Patriarchs Ponds once housed poor families in communal apartments. Slowly it became home to Moscows wealthy elite but then the hipsters arrived
In a city of high-rise apartment blocks and vast, teeming traffic arteries, tranquility is at a premium in Moscow. For that reason, many rich Russians have been drawn in recent years to Patriarchs Ponds, a quiet area of pretty art nouveau buildings set around the eponymous pond (once there were three, now theres only one) right in the centre of the city.
The area has been at the forefront of the new Moscow that has appeared over the past few years, packed with teeming cafes and bars, fashion boutiques and delicatessens. But as the area gets so popular that on weekend nights it overflows with outsiders visiting its bars and restaurants, the rich residents have complained that the influx is ruining their special area. Others say it was the rich new residents themselves who altered the areas Soviet-era charm.
Gentrification in Moscow takes on rather a different form to other major cities, mainly due to the nature of the Soviet experience. A century ago, the city saw uniform de-gentrification, as the aristocracy was kicked out of juicy property in central Moscow after the Bolshevik revolution. The art nouveau mansions of Patriarchs Ponds were turned into embassies, while the handsome blocks of spacious apartments belonging to merchants were stripped out and turned into kommunalki (communal apartments), in which several families would share a big flat, one to a room.
Evgeny Asse, a 70-year-old architect who has lived on Patriarchs Ponds since 1948, in an apartment block designed by his father, also an architect, recalled that in the 1950s, the district was far from glamorous.
There were quite a lot of hooligans around. It wasnt until the 1960s, when some new brick blocks were built for the Soviet elite, that it started to become more prestigious, he says.
Of course it was always a pretty area but there was none of the high life you have now, says Yulia Eybogina, who spent her early years in a communal apartment in the district, between 1987 and 1993. My mother remembers that the other people in the flat would tell us when on a particular day sugar or other products would be available, and wed head off to queue for them.