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Kuznetsky Most

Kuznetsky Most in Moscow This hilly street, which runs from behind the Bolshoi Theater along to the headquarters of the former KGB at Lubyanka, has for much of its history been the site of Moscow's most fashionable shops and the stamping ground of the city's beau monde. Drawing on this reputation, many luxury shops have set up here in the last decade or so, and it is also home to the best foreign-language bookshop in Moscow.

The street's name translates as 'Blacksmiths' Bridge', and it once ran alongside the Neglinka River to the bridge that lead to the Cannon Court - the largest forge in the medieval city. It was there that the Kremlin's monstrous Tsar's Cannon was cast in 1586. At the start of the 19th Century, the river was covered, the Cannon Court was closed down and the bridge was removed. By that time, the street that bore its name had already become the preferred address for prestigious French traders in the city.

As Napoleon's troops approached the city in 1812, French merchants were officially forced to close their premises, but they were also lucky in that their fellow countrymen protected French-owned shops during the widespread fire that destroyed so much of the city. When the invaders had been repulsed, trade soon picked up again, and the French were joined by English and Italian traders, all selling to the highest echelons of Moscow society. Anna Karenina was described by Tolstoy shopping in Gaultier's at No. 20, and the street became the most popular meeting place for those with an excess of leisure and money.

The modest house at No.2 was once the home of the Shcherbatov family, where Count Dimitry Shcherbatov, an early liberal aristocrat, entertained friends including the Decembrists Yakushin and Shakovskiy, and the great political philosopher Pyotr Chaadaev, credited with defining the terms of the debate between westernizers and Slavophiles.

The house at No. 9, though unremarkable architecturally, was once the home of the celebrated Yar Restaurant, opened by the Frenchman Tranquille Yard. Yard set up shop here in 1826, in the house of the merchant Shavan, and was instrumental in popularizing French cuisine in Moscow high society. Among the great and good who dined here, Pushkin was a regular guest and, in 1831, marked the funeral of his friend and fellow-poet Anton Delvig here. Yard moved his establishment soon afterwards to the suburban Petrovskiy Park, and, since 1910, it has stood in the building of the Sovietskiy Hotel on Leningradskiy Prospekt, where it has continued to attract celebrities including Chekhov, Rasputin and Margaret Thatcher. The site on Kuznetsky is now the home of Atlas, which, as its name suggests, is a map shop. If you like that sort of thing, it's well worth popping in to.

Opposite, at No.12, stands the former Passazh arcade. Opened in 1877 by the wealthy tea merchant K. Popov, this large grey building was designed by Aleksander Rezanov, a prominent architect and restorer, who designed the Vladimir Palace in St. Petersburg, and worked with Konstantin Ton on the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. In 1885, this building became the first in Moscow to sport an electric advertising sign. In the Soviet Union, it became the State Public Scientific and Technical Library.

One of the main reasons for tourists to visit Kuznetsky Most is the House of Foreign Books, at No. 18, which has a large selection of English-language literature, with a number of other languages well represented and plenty of maps and guidebooks.

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