As France celebrates Bastille Day, RT guides you around all things French in Russia.
From presidential statues to fine food, the French influence is perhaps more common than you may have thought.
If you found yourself among Russian aristocracy a couple of centuries ago, you would be forgiven for thinking you were in France. All things French – the language, the fashion – were extremely popular, and Moscow still has a lot of that French legacy to explore.
First of them is indeed the French president. Not the current one though, but one of the country’s former leaders, who has a permanent address in the Russian capital. Charles de Gaulle, France’s celebrated statesman, stands tall in a square named after him in northern Moscow.
The decision to call the square after the man hailed for strengthening ties between France and the USSR was taken in 1990, to mark a hundred years since de Gaulle’s birth. In 2005 this monument was unveiled. It was built by controversial artist Zurab Tsereteli, whose unorthodox works often spark much debate.
De Gaulle’s statue seems quite classic though. The sculptor had personally met de Gaulle in the 1960s and portrayed the then president the way he remembered: tall and wearing a military uniform.
De Gaulle may have promoted friendship between France and the USSR, but France had a special place in the hearts of many Russians long before that.
The best place to prove it is Kuznetsky Most in central Moscow. Literally “Blacksmith’s Bridge”, it used to belong to a medieval blacksmiths’ settlement nearby.
During the times of Catherine the Great, the street became home to a French colony which opened numerous stores here and turned Kuznetsky Most into a street of fashion and the stamping ground of the rich and famous. The city’s crème de la creme loved to shop there, which is not surprising, because in 19th century Russia all things French were a must-have.
The country’s nobility even preferred the language of French to Russian for everyday use. Much of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace is written in French.
It was not just fashion that drew crowds to Kuznetsky Most – there was the food too. Few know that a simple house located not far from the bridge was once home to a legendary restaurant called Yar after its French founder.
Among the restaurant’s regulars was Russia’s legendary poet Alexander Pushkin, and it is thanks to Pushkin that you can see a tribute to one of France’s literary heroes in Moscow’s streets. The statue of the 19th-century writer Victor Hugo has been part of Moscow’s Hermitage Garden for the past 11 years.
It appeared here after a monument to Pushkin was presented by Moscow’s authorities to Paris as part of the cultural exchange between the two cities. So the Parisian officials reciprocated by sending over a bronze Hugo.