The house that moved and grew

Moscow’s Tverskaya Street existed as early as the 12th century. Its importance for the medieval city was immense, as it connected Moscow with its superior, and later chief rival, Tver. At that time, the thoroughfare crossed the Neglinnaya River. The first stone bridge across the Neglinnaya was set up in 1595. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Tverskaya Street was renowned as the centre of Moscow’s social life. The nobility considered it fashionable to settle in this district. Among the Palladian mansions dating from the reign of Catherine the Great are the residence of the mayor of Moscow (originally built in 1778–82 by architect Matvey Kazakov for the Governor-General of Moscow).

During Pushkin‘s time, the Tverskaya was lined with five churches. The poet wove his impressions from the street into the following stanza of Eugene Onegin:

The columns of the city gate
Gleam white; the sleigh, more swift than steady,
Bumps down Tverskaya Street already.
Past sentry-boxes now they dash,
Past shops and lamp-posts, serfs who lash
Their nags, huts, mansions, monasteries,
Parks, pharmacies, Bukharans, guards,
Fat merchants, Cossacks, boulevards,
Old women, boys with cheeks like cherries,
Lions on gates with great stone jaws,
And crosses black with flocks of daws.

In the second half of the 1930s, in line with Joseph Stalin‘s 1935 master plan, all the churches and most other historic buildings were torn down in order to widen the street and replace low-rise buildings with larger, early Stalinist apartment blocks and government offices. Luckily, Arkady Mordvinov, who handled this ambitious project, retained some historical buildings, amongst which the one that is now the Moscow mayor residence.

There were two problems, though. First of all, the building stood smack in the center of what was going to be the widened new street. Therefore it had to be moved. It is an astounding feat of engineering to think that the whole building was moved by a total of 13.5 meters (about 45 feet), in a record time of only 41 minutes!

The Moscow Governor General House in 1902. Image source.

The second issue was that Stalin wanted large, imposing building. And it was never a good idea to disappoint him. So the building was elevated by an extra two floors, while adding more grandiose non load-bearing columns to the facade and painting the whole building a nice red, a color much beloved in the USSR.  Thanks to these two “operations” we can still admire the building today. In recent years, in the square in front of the mayor residence an equestrian monument was erected, dedicated to the legendary founder of Moscow: Yuri Dolgorukiy (literally “Yuri the Long-Armed”).

Photo tip!
I already wrote in a previous post how you can play with your white balance when shooting in the blue hour, so this time I’ll concentrate on a little “secret” for architectural shots. Whenever I can, I always enjoy taking cityscapes during blue hour, as the buildings are already lit, but the sky remains light. Another added benefit is that there is generally less people around after sunset, compared to during the day. But sometimes “fewer” does not mean “few” and it is still next impossible to get a moment when no one is either passing or standing in front of the building you want to photograph. So my trick is this: if you plan to remove the people in post (like I did for the image above) you should always take more than one picture. If you are shooting from a sturdy tripod, that’s excellent! You can take some pictures at a few seconds interval from each other and then open them as levels in Photoshop and retain the part of the image(s) where there are no people, masking the humans in the various levels, with level masks. That is, by far, the techniques that gives the cleanest results. But if you happen to find yourself without a tripod (like I was when I took this image), still take more than one picture and then to remove the people you will use the clone stamp in Photoshop. Why more than one picture? If you have a steady hand you can still align them in Photoshop and use the technique I described above, or, even if you start from a single image, you can choose the one with the least amount of human presence and, most important, where people are not covering parts of the building that you can not replicate by cloning adjacent or identical areas. The same is, of course, true for cars and other “unwanted elements”. Parked cars are more often than not both unavoidable and a big headache to remove. In this case I waited for the street to be devoid of passing traffic (and this is a no-parking area).

Cloning People Out
The 7 people I cloned out of my image. With a little patience you can easily do the same!


Would you like to take part in a photowalk or a photo tour of Moscow or any other Russian destination with an English speaking photographer (me) showing you the sights and the best time and viewpoint(s) to capture them in your images? If so, do get in touch and we’ll be happy to create an unforgettable, tailor-made experience for you!




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