The secrets of Moscow history are revealed on Ilyinka, Archaeological discoveries in the very center of the capital


An ancient monastery, shopping malls, wooden log cabins, stone floors of churches that have gone underground, ancient coins of countries that have sunk into oblivion, pottery and weapons workshops – these are just an incomplete list of what Moscow archaeologists unearthed during recent studies in the very center of the capital, on Ilyinka Street. Details of the new finds are in the Izvestia material.

If the stones could speak, crowds of curious people would gather on Ilyinka – listen to the mysterious stories of bygone days that this old Moscow street could tell. It was followed by kings and impostors, merchants and monks, foreign ambassadors and Soviet commissars. Recent excavations have given historians and archaeologists food for thought for at least decades to come.

Over the 800-year-old history of this place, the archaeological cultural layer of interest to scientists has reached almost 6 m. However, its preservation is unique, given that the buildings in this part of the capital were rebuilt several times in the 18th century.

History with geography

Ilyinka (in the XIV – XV centuries – Dmitrovka, in 1935–1990 – Kuybyshev street) is ancient Red Square for several centuries. It has been leading its history since the 11th century. The street began at the so-called Merchant, and therefore rich overseas “guests” – merchants – settled nearby. The first “courtyards” were mentioned in the spiritual letter of Ivan III, and under Ivan the Terrible, after a series of fires of 1547 (almost a third of Moscow was burnt due to the dry summer), new shopping malls with wooden benches were erected near Ilyinka.

In the then Moscow, wooden buildings prevailed, there were more and more inhabitants, so the city was burning mercilessly.

To protect against fires at the end of the XVI century, wooden benches were replaced by stone ones.

For centuries, Ilyinka remained the main shopping street of the Great Posad, although along with the Gostiny Dvor, Torg and merchant estates, a large area was reserved for churches and monastery and bishops’ courtyards – Novgorodskoye, Troitskoye, Iosifovskoye, Alekseevskoye, Voskresenskoye. But commercial interests constantly crowded here the ancient Moscow piety. At the end of the 18th century, Ivan Starov, on the site of the dismantled church of the Joseph-Volotsky Compound, designed the modern Exchange Square, and nearby the Church of Dimitry Solunsky replaced the Exchange building. After the fire of 1812, Osip Beauvais rebuilt the Trading Rows.

Exchange on Ilyinka street, 1864

After the revolution, servicemen “occupied” the street – numerous institutions of the new government were located here.

Dug deeper

Archaeological research in this area of ​​Moscow began in the last century, during the construction of the subway. Findings of recent times, since the 1990s, it is difficult to overestimate. In 1996, the largest mint in the history of the capital was found on the territory of the old Gostiny Dvor. In the basement of the burnt house in two huge jugs, more than 90 thousand Russian kopecks and more than three hundred Western European thalers were hidden. Apparently, the treasures belonged to a wealthy merchant who lived in the XVII century.

In the summer of 2017, stones were discovered in 1783 of the Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which was dismantled in the courtyard of the Joseph-Volotsky Monastery. A white stone staircase led to the basement of the temple. Judging by the analogs, similar entrances to the basement under the refectory, built from the outside, were quite characteristic for the era of Ivan IV, but no one knows for sure what this church looked like – the same age as St. Basil’s Cathedral. Presumably, it was one-headed, surrounded by extensions – a porch, a porch. It is possible that it was decorated with tiles as elements of the facade decoration.

The average shopping arcade along Ilyinka from Red Square, 1888

On the territory of Birzhevaya Square, interesting wooden log cabins were also found – in particular, a log cabin of the gunsmith’s estate, where, in addition to weapons, harnesses, armor, chain mail, and silver coins from the time of Ivan IV to Vasily Shuisky were stored.

In general, Birzhevaya Square was generous with historical artifacts that accumulated here from the 12th to the 18th centuries. The obtained data significantly enriched our ideas about medieval Moscow and, in particular, about the role of the Great Posad in the formation of the city. Moscow Posad was the most densely populated area after the Kremlin and, as it turned out, the most ancient. For the first time, it was documented that the age of Posad’s finds coincides with the first mention of Moscow in the annals.

Protected by the Prophet Elijah

On Ilyinka there is also the oldest church preserved in this part of Moscow – St. Elijah the Prophet. Perhaps an uninitiated person will pass by this seemingly ordinary building – in the XIX century it was surrounded by the Trade Rows, and the Bolsheviks demolished the crosses and the bell tower of the church. By the way, the crosses were found in the attic, after the beginning of services on Great Saturday of 1995 – as a sign of God’s blessing.

About the construction and consecration of the temple in 1519-1520, the Vladimir chronicler tells. The temple became one of the first stone buildings of Kitai Gorod known today. A few years after its construction, the street, formerly called Dmitrievskaya, began to bear the name of Ilyinka. In 1606, the bell rang from the bell tower of the Ilyinsky church, calling on Muscovites to revolt against False Dmitry, which was organized by the boyars led by Vasily Shuisky.As a result, the impostor was overthrown and executed. In 1611, the Poles again captured the capital. Then almost 450 Moscow churches were burned and destroyed. The clergy and monks were mercilessly killed. At this time, according to historians, the Elias Monastery, most of whose buildings were wooden, was completely burned by the Poles, and miraculously the surviving stone church of Elijah the Prophet became a parish. On the site of the monastery there was a cemetery and courtyards of the church clergy.

In the XVII century, on Ilyin’s Day, Moscow patriarchs annually in the presence of royal people, with a large gathering of clergy and townspeople, made religious processions to the Ilyinsky Church. Since the end of the 17th century, the metochion of the Novgorod metropolitans was located here. In the “sovereign chambers” of the farmstead, the bishops stopped, and the chief prosecutor of the Synod Theodosius (Yanovsky) was visited by Emperor Peter I. Two prominent bishops of the 18th century grew up in the parish of the church in the family of the synodal subdeacon. Gabriel (Petrovs).

The construction of the first stone church of Ilyinsky in the XVI century, some researchers attribute to the famous architect Aleviz Fryazin. The chronicle also retained the name of the “customer” of construction – “from ordinary people there is someone named Klim, and the nickname Muzhilo”.

Over the next three centuries, the church burned and rebuilt. This is confirmed by the latest finds of Moscow archaeologists who discovered a number of artifacts of the XVI – XIX centuries. In particular, during the recent excavations, the foundations of the ancient gallery of the temple, disassembled in the 19th century, were discovered. Archival documents have confirmed its existence. And one more “unexpected discovery”: the obsession with profit in the 19th century differs little from the modern one. Having leased the church land, the Warm Trade Row Society in 1864–1865 built a complex of three-story buildings on the territory of the Novgorod Metochion and neighboring Pevcheskaya Sloboda, so that the church was squeezed by trade buildings. At the same time, the lower church of 1519 was abolished (there were placed air-heating stoves for heating shops).During perestroika, the upper church was mercilessly disfigured, having disassembled the gallery and moving the stairs to the southern apse. In addition, the foundations of old stone buildings of the 18th century were used during construction, and new buildings were almost immediately covered with cracks. And the southern extension, overlooking Ilyinka, squinted and pulled an ancient temple. In Soviet times, the temple was taken under protection as a historical monument, but almost did not deal with its restoration. Such “care” brought him to an emergency condition, which threatened with a sudden collapse.

Repair work, requiring large funds and complex engineering solutions, began here only in the 1990s. And only in the past year, with the support of the Department of Cultural Heritage of the city of Moscow, the restoration project of the temple was completed and passed all approvals. The archaeological part of this project in 2015 was awarded the Moscow Restoration Prize for the scientific and methodological guidance of pre-project research. And, perhaps, soon we will have the opportunity to see the revived church, and feel the now lost true spirit of old Moscow. Take a walk along the old route of our ancestors, take shelter from the rain in the gallery and feel under the protection of St. Elijah …

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