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Kitay-gorod (Russian: Китай-город), also referred to as the Great Possad (Russian: Великий Посад) in the 1500-1600s, is a cultural and historical area within the central part of Moscow, Russia, defined by the markings of now almost entirely razed fortifications, narrow streets and very densely built cityscape. It is separated from the Moscow Kremlin by Red Square. Kitay-gorod does not constitute a district (raion), as there are no resident voters, thus, municipal elections are not possible. Rather, the territory is managed directly by Central Administrative Okrug authorities (since 2003).
The etymology of the name is unclear. Gorod is the Russian for town, derived from the ancient Gord, whereas Kitay is Russian for China (cf. Cathay). Accordingly, the popular translation might be Chinatown. However, scholars universally agree that the name originally had nothing to do with Kitay as in "China", as there has never been significant Chinese presence in this district of Moscow.
Kita (pl. kity) is a somewhat obsolete word for "plait" or "thing made by braiding" – for example, a 17th-century Russian source informed readers that U shapok janychary imeli kity, meaning "The Janissaries had braids hanging from their caps." On the basis of this, Robert Wallace asserts in The Rise of Russia (New York: Time-Life, 1967) that the term relates to a rough-hewn defensive bulwark made from woven wicker baskets filled with earth or rock – and thus Kitay-gorod aims at something like "Basketville". On the other hand, some scholars tend to derive Kitay from an old word for the wooden stakes used in construction of the quarter's walls; if one liberally interprets "stakes" as "wythes" or "wickets," this agrees quite closely with Wallace's signification.
The walls were erected from 1536 to 1539 by an Italian architect known under the Russified name Petrok Maly and originally featured 13 towers and six gates. They were as thick as they were high, the average being six meters in both dimensions. The last of the towers were demolished in the 1930s, but small portions of the wall still stand. One of two remaining parts of the wall is located in Zaryadye and the other near the exit from the Okhotny Ryad station of Moscow Metro behind the Hotel Metropol.
Recently the mayor of Moscow announced plans for a full-scale restoration of the wall. City officials also plan to close Kitay-gorod to automobile traffic. Since 1995 the wall has been extensively rebuilt, and a new tower has been added. Inside the tower are a couple of restaurants and bars.
Apart from Red Square, the quarter is bordered by the chain of Central Squares of Moscow, notably Theatre Square (in front of Bolshoi Theatre), Lubyanka Square (in front of the KGB headquarters), and Slavyanskaya Square. Bourse Square on Ilyinka Street is situated entirely within Kitay-gorod.
Kitay-gorod, developing as a trading area, was known as the most prestigious business area of Moscow. Its three main streets—Varvarka, Ilyinka, and Nikolskaya—are lined with banks, shops, and storehouses.
One of the most beautiful churches in Moscow, St. Nicholas Church on the Ilyinka (1680–89), informally known as the Great Cross, was a landmark in Kitay-gorod but was destroyed in 1933. This district also features the Trinity Church of Nikitniki, which today is nestled among city buildings. It was built in the 1630s on the land of Moscow merchant, Grigory Nikitnikov.
Nikolskaya Street is famous for being the site of Moscow's first university, the Slavic Greek Latin Academy, housed in extant Zaikonospassky monastery (1660s). Another monastery cathedral, the main church of Epiphany Monastery (1690s), stands in the middle of Kitay-gorod in the eponymous Bogoyavlensky Lane. The 18th century survives in the exterior walls of the otherwise rebuilt Gostiny Dvor (Guest Merchant's Court) by Giacomo Quarenghi.
In the 19th century, Red Square was lined by a neoclassical domed structure of Upper Trade Rows by Joseph Bove. However, in the 1890s it was torn down and replaced with the new, eclectic Upper Trading Rows (by Alexander Pomerantsev and Vladimir Shukhov) and the similar Middle Trade Rows (by Roman Klein, scheduled for demolition in 2007). The rest of Kitay-gorod was densely filled with offices, warehouses and hotels, to the point where real estate developers had to build streets, not buildings - like the Tretyakovsky Proyezd project by Pavel Tretyakov and Alexander Kaminsky.
Also in the 1890s, developers consolidated large land lots on the perimeter of Kitay-gorod. Savva Mamontov launched an ambitious civic center, built around an opera hall, which was completed as the Metropol Hotel in 1907, the largest early Art Nouveau building in Moscow, containing artwork by Mikhail Vrubel, Alexander Golovin and Nikolai Andreev. The eastern segment (Staraya Square) was rebuilt by the Moscow Merchant Society, with the late Art Nouveau Boyarsky Dvor offices (by Fyodor Schechtel) and the neoclassical 4, Staraya Square (by Vladimir Sherwood, Jr., 1912–1914) which later housed the Central Committee of the Communist Party.
The present-day offices and clock tower of Constitutional Court of Russia were financed by the Northern Insurance Socity (1910–1912) and built by Ivan Rerberg, Marian Peretiatkovich and Vyacheslav Oltarzhevsky; this project is also notable as the first professional employer of young Ilya Golosov.
Since the early 1990s, many historical buildings have been torn down or rebuilt by facadist methods, tearing down everything beyond the street facade. Apart from the Gostiny Dvor, recent losses include the Tyoplye Trade Rows (Теплые ряды, demolished 1996–1997) and the recently reopened block at 10, Nikolskaya Street. The degree of destruction cannot be assessed in full, since many properties are operated by the federal government and closed to the general public.
A whole quarter of Kitay-gorod adjacent to the Moskva River and known as Zaryadye was demolished in three rounds (1930s, late 1940s, 1960s), sparing only those structures that were classified as historic monuments. These include the Cathedral of the Sign (1679–84), the Church of All Saints (1680s), St. George's Church on Pskov Hill (1657), St. Maksim's Church (1698), St. Anna's Church at the Corner (1510s), St. Barbara's Church (1796–1804), the Old English Embassy (1550s), and the 16th century Romanov boyar residence. There is no other such cluster of old edifices left anywhere else in Moscow. The district's main structure, Rossiya Hotel (1967), is being demolished to make way for a new round of development.