov). Originally the water flowed in open channel, later it was pumped with steam engines through 1 meter wide cast-iron pipes. The supply was operational until 1937, its source is still used by Mitischi town.

The upper gallery of the aqueduct is open to public on Saturdays and Sundays. One can follow Yauza still further on the other side of Yaroslavskoe Shosse highway, but it's not very interesting. The simplest way to get out of here is to catch a taxi near the highway. The longest reasonable way is to backtrack to the Belokamennaya station. The medium way is to cross Yauza by a footbridge next to the aqueduct and walk 400m south to Borisa Galushkina street and tram stops. Trams going right/west can take you to the Ve-De-eN-Kha metro (or to the VDNKh Exhibition Centre and park itself, if you want it). Tram #11 going left/east passes the Preobrazhenskaya Ploschad metro in ~20min (and a few other stations later). Both tram routes have good views if not crowded; but you must have a Moscow transport card with enough credit, as it's a really last-resort idea to buy tickets from the driver.

Losinyi Ostrov Rostokino Aqueduct
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