Unusual pavement grates with light prisms found in Moscow

September 28
Municipal services

Two pavement grates with glass-prism inserts were found near 16/18/1 Bolshaya Sukharevskaya Street during an improvement project on Dayev and Ananyevsky Pereuloks.

The cast iron grates, manufactured in the late 19th or early 20th century, were located under an asphalt layer on a pavement. One of them was badly rusted but almost intact. However, most of the glass prisms were missing. The other grate had decayed more, losing its holes; and an entire section was missing.

“We often discover artifacts during various excavation and construction projects in central Moscow. All of them are recorded, described, videoed and photographed. The items are checked to establish their age and composition, the location is marked on the city’s integral archeological map,” the press service of Moscow’s Department of Housing, Utilities and Amenities said.

James Pennycuick, an inventor from Boston, patented glass light prisms in 1881. Russia imported them from Europe, with Moscow authorities using them to illuminate basements at sidewalk level. The prism-refracted sunlight helped illuminate underground rooms.

In the spring and autumn, rainwater seeped inside basements through cracks in the grates. Snow-drifts covered them in the winter, and street cleaners often cracked the glass prisms, while chipping away ice on the sidewalks.

In the 1930s, the unique grates were covered with asphalt, and everyone forgot about them for almost 90 years. Today, they are returning from oblivion and receiving a new lease of life.

According to the City Utilities Complex, these grates with light prisms have been sent to the Department of Cultural Heritage for restoration. They will remove the rust, treat the grates with a special preservation substance, and they will also replace the missing prisms with glass panes. The restored sidewalk grates will be returned to their original location. The basements, once illuminated by them, no longer exist, so the grates will not be used for light, but they will become another attraction in central Moscow.

In 2015, over ten similar grates were discovered during an improvement project on Myasnitskaya Street. These unique artifacts were taken to Polytechnic School No. 2 for restoration. In May 2016, two grates were returned to their original location on Myasnitskaya Street, and the rest were taken to the Moscow City Museum.

How the capital shares old treasures

In the past few years, about 30,000 different artifacts have been found during improvement projects in central districts.

This includes historical items, as well as surviving elements of the old city infrastructure and old city buildings and other structures. Some of these finds made it into a museum collection and some were displayed at the exhibit Tverskaya Street and Beyond. Some have been put in storage.

Some items became open-air museum exhibits. City authorities and archeologists decided on the best ways to preserve and display these artifacts that provide knowledge about the city’s history. It is significant that Muscovites see them, and that these items are preserved for posterity.

Information about known and new cultural heritage landmarks, their boundaries and security zones are posted on the Moscow Government’s Electronic Atlas open-data website.

From wooden to clinker brick pavements

Most archeological discoveries in the city were made in the last few years, 2015-2018, during improvement projects in the central districts. In the autumn of 2015, a clinker brick pavement section was found under asphalt during renovation on Pushechnaya Street. This rare type of street paving featuring Dutch technology was first used in Russia in the second half of the 19th century.

Clinkers are over-fired bricks sometimes standing on edge and forming a “herringbone” pattern. These over-fired bricks became popular. However, the street pavement with these bricks began to crack apart in the 20th century after motor vehicles started using the roads. Consequently, stone and later asphalt were laid on top of clinker bricks.

A small section of a white-stone Bely Gorod (White Town) fortification was later unearthed on Turgenevskaya Square. That fortress was located on what are now Moscow’s famous boulevards.

In the spring of 2016, surviving sections of a 16th-17th century wooden pavement were unearthed during the reconstruction of Tverskaya Street. In all, four layers of logs with a diameter of 15 cm were uncovered. Workers also found fragments of white-clay tableware, cast-copper buttons/weights, a pectoral cross, and cut sections of leather goods while cleaning the street in between layers. Earlier, workers found surviving pavement sections in the 1960s while building an underpass adjacent to 13 Tverskaya Street and while rebuilding Manezhnaya Square in the 1990s.


Treasure troves, secret rooms and an underground pub  

In the spring of 2016, archeologists stumbled upon a Matochnik tool for making counterfeit coins, while working on Tverskaya Street. This device was used to make impressions on stamps during the reign of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich. In turn, the stamps were used to mint the coins themselves. The tool looked like an iron cube with reliefs from a 17th century coin’s obverse and reverse sides.

In June 2016, a treasure trove with dozens of 18th century coins was found during a project on Voznesensky Pereulok. Experts speculated that the coins were initially placed inside a purse or a sack that eventually rotted away. Scientists noted that old artifacts can tell a lot about the city’s commercial life 300 years ago. It is possible to learn where they were minted, from where these coins arrived, and to retrace commercial routes.

Less than a month after these items were discovered on Voznesensky Pereulok, scientists found a pub dating to the reign of Empress Yelizaveta Petrovna. Sections of a log cabin were located 22.8 metres underground. The pub evidently functioned for 50 years, from the second half of the 18th century through the second decade of the 19th century. Archeologists reached these conclusions after studying the coins from the times of Empress Yelizaveta Petrovna and Emperor Alexander I.


In March 2017, a so-called listening room was discovered during the restoration of the base of the Kitai-Gorod Wall. In the 16th century, this listening room allowed Moscow’s defenders to overhear enemy conversations on the other side of the wall to find out whether enemy soldiers were trying to get around the walls. The room’s unique vaulted walls greatly improved acoustics and sound clarity.

The secret room was located inside the Kitai-Gorod Wall’s Bogoslovskaya Tower and was used as a warehouse in peacetime. Hidden rooms like this were last found in the 1920s. Moreover, archeologists discovered about 150 artifacts, including ceramics, copper coins, merchants’ lead seals, knives, nails and iron shoe soles.

A bishop chess figure dating to the reign of Tsar Ivan the Terrible was found on Prechistenka Street. An unknown Muscovite hid ten hand-minted coins worth five kopecks inside the bishop. One coin was made at the Tver Mint, and the rest at the Moscow Mint. The wooden bishop’s three sections were joined by a thread. According to archeologists, the enterprising Moscow resident hid money inside each chess figure. The entire treasure might have been worth about 160 kopecks (1.6 roubles), a handsome sum in the 16th century.

Where are the new landmarks located?

There are many ways to see Moscow’s artifacts. Small items, as well as entire sections of old buildings and structures are currently being displayed. Some artifacts, including cobblestone sections and showcases with archeological finds, are displayed right where they were found.

Some of the largest open-air museums were established in 2017 and 2018 during the improvement of Khokhlovskaya Square and Maly Zlatoustinsky Pereulok. After the projects, both sites became new landmarks, and the city received two unusual open-air museums. Anyone can now see a section of the ancient White City’s wall on Khokhlovskaya Square.

Ю. Иванко. Mos.ru

People can actually look through a museum window on Maly Zlatoustinsky Pereulok. This special showcase contains valuable archeological items.


Source: mos.ru

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