Two centuries and ten years later: The anniversary of the Sklifosofsky Institute’s first building

July 9

This amazing building on Sukharevskaya Square is marking its 210th anniversary. This stately off-white building with a lighted colonnade could be a theatre or a museum, but history chose a different path: doctors have been working here for more than two centuries. Initially it was a free clinical hospital as part of Sheremetev Hospital, or Strannopriimny Dom. Today, doctors at Sklifosofsky Institute under Moscow’s Department of Healthcare see the patients with the most difficult diagnoses.

“The 210th anniversary is a very important event for us. Without Sheremetev Hospital, there would have been no Sklifosofsky Institute: 210 years ago its doors opened to anyone in need, to all patients. And so, for 210 years, first Sheremetev Hospital and then the Sklifosofsky Institute as its successor, have been helping anyone who needs it,” said Sergei Petrikov, Director of the Sklifosofsky Research Institute of the Emergency Aid.

From Count Sheremetev’s Hospice to Russia’s flagship emergency care centre: The 95th anniversary of the Sklifosovsky Institute presents this article on how this unusual building had to appear, who was treated there and by whom, and the secrets held by these two-century-old walls.

Count and philanthropist

The opening ceremony of Count Sheremetev’s Strannopriimny Dom took place in 1810. It was a place where people with a low income (or without any income at all) could stay and be treated at the same time: such was the vision of the mansion’s owner, Count Nikolai Sheremetev, a great theatre aficionado, a well-known Moscow philanthropist and the director of the Moscow Aristocrat Bank.

He laid the first brick of the hospital-to-be in Cherkassky Gardens on his birthday, 28 June 1792. He explained his reasoning for establishing a hospital for the poor in Moscow in a letter to Emperor Alexander I.

“Guided by the inviolable obligations of Christian law and following the promptings of patriotic zeal, I have long since believed it necessary to establish a hospice in Moscow that I can maintain, for 100 people of both sexes and of any rank of the poor and crippled, as well as a hospital for 50 patients to treat the poor who live without any income,” the count wrote.

Count Nikolai Sheremetev, founder of the Sheremetev Hospital (Strannopriimny Dom)

The philanthropist invited architect Yelizvoi Nazarov, a student of Vasily Bazhenkov, and a former serf, Matvei Kazakov, to design the building. They designed a simple building that looked like the typical estate, but everything changed in 1803.

During this time, Nikolai Sheremetev’s wife, Praskovya Kovalyova-Zhemchugova, died after a difficult labour. The count, in mourning for his loss, decided to completely change the design and create a true palace of mercy instead of just a hospice. Thus, he engaged architect Giacomo Quarenghi, who would design the first building of the future Sklifosofsky Institute: the well-known semi-circular building with rows of white Tuscan order columns on both ends.

The project took over ten years, and the count did not live to see it finished. He died a year too soon.

Who was treated there?

Retired officers, minor officials, priests and commoners were the first residents of the hospice. However, no one was refused help. Thanks to Count Sheremetev, large amounts of money were left to the institution. The money was used to maintain the building as well as its patients. For example, the money helped create dowries for poor or orphaned girls, ransom debt prisoners and pay the funeral costs of the poor.

Over the first 100 years of operations, the Sheremetev Hospital treated almost 2 million people. Over 6 million roubles was spent to accomplish this.

In 1812, the hospice began to admit wounded soldiers, and French troops used it as a hospital for a time. The large columned building was being used as a military hospital more often: soldiers from the 1853–1856 Crimean War, Russo-Japanese War and World War I were treated there. In 1877, a sanitary squad, consisting of hospital personnel, was sent to the frontlines of the Russo-Turkish War.

It is no surprise that soon Nikolai Sheremetev’s Strannopriimny Dom was called Sheremetev Hospital.

A ward at Sheremetev Hospital by P. Pavlov. The beginning of the 20th century

Hospice - hospital - scientific centre

The medical work at Sheremetev’s “house” came into focus after Alexei Tarasenkov became chief doctor in 1858. He almost rebuilt the hospital system by closely controlling the purchase and prescription of medicines, and doctors began regular medical rounds and examinations.

A “visiting department,” free dispensary, opened there in the 1870s. Operating rooms with advanced equipment, labs and the first X-ray machines in Moscow were created there.

When the Soviets came to power, the hospice and the church in the building were closed, but the hospital remained. Moreover, it started admitting patients 24 hours a day including emergency patients. In 1919, the Moscow Council decided to establish an ambulance station at the Sheremetev Hospital.

Four years later, the institution was renamed Scientific Research Institute of Emergency Care and was named after Nikolai Sklifosovsky. This is the history of the hospital, which is usually called “Sklif” today. And this is where the most difficult patients are taken for emergency surgery.

A hospice ward at Sheremetev Hospital in Moscow. The beginning of the 20th century

Who treated there?

Interestingly, Nikolai Sklifosofsky never actually visited Sklifosofsky Institute. The hospital was named after him at the request of Moscow doctors, many of whom learned from the outstanding surgeon’s lectures.

A granite memorial plague with a bas-relief and the inscription: “Professor of surgery, member of the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences Sergei Yudin worked here in 1928-1954” can be found on the ground floor to the right of the main building’s central colonnade. The plaque was installed in 1967 as a tribute to the institute’s chief surgeon Sergei Yudin.

At the beginning of the 20th century, it was called Moscow’s third landmark (after the Tretyakov Gallery and Red Square). This genius of a doctor made a significant contribution to the development of field medicine and traumatology. During his life he conducted more than 17,000 stomach surgeries, and during his time Sklifosofsky Institute became the main surgical centere in the country.

Over the years, several iconic doctors and scientists worked in the first building: Grigory Gershtein, Vasily Krasintsev and Vladimir Demikhov among others. Today, the chief neurosurgeon of Russia, academician Vladimir Krylov, and the chief transplantologist of Moscow, academician Anzor Khubutia work there among other prominent doctors.

What do the Masons have to do with it?

Legends unrelated to medicine have also surfaced during the building’s two centuries. For example, Giacomo Quarenghi placed an image in a triangle over the main entrance, under the ceiling. Those interested in mysticism and secret clubs see the Masonic symbol in it. Some easily impressionable visitors claim that ghosts can be found in the corridors curved at the architect’s whim.

However, even without the mysticism, the building remains a unique Classicist landmark. Its interior does not resemble those of a typical hospital ward: the rooms here were designed with white marble and light green Ural stone.

According to Quarenghi’s concept, the hospice was located in the left wing, the hospital in the right and St Trinity Church in the centre. The church offers wall paintings by Domeniko Skotti including “The Tripartite Deity in Glory” in the dome of the church. Lore has it that one of the cherubs was painted in the likeness of Count Sheremetev’s son, Dmitry. The artist also painted the angel with a tambourine in the likeness the philanthropist’s wife, Praskovya.

Moreover, two high reliefs on the walls of the church, The Resurrection of Lazarus and The Massacre of the Innocents, were created by the outstanding sculptor, academician Gavriil Zamarayev.

Past and present

Of course, today one building is not enough for an entire hospital. There are over 40 scientific departments in the institute, half of them clinical. Of more than 800 researchers and doctors, three are academicians, two are corresponding members of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, six are honoured scientists of the Russian Federation, and 29 are professors, 88 are doctors and 226 are Candidates of Medicine.

Doctors treat 67,000 patients annually: both from Moscow and from other regions.

The building with the white colonnades hosts the directorate, the scientific departments and labs. There is also a museum of medicine with original items from the times of Strannopriimny Dom, the Sheremetev Hospital, the ambulance stations and the first years of the institute.


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