Moscow's main street, which runs uphill from opposite the north end of Red Square, was originally the main road out of the medieval city running to Tver and Novgorod. It was lined with the services necessary for travelers - inns and smithies. As the city expanded beyond the Kremlin walls, it became a residential area populated by boyars and wealthy merchants. When the Tver road was extended to St. Petersburg in 1713, Tverskaya became unquestionably the city's most important thoroughfare. It was the route followed by the Tsars' procession on official visits to Moscow, passing two monasteries and four churches. At the time, the street was surfaced with wood, and was no wider than 15 meters.
The appearance of the street was fundamentally changed during large-scale reconstruction in the 1930's. In order to widen and straighten the street, many buildings were demolished, and others were moved back to treble the width. Renamed to honor the writer Maksim Gorky, Tverskaya became the sight of a number of prestigious Soviet building projects. In 1990 its original name was restored, and it is now one of Moscow's main shopping precincts, with an eclectic mix of architecture combining medieval side streets and courtyards and 21st Century building projects with the dominant Stalinist neoclassicism.
At the bottom of the hill, on the corner of Tverskaya Ulitsa and Mokhovaya Ulitsa, stands the National Hotel, the most prestigious in Moscow before the Revolution, whose famous guests included Anatole France and H. G. Wells. It was built in 1903 by Aleksandr Ivanov in a style that mixes art nouveau with neoclassicism, and cost close to 1 million rubles, a fortune at the time. After the Revolution, it was used briefly by Lenin when he moved the Bolshevik government to Moscow, and then became the First House of Soviets, a residence for Party officials and distinguished foreign guests such as the famous American journalist John Reed.
Opposite the National, the enormous building that faces the Moskva Hotel is the home of Russia's rowdy State Duma. The suitably imposing ten-storey block was built in the 1930's to house the Sovnarkom (the Council of People's Commissars), and then Gosplan, the central planning committee that implemented Stalin's economic reforms and industrialization programs. Its construction required the demolition of the palaces of two great boyar families, the Princes Gagarin and Golitsyn, but a third, the home of the Troyerukov boyars, has survived. It was built in the late 17th Century by Fyodor Troyerukov, an advisor of Peter the Great, and is one of the few surviving examples of its kind. It can be seen through the massive arch that leads from Tverskaya to Georgievskiy Pereulok.
Next to the National Hotel used to stand the Hotel Intourist, a vast glass box that housed foreign tourists in no particular comfort until it was mercifully demolished in 2002. Its replacement is still under construction. On the other side of the building site is the comparatively small but charming Yermolova Theatre, the first of a number of buildings in the area linked to the flourishing of Moscow drama at the beginning of the last century. Named in honour of the grande dame of the Maly Theatre, Maria Yermolova, the first person to be named a People's Artist of the Soviet Union, the theatre developed from a studio attached to the Maly, and moved here in 1938. The 1830's building was originally part of a nobleman's estate, converted in the last years of the 19th Century into a shopping arcade and hotel by the merchant Postnikov. It was transformed into a theatre after the Revolution, and was the last home of the theatre of Vsevolod Meyerhold, the brilliant avant-garde director who was executed in 1939. The Meyerhold Appartment Museum, run by his granddaughter, is just off Tverskaya on Bryusov Pereulok, in an elite 1920s constructivist apartment block that was built for actors and directors.
Meyerhold began his career working under Konstantin Stanislavskiy at the Moscow Arts Theater (MKhAT), the original building of which is also very nearby on Kamergerskiy Pereulok, just past a statue of Chekhov, whose success as a dramatist was inextricably entwined with that of the theatre. Opened in 1898, the theatre was the brainchild of Stanislavskiy and fellow director Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko. Together, in reaction to the excesses of romanticism, they pioneered the hyper-realist theatrical style that came to be known as method acting. The theatre itself, which is now known as the Chekhov Moscow Art Theatre in order to differentiate it from the now separate Gorky Moscow Art Theatre, is an unexciting late 19th Century building, but the interior, remodeled in 1902 by architect Feodor Schekel, has some delightful art nouveau decorations in the lobbies and the auditorium, and it also contains the MKhAt Museum.
Before you get to Kamergerskiy Pereulok, you won't be able to miss the enormous Central Telegraph Office on the other side of the road. Built in 1926, it was one of the first major Soviet building projects commissioned in the bland neo-classical style that came to dominate the 1930s, and as such marked the beginning of the end for avant-garde architecture in Moscow. In the post-war years, the surrounding area gained notoriety as Moscow's most prominent red light district, purportedly 'staffed' by the low-wage workers of the Telegraph Office. It wasn't until the beginning of the new millennium that a concerted effort was made to clean up Tverskaya.
As you reach the top of the hill, you come out onto Teverskaya Ploshchad, which is dominated to the east by the equestrian statue of Yuri Dolgorukiy, Moscow's founder, unveiled in the mid-fifties, and on the west by the imposing Mayor's Office, the headquarters of municipal government since it was built - originally as the residence of Zakhar Chernyshev, made Governor General of Moscow by Catherine the Great in thanks for his part in the 1760 Russo-Prussian War. Designed by celebrated local architect Mikhail Kazakov, the two-storey mansion remained the official residence of the city's Governors up until the Revolution, after which the office was abolished and the building became the home of the Mossoviet, the Soviet city council. The building was altered significantly in the 1930s when Tverskaya was reconstructed, and again in 1946 when, to accommodate swelling bureaucracy, an extra two storeys were added. It is now home to the city government of Mayor Yuri Luzhkov who, although he no longer entertains presidential aspirations, is still an extraordinarily powerful and charismatic city boss.