The history of Lefortovo is closely connected to the history of the so-called Foreign Quarter on the Yauza River. Tradesmen from many countries came to live in Moscow, and the first documental sources that mention their settlements date back to the XVI and the XVII centuries. The greatest number of foreigners found themselves in Moscow during the Livonian War. Ivan the Terrible settled part of the Livonian prisoners apart, and it must have been them who founded the first Foreign Quarter in Moscow, which was located between the Yauza River and a creek known among the Russians as Kukuy. The first Foreign Quarter perished during the Times of Trouble: it was devastated by False Dmitry II and the Polish troops. An order of Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich issued on 4 October 1652 decreed that land be given for the New Foreign Quarter, the boundaries of which were defined by the Yauza River right bank in the east and the south, the village of Elokhovo in the north and the creek Kukuy in the west. The land was given for free and was classified as ‘white’ (i.e. not taxable). The lots were granted to the settlers ‘according to their merits, title and profession’. The new settlement developed in quite a short period of time: the population census carried out in 1665 showed that it counted 204 homes.
In the reign of Peter I, the village of Preobrazhenskoye and the Foreign Quarter located not far from it become the centre of political life and an aristocratic suburb of Moscow. It was at the Foreign Quarter that Peter I met Franz Lefort, his nearest friend in future.
Tsar Peter liked to frequent Lefort who lived in a small house by the Yauza River. He would call on Lefort with a noisy and numerous company counting from 250 to 300 persons. It was Peter I who financed building on a large hall with a capacity of 1,500 persons to the house of his favourite, and in 1697-1698, a stone palace was built for Lefort at the treasury expenses.
In the 1690s, when Peter the Great started military reforms, he assigned the lands on the left bank of the Yauza River to Preobrazhensky, Semenovsky and Lefortovsky regiments. A parade ground was arranged for the soldiers of Lefortovsky regiment on the Yauza left bank, just opposite Lefort’s house and garden. In September of the same year, 1692, jobs were started to build 500 houses for soldiers. The Lefortovsky regiment caserns were arranged in regular lines forming the streets and lanes of the Soldatsky (Soldiers’) Settlement. Soldatsky and Gospitalny bridges connected the two banks of the Yauza River. In 1711, a wooden St. Peter and Paul church was built for the soldiers (in 1771, it was re-built in brick).
Thus a new settlement was founded, which received the name of Lefortovsky and later developed into the Lefortovo district of Moscow. The palace actually became a residence of the young Tsar: the housewarming ceremony took place on 12 February 1699, but 2 March, the owner of the house passed away.
In 1706-1707, a hospital was built in Lefortovsky Settlement for sick soldiers and officers. It was headed by Dutchman Nicolaas Bidloo (1670 – 1735), Surgeon in Ordinary of Peter I.
In the XVIII century, the left bank of the Yauza River turned into a park area and Emperor’s residential complex in Moscow. Its development started when boyar Fedor Alexeevich Golovin, another confidant of Peter I, Head of Posolsky Prikaz (the Ambassadorial Office) and the Grand Embassy to Western Europe, first Knight of the Order of St. Andrew the Protoclete, bought the household of a foreign tradesman’s widow just opposite Lefortovsky Palace and built a manor house in European style that later was to grow into another Imperial residence.
In 1721, the Emperor bought the manor house out of Golovin’s descendants and charged Nicolaas Bidloo to re-organize and decorate his new residence. At the garden called Golovinsky, Bidloo had several ponds dug out with islands arranged on them, conceived fountains, little bridges, cascades and other attractions.
Peter’s successors also built palaces beyond the Yauza River. In the reign of Peter II (1727 – 1730) the Tsar’s court moved to Moscow, to Leforrtovsky and Golovinsky palaces. It was here, in Lefortovsky Palace, that Peter II became engaged to Princess Ekaterina Dolgorukaya and that later on, a decision was taken by the Supreme Secret Council to invite Anna Ioannovna, niece of Peter I and dowager Duchess of Kurland, to the Russian throne. In 1730, the gala ceremony of Anna’s coronation took place and the Empress charged Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli to build new palaces.
In 1731, Rastrelli erects the Summer Annenhof near Golovinsky Palace. That new summer residence was situated upstream of the Yauza River, almost at the point where the premises of the Russian Federation Armed Forces Combined Arms Academy are located nowadays. In 1736, the architect transfers the Winter Annenhof, another palace that he had built for the Empress in 1730, from the Kremlin to the Yauza River bank. Both palaces were Baroque in style. The garden that surrounded the palaces and included the so-called Annenhof Grove was enormous. It was planned around the 1 kilometre long main alley and resembled French royal gardens in their general outline.
In 1741, Elisabeth (Elizaveta Petrovna) ascended the Russian throne. A new wooden Winter Palace was completed at Golovinsky Garden for her coronation ceremony (it was projected by Ivan Korobov, the project was implemented by Alexey Evlashev, involving Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli). In 1753, Empress Elisabeth’s wooden palace was destroyed by a fire and was replaced in six weeks by a new one, built by architect Dmitry Ukhtomsky. In 1773, the construction of the well-known Catherine Palace projected by Antonio Rinaldi at the order of Empress Catherine the Great started. It took 25 years to erect the palace, which became one of the largest buildings in Moscow and is by right considered a magnificent example of classical architecture of the XVIII century.
Emperor Paul I, who succeeded Catherine the Great, added a military chic to Lefortovo ensemble. In his reign, Catherine Palace was turned into caserns of the police regiment headed by General Ivan Arkharov. The imperial residence of Paul I, Slobodskoy Palace, was erected on the right bank of the Yauza River, not far from Lefortovsky palace. To connect the palaces of Lefortovo, a new stone Palace (now Lefortovsky) Bridge was built in 1781-1799 in the same style as Bolshoy Kamenny Bridge on the Moskva River to replace the old wooden Soldatsky Bridge. Lefortovsky Bridge, a little altered, is still standing nowadays and is the oldest bridge in Moscow.
After Paul I, no one of the Russian Emperors lived in the palaces either on the Lefortovo side or at the Foreign Quarter. Yet, some of the gala events took place here, e.g. the celebration of coronation of Emperor Alexander II.
In the middle of the XIX century, the former Foreign Quarter and Lefortovo palace complex officially become one of the district of Moscow that later received the name of Blagushe-Lefortovsky. The life in the new district was more and more closely connected with military affairs, science, commerce and industry. In the XVIII century, Golovinsky Palace was replaced by the Red Caserns; in 1824, Catherine Palace housed the 1st and the 2nd Moscow Cadet Corps.
Nowadays, traces of the XVIII century magnificent complex can still be found at Golovinsky Garden (now Golovinsky Park): one can see remnants of a red brick terrace, plant-filled ponds and Rastrelli Grotto, once a magnificent structure but now half-destroyed. A dam bridge that separates the ponds has also been preserved: it makes part of the main alley lined with linden trees. By the lower level pond you can see a round summerhouse built in memory of Peter I and now restored.
In the autumn of 2005, a decision was taken by the Moscow City Government to create the Moscow State Integrated Museum-Reserve, and Golovinsky Park in Lefortovo was included into the new museum. Reconstruction of the XVIII century Golovinsky Garden and development of tours around it are envisaged by the museum’s forward plan.
Franz Yakovlevich Lefort was a brave soldier, a gifted story-teller, cheerful and clever, a devotee of his work and a most loyal friend to Tsar Peter. Lefort, descendant of an ancient house, was born in Geneva and found himself in Russia in early 1670s as a young man, having visited several West European countries. In 1678, he was appointed commander of the military company that made part of the corps of Grand Prince Vasily Vasilievich Golitsyn. He became acquainted with Peter I at the age of about 30 and as a favourite, saw great honours: he was promoted Admiral General.
In Lefort Tsar Peter found a man who was able to answer the various questions that interested him, be it in economics and in diplomatics, and an associate who was able to contribute to the implementation of reforms that the Tsar conceived. Broad-minded and endowed with a rich imagination, cheerful and excellent at bringing people together, Lefort became the nearest friend of Peter I and attracted the Tsar’s.