Street of Fame; 6: Tverskaya Street, Moscow

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Indy Lifestyle Online
THE STREET formerly known as Gorky has been one of the most important streets in the Russian capital for centuries. It began life as Tverskaya, a trade route connecting Moscow with the town of Tver, a port on the river Volga. Then, in the 18th century it was extended to reach the new capital, St Petersburg. It became the official entry point to the city for the tsar and his entourage when they visited the Kremlin. The nobility built homes along the street, and its status increased.

It was not until the Thirties, when the centre of Moscow was redesigned in the Stalinist era, that Tverskaya expanded from a narrow street into the wide boulevard that exists today. The new avenue must have been almost unrecognisable, at three times its former width. The old wooden homes were taken down, to be replaced by apartment buildings in a more contemporary style. To coincide with this new appearance, its name was changed to Gorky Street, in honour of the Russian novelist and short-story writer Maxim Gorky, who became a Bolshevik and played an active role in the revolution of 1905. This new identity was retained until 1990, when Moscow's main thoroughfare regressed to its original name.

Tverskaya begins close to the Kremlin, at Manezh Square, in the historic heart of the city. It continues towards the north-west as far as another square, Triumfalnaya Ploshchad', where its name changes to Tverskaya Yamskaya; this dreary stretch of road goes as far as the Byelorussky railway station, at which point it turns into the main highway to St Petersburg. The total length of Tverskaya is little more than a mile and half; but in that space are reflected many of the changes that have taken place in Moscow over the past century.

Few of the buildings along Tverskaya are as well-known as the famous domes and spires of the Kremlin at the southern end. But the street is not so much a collection of architecture as a centre of Russian life, artistic and social. The Yermolova Theatre was built in 1937; the nearby Moscow Arts Theatre was founded by Stanislavsky, and used to stage the first productions of many of the works of Gorky and Chekhov. And further up the street, at Triumfalnaya Ploshchad, is the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall.

The street has also endured its share of repression. In 1974 Alexander Solzhenitsyn was dragged away from his flat in Gorky Street by KGB men and expelled to Germany.

Today, the street is punctuated by a number of squares, of which the most interesting is Pushkin Square, just north of the first of Moscow's ring roads, which crosses Tverskaya at this point.

Pushkin Square is where many of the city's newspaper offices are located; but it has become better known in recent years as the place where McDonald's launched its first Russian operation in 1990. Once mesmerised by Western fast-food, Muscovites were prepared to queue for hours for a burger and fries when the place first opened; now, the existence of a variety of restaurants all over the city has made it less of an attraction.

The most striking feature of modern Tverskaya is the concentration of restaurants, shops and nightclubs in one street; most noticeable, perhaps, because it reflects a way of life in stark contrast to the one that predominated a decade or so ago.

The National Hotel is an art nouveau monument that has been a popular place to stay since the beginning of the century. Next door, the Intourist building remains considerably less attractive in spite of a recent makeover, a reminder of the days when austerity counted for more than opulence.