The Arbat Street

A pedestrian-only street stretching roughly 1 kilometre, the Arbat is sometimes called ‘Moscow inside Moscow’. For the Muscovites the Arbat is not just a street, it is a special distinctive ‘piece’ of the capital with its own history and traditions.

The first mention of the word ‘Arbat’ dates back to 1493. The exact origin of ‘Arbat’ word is unknown. Many people refer to a version that connects this word with an Arabic word ‘arbad’ which means a ‘suburb’ given that only the Kremlin was considered as a town in the 15th century. Along its walls many trade caravans from the East used to sell goods and they could have had given this exotic name to the street. There is also an opinion that the name originated from a Turkic word ‘arba’ which means a ‘cart’.

It wasn’t just one street that used to be called the Arbat but the whole area starting from the Kremlin’s wall and to the place where the Garden Ring is situated at the present time. Craftsmen lived and worked in the Arbat starting from the 16th century which is quite apparent considering the “talking” names of the Arbat’s by-streets. Carpenters lived at Carpenters’ Lane, silversmiths – at Silver Lane etc. During the 13th – 16th centuries the Smolenskaya Road went through the Arbat. Many shops, churches and taverns were there at that time. The street often ‘saw’ Russian troops heading to defend Russia’s western borders; it witnessed invasions made by eastern, southern and western neighbours.

The Arbat had become one of the most aristocratic areas of the city in the middle of the 18th century. In 1793, three quarters of Arbat’s houses belonged to nobles and officials, the Church and merchants. Commercial apartment buildings were constructed in the Arbat during the second half of the 19th century and, at the same time, new boutiques and restaurants started to emerge.

After the Revolution of 1917 the Arbat was further developed by Soviet architects. Storeys were added to the street’s buildings to align them under single cornice, the repainting was done and, in a short while, the Arbat was unrecognisable.
But not only had the Arbat’s architectural ensemble changed but the special atmosphere of the place too. The unique street’s air had gone. Nothing had left of the famous Arbat gaiety as well as the churches which had been demolished during militant atheism times. The Arbat was made a pedestrian area in the mid-1970s.

In the 1990s, it seemed like the Arbat was going to suffocate because of an enormous inrush of tourists and ordinary Muscovites who wanted to spend their time in this particular city area, in one of Moscow’s most beautiful streets. But the Arbat ‘survived’. And today, in the 21st century, it still remains ‘Moscow inside Moscow’ regardless of its deliberate eclectic look.

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