Old English Courtyard Chamber in Moscow Kremlin, unobvious but interesting landmark of your Russian tour
Old English Courtyard Chamber is known as one of the oldest stone buildings in Moscow. A museum in this ancient chamber was opened by the Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain and her husband Prince Philip on October 18, 1994.
Due to the persistence and passion of the remarkable restorer Piotr Baranovsky and a happy coincidence that we may see this rare monument of a civil architecture, inconspicuously lurking at the very foot of the Pskov Hill of the Moscow Kremlin at Varvarka street.
The modern history of this ancient building goes to the mid 1960s, when the construction of the eighth Moscow “vysotka” (Stalin’s skyscraper) was planned and all the stone buildings existed at Zaryadie (an area close the Kremlin, ссылка) should have been demolished.
But thanks to Baranovsky who discovered the medieval white stone chambers under the later layers, the building was saved. The find turned out to be priceless, it has the same value as the Kremlin Faceted Chamber.
Baranovsky insisted on preserving the monument, although the location of a car ramp was already planned in its place and thanks to him Moscow reacquired this stunning piece of architecture.
Some experts believe an Italian architect Aleviz Fryazin (Aleviz the Old, or Aloisio da Karezano) to be the author of the Chamber at Varvarka street. It was him who also built the western fortifications of the Kremlin in Moscow.
In old Russian language a word “chambers” meant a house, now we are using it only to name ancient buildings. Ivan Bobrishchev commissioned this stone house to Fryazin. Bobrishchev was a merchant, native Crimean, from Sudak area, the center of the Mediterranean trade at ХVI century. He was rather a wealthy person to afford such an expensive property in the heart of the city.
The basement with barrel vaults, lined with huge blocks of white stone, has survived from the house that belonged to Bobrishchev in the 1510s. The thickness of the chambers’ walls reaches two meters.
Over time, the new owners have changed the appearance of the building. A second floor was added at the end of the ХVI century but white color of walls have stayed always the same.
Why is it now known as an «English House”?
The story goes to 1553 when an English navigator Richard Chancellor, accidentally landed on the shores of the Northern Dvina river, north of Russia, 1300 Km from Moscow. With his crew earlier that year he set off from Britain on three ships of a trading company to search for the northern route to India and China through the Arctic Ocean. The guest was greeted and received by Russians with honors and was later highly allowed to conduct a duty-free trade in Russian cities.
It also resulted in getting a nice “office” as we can say now, inside of the Moscow Kremlin. In 1556, Tsar Ivan the Terrible granted English merchants, a special courtyard in Kitay-Gorod, a part of the Moscow Kremlin, nowadays at Varvarka street. Chancellor changed the named of the company to Moscowia (Moscow) and established a first foreign joint stock enterprise in Russia ever.
In fact, it became not only the first trading enterprise under the patronage of the English crown in Russia but also the first representative office of Western countries in Russia, as well as the first Embassy of Great Britain in the country.
The Brits exported shipbuilding timber, hemp for ropes, wax, flax, lard, leather and fur from Russia; import was firearms, gunpowder, saltpeter, lead, sulfur, copper, sugar, paper and London cloth. Negotiations took place here.
A curious fact – at the beginning of the XVII century, English-Russian dictionaries appeared in Russia and discussions about this project might have been started in this building.
The new owners have added galleries and a kitchen to the white-stone “terem” (another old Russian word for a house). A garden was also laid out around it.
Goods were kept in the basement of the embassy, and feasts and business negotiations were held upstairs in the ceremonial, so-called the State Hall. The most valuable property, the Treasury, was also stored there.
The English courtyard was badly damaged during the invasion of the Crimean Khan Devlet Giray in 1571. Later it was repaired, and the facade was decorated with a porch on pillars. Stone vestibules were added to the building in 1612.
The chamber housed the main residence of the London “Moscow Company” for almost a century, until 1649. Later during the reign of Peter I the very first Russian specialized school of mathematical sciences was established here.
Now the Old English Courtyard Museum has created the interior with English furniture from the times of Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I, a Russian tiled stove and bronze panicadiles form an interesting mix of English-Russian interior.
The present cultural life in the English house is diverse. The museum offers a selection of guided tours and interactive educational programs about history and culture of Russia and European countries of the Renaissance times.
Isn’t it fun to get some practical skills in the field of geography, mathematics, navigation, trade, housekeeping and cooking of the ХVI – ХVII centuries while on your Russian tour?
Music concerts and historical lectures are held in the museum, a good acoustics at the Ceremonial Hall make performances especially pleasant. These monthly concerts attract fans of the traditional manner of performing old music to the Old English Courtyard.