Designers of New York’s High Line Set Their Sights on Moscow’s Former Ghetto
An ambitious new park is set to transform the dilapidated neighborhood that was once the Russian capital’s first Jewish quarter
In 1886, an architect was commissioned to build a synagogue on nearby Bolshoi Spasoglinishchesky Pereulok. The cheerful yellow-and-white building was built in a classical basilica style. It even had a cupola, leading some to mistake it for an Orthodox church. Legend has it that an influential bureaucrat once crossed himself before it as he passed by; upon learning of his mistake, he demanded that the synagogue be shut down.
The city’s Jewish renaissance came to an end in 1891, when the conservative Alexander III exiled Jews to Russia’s hinterlands. When they returned to Moscow during WWI, Glebovskoye Podvorye had been resettled. The heart of the Jewish community moved to the northern neighborhood of Marina Roshcha, which is now home to the gleaming Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center.
In the 1930s, Stalin alighted on Zaryadye as the location for the eighth of his “Seven Sisters” Gothic skyscrapers, the People’s Commissariat of Heavy Industry. Within a few years, one of Moscow’s oldest neighborhoods was gone. Stalin’s project was never realized, and in the 1960s the spot became home to the Hotel Rossiya, a concrete behemoth that housed up to 4,000 guests.
The new Zaryadye Park is scheduled for completion by 2016, with a price tag estimated between $150 million and $200 million. Muscovites are jaded about the promises of foreign architects; after all, a previous plan by British architect Lord Norman Foster to build a luxury hotel at Zaryadye came to nothing. On the culture site Afisha, Russian architect Kirill Asse expressed skepticism: “It’s all well and good at the conceptual stage, but I doubt it will go as far as construction,” he wrote.
If Zaryadye Park is built, it will be Moscow’s first new park in over 50 years. Will it have any room for Zaryadye’s Jewish past? DS+R’S Tabolt said that Glebovskoye Podvorye and other local history might be addressed in the gallery space. But in the coming months, the design team will be focused on bigger issues, like exploring the topography of the site.
Today, the sole artifact that survives from the Jewish ghetto is a handsome wooden clock bearing a red Star of David. It is currently on display in a temporary exhibition at the Museum of Moscow, “Zaryadye: From the Past to the Future.” According to curator Maxim Fursov, records state that the clock was made in Kishinev, Moldova. Its owner is unknown.
In the late 1930s, state photographers were dispatched to document Glebovskoye Podvorye before it was demolished. The images captured the slum’s daily life in its final days: Children play on the rickety walkways, and hunchbacked old women walk with canes. In one shot, taken in 1940, a group of men and boys linger in front of the camera. Due to multiple exposure, they appear to flicker and vanish, ghost-like.
Like the Jews before them, they were already gone.
Like this article? Sign up for our Daily Digest to get Tablet Magazine’s new content in your inbox each morning.
The whole idea of a ritual bath seemed foreign and too religious. But now it’s a warm reminder of the moment I became a Jew.