The Harvard Square of Moscow

Novokuznetskaya metro station

What is it about a city square which gives it such life and vibrancy? More often than not it happens not by some kind of grand design imposed from without, but by a more organic development from below and within the city itself. One of these great urban centers of culture in Boston is Harvard Square with its proximity to the oldest American university, its abundant street musicians, libraries and bookstores, museums and laboratories, and everything else that contributes to a volatile, teeming place to meet and get inspired. The Zamoskvorechye region near the Novokuznetskaya metro station is the Harvard Square of Moscow.

We travel there today primarily to visit Moscow’s most famous art museum, the Tretakov Gallery, but also along the way is one of our most favorite and best beloved churches. St. Clement’s Church has been a long time in the remaking. During Soviet times, it was used to warehouse old books, so its many stories have been weighed down with the heaviness of those volumes. Each time we visit, they have a different small section open for services and always an ample supply of books, pamphlets, etc. for the passerby. It is particularly moving how long it is taking them to restore this church, and how much love they are putting into the restoration. We look forward to the day when we can enter a fully restored temple.

The Tretakov Museum is not really that large but very significant for its collection of St. Andrei Rublyov’s icons including the Holy Trinity and for the much celebrated Vladimir icon of the Theotokos which is now accessible only in the small church next to the museum. The museum also has many famous Russian portrait and landscape painters like A. K. Savrasov, I.I. Shishkin, I.E. Repin, and my personal favorite, V.A. Serov.

One painting in particular that struck me with its contrast is V.M. Maksimov’s Everything in the Past. It is a picture of two old babas with very old-fashioned implements, but the colors and everything else about the painting is vibrant and alive. It is hard to say whether the painting invokes mere nostalgia or tribute for the past; it seems more like a reinvigoration to me (but you all know how much I like babas, so I won’t belabor the point).

After the museum we took a boat ride on the nearby canal and Moscow River. Another essential element I forgot to mention for all places of high culture: they all seem to have a river somewhere nearby for the would-be artist to gather their inspiration. This river, like the Charles River which flows past both our beloved square and home in Boston, does not disappoint us in our quest for beauty and inspiration.

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