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A walk around Chekhov’s Moscow

Published time: January 30, 2010 00:56
Edited time: January 30, 2010 00:56

On January 29, Russia will mark the 150th anniversary of its most cherished storyteller, Anton Chekhov, so RT has decided to guide you through the most important Chekhov locations in Moscow.

Not originally from Moscow, Chekhov called himself a Muscovite forever, so the Russian capital undoubtedly ranks first among Chekhov’s most memorial places.

The best place to start your Chekhov tour is Chekhovskaya metro station. Located right in the heart of the Russian capital and opened in 1987, it was named after the writer and decorated with scenes from his works. This was not an accident as the whole area around the station is very much linked with Chekhov.

The famous house in Sadovaya-Kudrinskaya Street was the writer’s first and last long-term Moscow residence. “I live in Kudrino right in a house resembling a bureau,” wrote Chekhov in one of his letters. Having started writing during his days as a medical student in Moscow, Chekhov continued to practice as a doctor throughout most of his literary career. “Medicine is my lawful wife,” he once said, “and literature is my mistress.” That is why Chekhov’s house in Sadovaya-Kudrinskaya Street, today housing the Chehkov museum, still has a brass plate marking the medical practice of Doctor Chekhov. It was in this house that his writing career took off.

Being a student, Chekhov moved to many apartments. That is why, at that time, it was easier to find him in the university. Moscow State University’s Faculty of Medicine and its clinics were located at Rozhdestvenka Street in the city centre.

Malaya Dmitrovka street, also located in the center of Moscow, borrowed its name from an ancient trade route heading to the town of Dmitrov, to be renamed Chekhov Street by Soviet authorities in 1944. The new name, however, did not last long – after the fall of the USSR, Chekhov Street once again became Malaya Dmitrovka.

Yet the writer’s legacy is still here. Chekhov’s first published works appeared in a magazine called “Zritel”, or “Spectator”, which had its offices in one of the buildings at Malaya Dmitrovka and Chekhov himself lived for some time at number 11.

The first of Chekhov's play was staged by the Korsh Theatre (now the Theatre of Nations), also situated not far from Chekhovskaya metro station. From this early period comes Chekhov’s observation, which has become known as “Chekhov’s gun”, a way of introducing an element early in the story but only revealing its significance later on. “If in Act 1 you have a pistol hanging on the wall,” said Chekhov, “it must fire in the last act”.

It was not until the Moscow Art Theater production of “The Seagull”, though, that Chekhov enjoyed his first overwhelming success. It came as a great surprise, since the play had initially been so poorly received in St Petersburg that Chekhov vowed to never write for the stage again. In the Moscow Art Theatre, however, it was transformed into a triumph.

The Theatre itself was originally located in the Hermitage Garden, a popular park at Malaya Dmitrovka, but in 1902 it moved to Kamergersky Lane. The seagull logo became the theatre’s trademark, and in 1998, a statue of Chekhov was unveiled in front of it.

The Moscow Art Theatre produced three more Chekhov’s plays, “Uncle Vanya”, “Three Sisters” and “The Cherry Orchard”, each going on to become a stage masterpiece.

Chekhov insisted that an artist’s role was to ask questions, not to answer them. Still, you will probably find some of the answers about the great writer’s life in the streets of Moscow, which Chekhov himself loved so much.