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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Read City's History In Its Road Names

I've been driving in Moscow for decades, and most of the time I never think twice about the origin of street names. But in the last few weeks a number of foreign friends have asked me how and why certain streets received their names. So here is my concise history of a few favorite roads.


First off, of course, is the Garden Ring. What connection could this traffic-congested route possibly have with anything green and flowery? The answer requires a look back in time.


Many years ago Moscow was surrounded by walls to fend off invaders. The first was the Kremlin wall, which still exists. The second was the Kitai-Gorod wall, a small part of which still stands near the Metropol Hotel. The third wall was where the Boulevard Ring now stands. The final border wasn't a wall at all but a big bank of soil that served as a rampart -- and it was in the same place that we can see the Garden Ring now.


This is how the road received its name. If you have any doubts, just check out the official names for some of the sections of the Garden Ring. For example, one is called Zemlyanoy Val, which means "soil bank" in Russian.


When the soil bank was destroyed, streets were constructed in the areas where it had stood. Most of these streets were full of old houses and gardens -- and hence the name "Garden Ring" on the Moscow map.


Later, of course, the old buildings were gradually destroyed along with the gardens, but the name still exists as a part of the city's history.


We Russians are strange people -- we like very much to rename streets and squares according to the current political situation or because of a big event that took place there.


Take, for example, Prospekt Mira. The old name of the street was Meshchanskaya Ulitsa, but it was renamed in 1957 and given the name "peace" when the International Youth Festival took place in Moscow.


It may have been all very well and good to give a new (at that time) and outlying street a name like Shosse Entuziastov (you could translate it as "Fan Avenue"), but I think it was a mistake to rename an old and famous street in the center of the city.


After the collapse of communism, many streets and squares in Moscow went back to their original names. It seems to me now that the last "island of communism" is located around the White House -- Ulitsa 1905 Goda, Barrikadnaya Ulitsa (the street of barricades), Ulitsa Krasnaya Presnya. All these names are connected with the first communist rebellion in Moscow in 1905.


Well, this is a very short look into the history of the streets of Moscow, but I will give you more background on various streets and squares if you send me your requests.