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History of Sokolniki Park: from Hunting Land to the Fine Sample of Garden Art
May 12, 2010 19:29

Sokolniki is one of the biggest parks in Moscow, very popular among the Moscow people and guests of the Russian capital. Actually, Sokolniki is a name of profession, tied with hunting: Sokolniki are the people, who trained hawks for the sport of kings. Since the 15th the forests here were the favorite hunting place of the Moscow princes and, later, tsars. The whole village of Sokolniki was situated there in the 17th century serving the needs of the royal hunting. Later the forest was used for military maneuvers, and then the park was laid out there and used for the festivities. Finally it was turned into that we have now: a huge more or less regular park with 7 radial, 1 ring and 2 semi-circular alleys, with restaurants, sports complexes, skating rinks in winter and beaches functioning in summer, and even rose houses. But the name of this park and of the big district on the East of Moscow is still the same: Sokolniki. Some events also take place in the park, for example, the Ice-Cream Fest, coming soon, on the May, 30.

 Well, the forests to the East from the medieval city of Moscow were the favorite place for the royal hunting, especially hawking. It was always popular among the Russian rulers, but it was Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich (1629-1676), who rose this kind of hunting to the maximum of luxury, having re-created this noble sport, almost forgotten in the Time of Troubles. It was his very favorite sport. One of the courts for training hawks was also situated here. The favorite Alexey Mikhailovich’s hawk, called Shiryay has remained in the local toponyms: Shiryaevskaya Street, Shiryaevskoye Pole. According to a legend, the hawk flew at its victim, but overrated its strength and smashed itself up. Unfortunately, the Darwin Price did not exist in the 17th century. Anyway, they give it to the people only, but this death on duty was stupid and pompous enough to be remembered and fixed in toponyms. Other types of hunting, for example, elk-hunting with hounds were also practiced there.

A little later, in the late 17th century the forest was partly removed on the south forming Sokolinoye Pole, a place for military maneuvers: the first Russian Emperor Peter the Great preferred war to the traditional noble sports from his early years. Later the park was turned into a public place for open air celebrations of Moscow nobles. In the 19th century the park began looking itself, with its radial planning.

The park figures in the classical Russian literature, for example, it is mentioned in the Tolstoy’s War and Peace as a place for duels. In the Guide of 1855 the park of Sokoniki is described as a beautiful park with paths and roads to walk. In 1879 the lands of the park were bought by Moscow administration from the Public treasury and became a public place. A considerable role in this gift to the city belonged to Moscow Major S.M. Tretiakov, the brother of the Tretyakov Gallery founder. One way or another, artists and writers different kind also found it good enough to work there and to paint them (Shishkin, Savrasov, Levitan) and to mention in the stories and novels, where the action takes place in Moscow. Some people built suburban houses (dacha) in Sokolniki and organized concerts there, inviting famous musicians. By the way, among the concerts, played in Sokolniki, was such an even like the very first execution of S.S. Prokofiev’s First Concert for Fortepiano on the August, 7, 1912. Among the famous people of music lived and appeared in Sokolniki are Fedor Shalyapin, N.G. Rubinstein, P.I. Chaikovsky.

The first sport complexes appeared in Sokolninki also very early, for example, the football ground, where even the international games took place existed before the soviet period. The tea houses in Sokolniki aren’t something new as well. They tradition of open air tea drinking appeared also then; it was begun by the workers, who came with their families for a weekend to the park taking a samovar (tea-urn) with.

Now Sokolniki park is a sample of garden art: the park covers about 600 hectares, and most part of it is green space. Some oaks and larches are about 100 – 120 years old. The park layout is very visitor-friendly: the walkway leads from the entrance to the Sokolnicheskiy Ring (It is a round alley, in winter used as a skating rink). 8 alleys diverge from the ring like a fan. They fun out being crossed by a semi-circle cross alley. This net forms 9 sectors, in which cafes, estrades and tea pavilions are situated. Each from these alleys is planted with trees of one specie, for example, the alleys 1 and 3 are planted with birches, the 4th – with maples, the 2nd one – with elm-trees, the 6th with ash-trees and elms and finally – larches on the May alley (7th one).

Sokolniki park was always full of flowers, and some of them, precisely roses, were grown and cultivated especially. There are two rosaries in Sokolniki, Bolshoy and Maliy (Bigger and Smaller ones). 30, 000 rose-bushes of 100 species grow and smell there. When they do not yet, the air is sweet with the odour of lilac. The lilac garden appeared in Sokolniki in 1950-s. If you are bored with walking, you can take on at billiards, hire roller skates, bicycle, kick-scooter, and other sports equipment. Moreover, you can visit swimming pool or tennis courts, or play small tennis. Skating rink and ski traces function in the park in winter, and in winter you can hire skis and skates as well, and a snow town with ice sculptures and ice chutes. It is extremely popular among the children and adults as well and exists since 2008. What about sports, the stadium of Shiryaevka (named after the suicide hawk, whom we already know) remembers many stars of Soviet and Russian sport, beginning here their trainings. Anna Kurnikova and Marat Safin began playing tennis here.

Among the events happening in the park of Sokolniki, the Ice-cream fest is to be mentioned. This year, 2010, it will be on the May, 30. A few ice cream fabricators will take park in the event, which providing a gargantuan quantity of ice-cream suited to every fancy. The fest, which is actually a grandiose sale of ice-cream, includes the habitual nonsense like competitions, relay, quizzes, concerts, usual and charity ones. But the ice-cream is the thing making the event worth to visit, if you like ice-cream, of course.

All in all, park of Sokolniki and its Genio Loci are a part and parcel of Moscow during the last 150 years, and if you want to get acquainted with Moscow as it is, it is one of the places to visit. All the history of Moscow with princes’ hunting, crazy hawks, noble duels and 19th century writers and painters, concerts and performances, skating rinks and 21th century ice-cream fests is concentrated here. In the end I would advice you not to drink too much mulled vein on the skating rink and take a taxi, if you’ve stuck in the park till late at night and the metro station of Sokolniki (by the way, Sokolniki is one of the oldest stations in the Moscow underground) is closed.

Yulia Buzykina


Tags: Moscow Moscow parks Sokolniki   

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