The Soviet period of history was marked by the process of rapid urbanization of Moscow, which, coupled with the anti-religious policy pursued by the authorities, swept away entire layers of the history of the metropolitan metropolis. The facts of the liquidation of temples and villages are well known, but few know that many cemeteries were also sentenced to destruction.
At the same time, according to numerous sources, there were practically no reburials, and the dismantling was limited to the demolition of tombstones. Many of them were subsequently reused for their intended purpose, sawn into roadside curbs or went to the lining of metro stations. The bones of the buried, with the exception of those that fell into a random bucket of an excavator, in most cases are still in their places.
Today, on the territories of the former cemeteries there are parks, houses, office buildings where people walk, live and work, often unaware of what the ground hides under their feet. Nevertheless, from time to time, cemeteries make themselves felt even today, when, when laying another underground cable or pipeline, workers accidentally open a forgotten burial.
By checking and overlaying pre-war (and in some cases pre-revolutionary) maps with modern ones, I managed to determine the territories of a number of former necropolises as accurately as possible.
Among them: Dorogomilovskoye, Semenovskoye, Lazarevskoye, Bratskoye, Filevskoye, Arbatetskoye, Krylatskoye, Deguninskoye, Biryulevskoye, Kozhukhovskoye, Skorbyashchenskoye, Cholera, Mazilovskoye, All Saints, Simonovskoye, Pokrovskoye, Shipilovskoye, Nagatinskoye, Khoroshevskoye, Dyakovskoye and Old Kuzminskoye cemeteries.
Daguerreotype of the destroyed Semyonovsky cemetery
The idea for the project came by chance. Once, while walking in the vicinity of Kutuzovsky Prospekt, I needed to find out more detailed information about one of the buildings located there. This building is located near the green zone on the Taras Shevchenko embankment, from where a beautiful view of the Moscow City skyscraper complex located on the opposite bank opens.
Having opened the Wikimapia service, I found out the information he needed, but his eyes caught on one of the comments left in the description of the object. The person who wrote it claimed that during the construction of this building, while digging a foundation pit, a large number of human bones and even several whole coffins were extracted from the ground.
Having studied a number of historical sources, I found out that earlier (from 1771 to about 1948) on this site, located in the now very prestigious area of Moscow for living, there was an ancient Dorogomilovskoye cemetery, one of the largest cemeteries of the capital that arose during the plague of 1771- 72 years.
Surprisingly, as it turned out, many people read about this cemetery, although they hardly knew about it. After all, it was here, in the “completely deserted cemetery in the Dorogomilov area,” according to Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita, that Azazello made an appointment for Margarita before taking her to Woland’s ball.
“… The black bird driver unscrewed the right front wheel on the fly, and then landed the car in some completely deserted cemetery in the Dorogomilov area. Having landed Margarita, who did not ask about anything, near one of the tombstones along with her brush, the rook started the car, sending her straight into the ravine behind the cemetery. She fell into it with a roar and died in it. The rook saluted respectfully, sat on the wheel and flew away. Immediately, a black cloak appeared from behind one of the monuments. The fang flashed in the moonlight, and Margarita recognized Azazello …”
Having become interested in this topic, I conducted a study, during which I found out that this cemetery was one of many destroyed during the Soviet period. It is difficult to name the exact number of graveyards that have gone down in history forever, but it is estimated at more than a dozen.
Former territory of the Dorogomilovsky cemetery
The reasons that prompted the city authorities to put signatures on orders for the destruction of cemeteries were different. Often this reason was the fact of the need to liberate this territory for subsequent development.
However, this reason was not always justified. Often, the territory freed from tombstones turned into a park or square. For example, the Lazarevskoye cemetery, which became the Festival Park, the cemetery at the Intercession Monastery, which turned into the Tagansky Park, as well as the cemetery at the destroyed Sorbyashchensky Monastery, which has now become Novoslobodsky Park.
In a number of cases, for unknown reasons, a cemetery was destroyed for construction, next to which there were many free vacant lots. Such, according to the memoirs of contemporaries, was the Semyonovskoye cemetery, destroyed for the construction of new workshops for the Salyut aircraft engine plant.
It happened that cemeteries were completely destroyed without the subsequent use of their territories, which soon overgrown and turned into unennobled green areas. These were the territories of the Deguninsky and Krylatsky cemeteries. The latter, according to the official version, was destroyed during the preparation of the city for the 1980 Olympic Games. A similar pretext was used in the destruction of the Dyakovo cemetery located in the opposite part of the city, the remains of which can still be found in Kolomensky Park.
Another reason that prompted the authorities to destroy cemeteries was the anti-religious policy pursued at that time. Many ancient temples were demolished, the cemeteries located near them were destroyed along the way. Sometimes this was presented as the aspiration of the people. This happened with the Simonovsky cemetery, located at the monastery of the same name. It was destroyed allegedly at the request of workers who wanted to build a house of culture in the area. This is how the ZIL Palace of Culture, which still exists today, was built right on the former monastery churchyard.
One of the strangest can be called the reason why in 1982 the ancient cemetery of the Church of All Saints in All Saints on Sokol was destroyed. Here, in particular, the relics of Ivan Alexandrovich Bagration, the father of the famous commander of the time of the Patriotic War of 1812, Pyotr Ivanovich Bagration, rested (and in fact they still rest, since the cemetery was liquidated without opening the graves). According to one version, the destruction was initiated by high-ranking residents of the neighboring, so-called “General’s House”. Many of them were upset by the view of the cemetery from the windows of their luxurious apartments.
The surviving fragment of the wall of the cemetery of the Intercession Monastery (now – the territory of the Tagansky Park)
Reburials from cemeteries sentenced to destruction were rare. Often, the only way to inform visitors about the impending demolition was an inconspicuous paper announcement posted on the wall of the cemetery office building. Less frequently, notification letters were sent out.
At the same time, the period allotted for the exhumation and reburial of the remains of relatives also varied.
The destruction of the Dorogomilovsky cemetery began in the 40s of the 20th century, shortly after its closure in 1938. According to local historian Yury Valeryevich Ryabinin, this year the last funerals of people whose relatives had no idea about the imminent fate of the churchyard were still taking place at the cemetery. However, the war that broke out soon led to the fact that only a small part of the visitors were informed about the impending demolition. As a result, by the time of dismantling, only every fifth grave had been reburied, mainly at the Vostryakovsky cemetery that had opened at that time.
Relatives of those buried at the Biryulevsky cemetery were given a much shorter period – only 6 months. But even he couldn’t resist. On the Internet you can find the memory of one of the eyewitnesses of the destruction of the cemetery in 1977. According to him, they received a letter from the Moscow City Executive Committee, which spoke of the imminent destruction of the cemetery where their grandfather rested. Three weeks after organizing a hasty reburial, they returned to the cemetery to pick up the fence from the old grave. But once in place, they stumbled upon a working construction equipment, which began the dismantling process ahead of schedule. According to this source, about 90% of the deceased from this cemetery remained lying in the ground of the square of the 4th microdistrict of Biryulyovo, not far from the church of St. Nicholas (Mirlikisky) the Wonderworker.
As for the Semyonovsky cemetery, during the initial stage of the destruction of the southern, largest part of the cemetery, no one was given a chance to rebury their relatives. It was the height of the Great Patriotic War and all spheres of life were put on a war footing. According to a number of sources, the front-line soldiers who returned to civilian life later remembered and decided to visit the graves of their ancestors. But, to horror and amazement, they were met only by a miserable stump of once one of the largest and oldest cemeteries in Moscow. And soon, in the 60s of the 20th century, this small area was also destroyed.
Photo collage from the funeral at the Semyonovsky cemetery and the square of the same name on its modern territory
Of course, as a rule, the graves of socially significant historical figures were not subjected to destruction. Many were reburied at Novodevichy, Vagankovsky, Vostryakovsky and other prestigious Moscow cemeteries. Among them, in particular, were the artist Isaac Levitan, who originally rested in the Jewish cemetery in Dorogomilovo, the poet Dmitry Venevitinov, whose ashes rested in the cemetery of the Simonov Monastery, and the writer Nikolai Gogol, who was once buried in the necropolis of the Danilov Monastery. All three were subsequently reburied at the Novodevichy Cemetery.
At the same time, if the original tombstone from the former cemetery rises above the grave of Levitan, then many other monuments were replaced by, as a rule, simpler and more modern ones. It is curious that the writer Mikhail Bulgakov now rests under the original stone (Golgotha) from the old grave of Gogol. His crinkled top without a cross, with a line from the Gospel knocked down, initially looked ugly. Then the stone was turned upside down.
During reburials, Orthodox traditions that were observed during the original burial were often omitted. So, the dead were often reburied with their heads not to the west, but in another, often opposite direction. The monument was sometimes placed not at the feet, as is customary, but in the head of the deceased. There have been cases of transferring only one sculptural statue, without exhuming the remains of a famous person. The grave, thus, lost its status and turned into a cenotaph.
As for the dead from among the ordinary inhabitants, they were not particularly ceremonious with them. Some of the deceased rest in their places in now unmarked graves even today. However, if the territory of the destroyed cemetery was under development, then the bones of the buried were often spontaneously removed during the construction of the foundations of future buildings.
Alas, witnesses of those events claim that the bones removed from the ground were most often equated with construction waste and taken along with it to landfills outside the city. The most frequently mentioned is the Brateevskaya dump, which itself unwittingly became a cemetery, “sheltering” a considerable number of exhumed bones from several destroyed graveyards.
In the 80s of the XX century, the landfill itself was also filled up, destroyed, and its territory was built up with residential buildings. Now this place is the 1st microdistrict of Brateev.
Flower garden from the grave of the destroyed Krylatsky cemetery
Preserved and quite terrible evidence. Thus, the built-up area of the former Dorogomilovsky cemetery, in all likelihood, was practically not protected. In various sources, one can find the memories of people who claimed that in the vicinity of the destroyed cemetery one could meet children playing with human skulls impaled on wooden sticks. They also recall cases of exchanging these skulls for sweets that were offered to children by medical students.
Here you could also find people looking for gold crowns in skulls, as well as buttons from the uniforms of participants in the Patriotic War of 1812. The army of Kutuzov, retreating after the battle of Borodino, left behind a kind of gloomy marks in the form of burial places of the participants in the battle who died from wounds. One of the large mass graves was located just at the Dorogomilovsky cemetery. The monument from it was later transferred to the Borodino panorama, where it is located today.
One of the most chilling testimonies belongs to a witness of the development of this area named Sergey. According to him, he and his friends watched the work of an excavator, which was methodically digging another pit. As he worked, he kept exposing the graves, throwing aside the earth containing fragments of bones and fragments of tombstones. Having scooped up another portion of the earth with a ladle, he accidentally cut off the side cover of someone’s coffin, and involuntary witnesses saw “a sheaf of amazing, copper-colored, female hair of incredible length and beauty.”
In all likelihood, the Jewish Dorogomilovskoye cemetery located nearby, on the territory of which residential buildings are now located, as well as the exit from the Kutuzovskaya metro station closest to the river, was interesting from the point of view of architecture. In particular, in the memoirs of the residents of the Dorogomilovskaya Sloboda, a mysterious grave appears, on the tombstone of which not only the name and years of the deceased’s life were engraved, but a whole story telling about the non-random death of a person buried there, caused by the jealousy of a certain Jewish woman.
The last time the Dorogomilovskoye cemetery reminded of itself was in the late 90s of the 20th century, when during the construction of the Tower 2000 business center, the bones and skulls of the dead were again removed from the ground.
Now, on the site of once one of the largest graveyards of the capital region, there are elite residential buildings, the so-called “Stalinka”. Here, on the site of the former cemetery, the USSR General Secretaries Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov and other high-ranking officials lived.
Former territory of the Dorogomilovsky cemetery
Not far from the Dorogomilovsky cemetery, there was a smaller, but, in all likelihood, no less ancient Filevskoye cemetery. It was located behind the district railway, on which the trains of the Moscow Central Ring now run. In pre-revolutionary times, the cemetery was called Armenian, along with the churchyard of the same name near the Vagankovsky cemetery, which still exists today.
The cemetery was closed for burials in 1956, after about a year the process of its destruction began. Initially, a subway tunnel between the Kutuzovskaya and Fili stations was supposed to pass through the territory of the cemetery. Later, however, the project was revised and the tracks passed through an open area a little closer to the banks of the Moscow River. According to contemporaries of the events, the turmoil led to the fact that, in the end, no more than 20% of the total number of graves were reburied.
In the 1970s, a complex of Gokhran buildings was built on the site of the former cemetery. During the construction, many burials were opened and the soil, along with the remains of the deceased, was taken to the aforementioned Brateev dump. According to sources, the graves were located parallel to the banks of the Moskva River almost every 2-3 meters at a depth of about 3-5 meters. They were sprinkled with a thick layer of industrial soil in the form of asphalt, concrete and crushed stone.
The same source claims that closer to the river, the burials were in simple pine coffins filled with shavings. Among them were many old people with missing teeth. There were also double burials with two coffins, for example, mothers and newborns, but alas, not surviving babies. Children’s coffins were filled with bouquets of wild flowers, which, to the surprise of eyewitnesses, turned out to be practically not faded.
Higher along the coast, the burials were richer. Massive coffins hollowed out of solid tree trunks on carved legs with copper handles were found here.
On the Internet, you can also find the memories of eyewitnesses of the opening of the burial, where, judging by the size of the femur, a very tall man (almost 2 meters) in full military uniform rested. He wore a gray overcoat lined with red silk and high boots above the kneecap.
Even higher from the bank of the Moskva River, mass graves of soldiers in the military uniform of 1812 were opened. In all likelihood, these were participants in the Battle of Borodino who died of wounds, perhaps just during the famous Council in Fili, which took place within walking distance from the cemetery. They were buried in simple coffins, many had shrapnel wounds to their bones and skulls.
Further along the coast, already beyond the boundary of the cemetery, excavators opened up quarry burials with buckets, where human and horse bones sprinkled with lime were found. The surviving shreds of military uniforms suggested that these were the remains of the soldiers of Napoleon’s Great Army.
Former territory of the Filevsky cemetery
The Lazarevskoye cemetery, located in Maryina Roshcha, was once the first city cemetery. In 1746, the so-called “Wretched House” was transferred here, where unidentified corpses were brought. Having started the journey as a cemetery for the poor, later they began to bury nobles, as well as representatives of the clergy. According to the memoirs of contemporaries, including the local history writer Aleksey Timofeevich Saladin, who personally walked around it, at the beginning of the 20th century the cemetery was badly neglected. According to him, in many places the inscriptions on the monuments could not be read because of the dense thickets of nettles.
In the 30s of the 20th century, the cemetery was destroyed and turned into a children’s recreation park, now known as the Festival Park. The exhumation of the graves was practically not carried out, most of the deceased remained lying in their places. There is evidence that the dismantling and removal of tombstones was carried out carelessly and belatedly. During the first few months of operation of the newly formed park, one could observe a wild picture – children playing in the playgrounds, which were installed right in the middle of the fallen gravestones.
Not far from the Lazarevsky cemetery there was also the Old Lutheran cemetery, where non-Orthodox Christians were buried, who, by the will of fate, ended up in imperial Russia and ended their life here. Alas, like the aforementioned Lazarevskoye, the Old Lutheran cemetery was also in a deplorable state by the beginning of the 20th century. According to the memoirs of the same Saladin, already then many gravestones were knocked to the ground and even used by local residents as tables for street feasts. Today, on the site of this cemetery is the Polytechnic College No. 8 named after twice Hero of the Soviet Union I.F. Pavlov.
Once, in all likelihood, it was the only cemetery for non-Christians. Later, on the territory of the German settlement near the Yauza River, the German (Vvedenskoye) cemetery appeared, as well as the cemetery at the Lutheran Church of St. Michael. The latter was also destroyed in 1928. It was notable for the fact that, in particular, the notorious Count Yakov Villimovich Bruce was buried there, as well as, according to some information, the legendary associate of Peter I, Franz Yakovlevich Lefort. Now, on the site of the former cemetery, there is the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute named after Professor N. E. Zhukovsky.
The former territory of the Lazarevsky cemetery (now the Festival Park)
You can also find a detailed description of the destruction of the Semyonovsky cemetery, made by the hands of young Komsomol members in the first years of the war on orders from above. According to the veteran of the Great Patriotic War, critic and prose writer Vladimir Kardin, who was directly involved in the destruction of the cemetery, the order was laconic “to dig a ditch and not pay attention to the graves.” They worked in day and night shifts, destroying monuments, coffins and their contents with shovels. In some graves, he recalled, the deceased lay in several layers under each other, which indicated that whole generations of relatives were buried here. Occasionally, workers found glass jars containing jewelry and gold coins. In this case, they called a policeman who was on duty nearby and handed over the finds to him.
At the end of the 1950s, subbotniks were organized on the remains of the cemetery for students, whose tasks also included the destruction of graves. According to the recollections of the participants, in those years, the entire area up to the Yauza was filled with skulls and bones of warriors – heroes of the Fatherland. And in the early 1960s, a large heating main was dug through some of the last untouched graves of the Semyonovsky cemetery. Local residents still remember how piles of bones lay in a deep pit, as well as many officers’ and soldiers’ tunics and overcoats with awards, sometimes in very good condition.
The cemetery had the status of one of the main military graveyards of the capital. In the nearby Lefortovo military hospital (now the Main Military Clinical Hospital named after N. N. Burdenko), from its very foundation in 1706, numerous participants in various wars of the Russian Empire died from wounds and were buried. They say that among the guests of the hospital there was a “black” joke about “an early discharge to Semenovskoye”.
The second famous military graveyard of the capital was the Fraternal Cemetery, located on the territory of the current Sokol district. Having existed for only about 15 years, it nevertheless became one of the largest burial places of participants in the First World War. More than 18 thousand soldiers, officers and sisters of mercy found their last rest on it. The first fallen military pilots in the history of Russia were also buried here. Crosses were erected on their graves, made of two crossed blades of aircraft propellers.
In Soviet times, however, this war was declared “imperialistic” and soon the cemetery was closed, and a little later it was destroyed and partially built up. Only the Memorial and Chapaevsky parks remained free from development, whose lands still continue to store the ashes of war heroes today.
A fragment of a tombstone from the destroyed Simonovsky cemetery
The process of destroying cemeteries in most cases was waste-free. Tombstones were dismantled and sawn either into curbstones (which, with rare exceptions, were installed with the inscriptions down, that is, into the ground), or into material for lining Moscow metro stations.
Sometimes gravestones were reused for their intended purpose. At the same time, there were cases of careless grouting of the names of the former “owners” of these monuments, which can still be read, next to the new names engraved on it.
The bones of the dead, as mentioned above, were almost never dug up purposefully. If they were not touched by shovels and excavator buckets, they remained in their places and were securely hidden from prying eyes by a deep layer of earth.
Today, in most cases, there is little to remind of the fact that cemeteries were once located in these places for decades, and in some cases for centuries. Somewhere today you can still find fragments of tombstones sticking out of the ground, as well as the remains of carelessly sawn grave fences. The foundations of former crypts can be found less frequently.
Sometimes, during the extraction of old curbstones, during the next improvement of the city, workers are surprised to find the names and years of life of long-gone people engraved on them. Until 2015, such a “border” could be seen near the Church of the Apostles Peter and Paul on Novaya Basmannaya.
In the courtyard of houses on Trofimov Street, you can still find an old stone wall today. Local residents claim that this wall was left from the Kozhukhovsky cemetery that was once located here and was, in fact, its fence.
Perhaps the only case of the “moving” of the Moscow churchyard without changing the name occurred with the Kuzminsky cemetery, which was originally located on the current territory of the Kuzminsky forest park. And today, on the site of the former cemetery, you can find the foundation of the former crypt, fragments of fences and tombstones. One of the tombstones today is often used by vacationers as a picnic table.
It happened that cemeteries were not completely destroyed, but were significantly reduced in their boundaries. They say that this is the current Izmailovo cemetery. Once, eyewitnesses recall, it was noticeably larger in area, but decreased during the development of the area. The houses surrounding the cemetery, therefore, stand on the former border sections of the churchyard.
Rarely, but there have been cases of partial revival of already destroyed cemeteries. This happened to the Shipilovsky and Dyakovo cemeteries in Moscow, where even today you can see several restored graves. But legally, their territories are no longer cemeteries.
The former territory of the Shipilovsky cemetery with partially preserved graves
Today, the dark history of these places is most often bashfully hushed up so as not to embarrass the inhabitants of nearby areas.
The best completion of this work will be a poem by Yakov Petrovich Polonsky, which he wrote in 1842:
A hundred years will pass, a hundred years; forgotten grave,
Buried yesterday, it will grow with grass,
And the plow will pass over it, and the dust, long cooled,
The mighty oak will wrap its roots around…
He will proudly rustle with a thick peak;
Under the shade his lovers will come –
And they will sit down to rest in the evening,
Look into the distance with their heads bowed
And the noise of dark leaves, thinking, will understand…
“Bleeding” tree growing on the former territory of the Biryulevsky cemetery