From Kremlin to Moscow Ring Road: A history of the Moscow rings

October 20, 2020
Tourism and travels

It is common knowledge that Moscow was built on seven hills and has several inner rings. At first, there were ramparts that marked the limits of the early settlement. Over time, new belts emerged. These were mostly roads that encircled the steadily expanding city. The Committee on Tourism and #Moskvastoboi project tell the story of Moscow’s historical rings.

The Kremlin

The Vyatichi, an old Slavic tribe, built a settlement with a palisade and a deep ditch on the Borovitsky Hill long before the Kremlin was erected in the same location. The fortress that overlooked the river was protected by walls, first wooden and later made of stone. In an emergency, residents of the possad, the built-up territory around the Kremlin, could hide behind its walls. In the 15th century, the Moscow fortress was rebuilt by Italian architects. Specifically, they erected the powerful red-brick walls that proved so reliable that no enemy was able to seize the citadel over the centuries.

Ю. Иванко.


Moscow was growing and expanding, with possad streets fanning out from the Borovitsky Hill. In 1538, they were enclosed within the Kitay-gorod Wall, which stretched from the Kremlin’s Corner Arsenal Tower, past the present-day Teatralnaya, Novaya and Staraya squares, to the Beklemishevskaya (Moskvoretskaya) Tower of the Kremlin.  Shop owners, who plied trade in Kitay-gorod, could do business without fear: there were cannons along the top of the wall in case of an enemy attack.

Е. Самарин.

White City (Bely Gorod)

In the late 16th century, Bely Gorod (White City) emerged in an area adjoining Kitay-gorod, its walls intended as a protection against Crimean Tartar raids. The tower gates – Chertolsky and Tversky, Dmitrovsky  and Sretensky – formed a horseshoe around the new city limits that are clearly visible even today, since the wall was later replaced with what is known in our days as the Boulevard Ring. The tower sites were transformed into beautiful Moscow squares – Pokrovskiye Vorota, Prechistenskiye Vorota, Nikitskiye Vorota, and Yauzskiye Vorota.

Zemlyanoi Gorod

Beyond the White City wall, there were villages with wooden cabins inhabited by artisans and craftsworkers. These were the first to be burnt during raids. It was decided to protect them with an earthen rampart and a wooden wall. After the 1812 Napoleonic War, the rampart was not restored, the site being used for orchard-growing. The orchards marked the outline of what is today Moscow’s famous Garden Ring.   

Е. Самарин.

Kamer-Kollezhsky val

In the 18th century, Moscow acquired a customs border. The duties were levied by the Chamber Collegium.  To pay the required sum, merchants had to pass through the gates or zastavas (barriers) of the Chamber Collegium rampart. The rampart, or val in Russian, existed from 1731 to the mid-19th century, but even after its demolition, it was for a long time the official city limit. Its memory is preserved in such place-names as Serpukhovskaya Zastava Square, Tverskaya Zastava Square, Preobrazhensky Val Street, and Presnensky Val Street. All of these were parts of the Chamber Collegium rampart. Today, stretches of the Third Ring Road follow its old outline.

Moscow Belt Railway

The 20th century was an era of new speeds: it became possible to take the train from city to city and deliver cargoes and mail more quickly. The construction of a steel ring encircling Moscow began in 1903 and was completed in 1908. In 1934, the Moscow Belt Railway closed to passengers and the idea of using it again for this purpose was revived only in the 2000s, when the Moscow Central Circle was being developed.

Moscow Ring Road

The idea of building the Moscow Ring Road (MKAD) was conceived before World War II. In 1941, a temporary ring road was rushed in to enable rapid troop deployments and it contributed strongly to the success of the counteroffensive near Moscow. The first kilometres of the road were built in the late 1950s, but the entire ring was completed only in 1962. Thirty years later, in the 1990s, a large-scale overhaul was carried out. 

#Moscowwithyou is an online project launched by the Moscow Committee on Tourism and the city’s cultural venues in March 2020. The project offers guided tours, lectures, theatre, culinary shows, fashion shows, and much more. Visitors to the website will find over 500 videos.


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