Located in the historical center of Moscow, the Old Arbat is arguably one of the city’s most famous and beloved streets.
The Arbat was first mentioned in Moscow’s chronicles in 1493. That was the year when Moscow was engulfed by a large fire, thought to have been sparked by a candle in one of the Arbat’s churches.
The Arbat’s name is believed to have originated either from an old Russian word, which means “hilly ground”, or from the Arabic word “arbad” for “suburb”. In fact, the Arbat used to be a suburb where traders and craftsmen arrived.
Indeed, the names of the side streets crossing Arbat are a testimony to that, such as “Plotnikov,” which means “Carpenter’s”, and “Denezhny” or “Money lane”.
However, during the reign of Ivan the Terrible, the Arbat came to symbolize terror for many Russians. At the time the Tsar’s infamous bodyguards, the Oprichnina, were stationed there. Their task was to seek out traitors, and it was from the Arbat that orders were issued for the torture and execution of alleged enemies of the Tsar.
In the 18th century, the Arbat became Moscow’s most aristocratic and literary neighborhood. The famous Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin lived there with his wife Natalya Goncharova. The building where they resided is now a museum. A statue of the couple outside it reminds passersby of its history.
Elaborate facades are abound in the Arbat area. Another pre-revolutionary house around the corner from the museum is adorned with a sculptured frieze depicting Pushkin together with two other famous writers – Nikolay Gogol and Leo Tolstoy, surrounded by mythological muses.
Some say that the frieze was commissioned to decorate Moscow’s Museum of Fine Arts, but the playful scenes were rejected by the museum’s strait-laced founder and found their home on the Arbat.
During Soviet times, the Arbat was a busy road, but in the 1980s road traffic was closed off, making the Arbat a popular pedestrian walkway and a meeting place for street musicians and artists.
Along the Arbat you will also find the monument to the poet Bulat Okudzhava, who dedicated a number of affectionate songs to the street. Nearby is a wall that stands as a memorial to singer Viktor Tsoy, one of the pioneers of Russian rock, who died in a car accident in 1990.
These days, the Arbat still has a vibrant and artistic air, with plenty of souvenir shops, street performers and painters to be found. Whether you want a traditional Russian hat, a matryoshka doll, or simply a leisurely stroll – be sure to give the Arbat a closer look.