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To find out what secrets the Neglinka sewer holds, a correspondent went down underground together with Mosvodostok employees.

Neglinnaya Street, Kuznetsky Most, Samotechnaya Street, Trubnaya Square… Walking through the center of Moscow, it is hard to imagine that only two centuries ago a river flowed here instead of roads. One of the most famous rivers of Moscow, the Neglinnaya, was the first to be hidden underground, but the city toponymy carefully preserves the memory of it. Why did the city authorities decide to put the river in a pipe and what is Neglinka today?

How Neglinka was hidden

The gathering place is Trubnaya Square. Before descending, we put on the uniform of a Mosvodostok employee: a jacket with reflective stripes, rubber fishing boots that end at the hips, and a helmet. We are given a brief briefing, but the main parting word is not to be afraid. In turn, we descend into a narrow drain hatch, to the bottom of the well about five meters, but behind a strong safety rope.

After bright daylight, it becomes completely dark. Unlike the communication ones, the Neglinka collector is not equipped with a lighting system. Even the powerful light of the lanterns weakly cuts through the blackness of the tunnel. We carefully look under our feet and walk slowly, carefully stepping on the muddy bottom of the river. There may be slippery rocks that are easy to trip over.

“The first mention of this river dates back to 1156, when the Neglinka flowed like an ordinary river over the earth. An indication appeared in the Tver Chronicle: “The same summer, the great prince Yuri Volodimerich founded the city of Moscow on the mouth of the Neglinna above the Auz River,” says experienced digger and Moscow historian Daniil Davydov.

More than 200 years ago, the Neglinka flowed in the city center, skirting the walls of the Kremlin and flowing into the Moscow River. And she was one of the first to be imprisoned. Today Neglinnaya, which is more than seven kilometers long, is almost completely hidden underground.

According to Daniil Davydov, the construction of the first collector began in 1811. However, the Patriotic War of 1812 interrupted the work, and only in 1817–1819, during the reconstruction of Moscow, after a fire, the river was enclosed in a brick tunnel.

Why did they so stubbornly want to hide Neglinka underground? The answer can be found in Vladimir Gilyarovsky’s book “Moscow and Muscovites”. By the way, in it the writer even calls the river an underground sewer.

“In addition to the “legitimate” sewers laid from the streets for rain and domestic water, most wealthy homeowners led secret underground drains to Neglinka to drain sewage, instead of taking them out in barrels, as was the case everywhere in Moscow before sewerage. And all these sewage went to the Moscow River, ”writes Gilyarovsky in the chapter“ Secrets of the Neglinka ”.

It was the stench that became the main reason for the “imprisonment” of Neglinnaya in the sewer. But now the river can be called quite clean: at least it no longer exudes any unpleasant odors. Unlike Paris or London, Moscow has a separate sewerage system: storm water and sewage do not intersect, Mosvodostok notes. The collector is warm enough for winter and, of course, damp: there is a water suspension in the air.

Concrete instead of brick

The first part of our route, which began in a drainpipe near Trubnaya Square, runs along the modern – concrete – part of the collector. It stretches from Samotechnaya Overpass to the end of Neglinnaya Street. The concrete collector was erected in 1974 almost parallel to the first brick channel after the wayward Neglinka once again flooded the center of Moscow. During heavy rains, the old collector could not always handle the large volume of water, so summer floods were not uncommon in the 1960s and 1970s.

The main function of the Neglinka collector is drainage. Through the holes in the wall, rainwater flows here. Such pipes cut through the concrete throughout the entire path, and their number and diameter depend, in particular, on the terrain. For example, there will be more cuts in the lowlands. In addition, groundwater runoff from the underground can be discharged into the collector. They are pumped out by pumps to the level of such collectors, and then the water is discharged.

At first glance, the collector seems huge for such a small river, the water in which mostly reaches only to the ankle. But this is a misleading impression: rain or melt water can quickly turn a small stream into a full-flowing one. Experts call this a sudden release of water. Thus, the level of the Neglinka can rise by two thirds, and the height of such a wave can be estimated from the remnants of debris stuck on iron pipes.

“The main work in large collectors begins in winter, when a stable negative temperature is established, and the water flow is reduced to the maximum. At this time, it is safest to be in the collector: the appearance of heavy rainfall, discharges and rises in the water level to the middle and above are excluded. Our specialists carry out surveys, cleanup of the river from sediments of sand, silt and household waste, as well as current repairs,” emphasizes Dmitry Ryabtsev, Chief Engineer of the Operational Hydrotechnical Area No. 1 of Mosvodostok State Unitary Enterprise.

Along the “Gilyarovsky path”

After the construction of a concrete collector in the 1970s, the Neglinka was launched along a new channel. But parts of the brick collector of 1819 have survived to this day. For example, the reconstructed section runs under the Alexander Garden. And part of the old collector has been preserved under Tsvetnoy Boulevard. We turn off the concrete highway to a small fork, and in front of us is the “Gilyarovsky path”.

“And on a hot July day, we raised the iron grate of the drain well in front of Malyushin’s house, near Samoteka, and lowered a ladder there. No one paid attention to our operation – everything was done very quickly: they raised the grate, lowered the ladder. Foul steam billowed from the hole. Fedya the plumber climbed first; the hole, damp and dirty, was narrow, the ladder stood vertically, the back shuffled against the wall. There was a splash of water and a voice, as if from a crypt: “Climb, or something!” – Vladimir Gilyarovsky, who worked as a journalist at that time, described his descent into the Neglinka collector in the 80s of the XIX century.

The writer, descending into the Neglinka sewer, was worried that he might step on a random corpse. And he was worried for a reason: in those years, Trubnaya Square and Grachevka were quite criminal places. But today in the collector you can find only large American cockroaches, which were brought to the capital in the 18th century along with sugar cane.

The length of this section of the brick collector is small – about 200 meters. Further on, it was interrupted by the existing vestibule of the Trubnaya metro station, and behind it, a section about 600 meters long was preserved – almost to the Garden Ring. “Since 2003, they began to carry out reconstruction in the brick collector, it was completely concreted. That section was handed over to the Moscow Collector, power electric cables were laid there,” explains Daniil Davydov.

The entrance to the old tunnel is an authentic arch, its height is much lower than the modern sewer. We touch almost 200-year-old bricks with old stamps. But the brick vault of the tunnel is plastered with concrete: in Soviet times there was a reconstruction. But the white stone at the bottom of the collector can be considered almost pristine: it was laid at the end of the 19th century.

“Initially, the tray in the collector, that is, its bottom, was unpaved. Because of this, siltation and washouts of the soil occurred, and the structures began to deform. Therefore, in the winter of 1886–1887, engineer N.M. Levachev is carrying out a reconstruction: he makes a uniform slope along the entire length of the collector, and the tray is paved with Tarusa marble. In fact, it is limestone, but so durable that it is comparable in quality to marble. There are also active parts of the collector with a white stone tray. Almost 140 years have passed, and the white stone is still reliably fulfilling its function,” says Daniil Davydov, pointing to traces of manual processing of the stone.

A marvel of engineering

The main goal of our underground journey is a unique brick tunnel, built in 1914 according to the project of hydraulic engineer Mikhail Shchekotov. He worked in the city government, reconstructed the Yauza embankments, built sewers. “Mikhail Pavlovich was instructed to remove the Neglinka collector from under the building of the Maly Theater and the Metropol Hotel. The work was not easy, 124 meters of the collector were built. And then the construction was interrupted by the First World War,” says Daniil Davydov.

But even after more than a century, this historical part of the tunnel is in excellent condition and regularly performs its functions. “This collector has been serving without reconstruction since 1914. Such pre-revolutionary buildings, although few, give a certain message. Previously, engineers even treated the construction of underground structures the way architects treated the construction of buildings. They are all different from each other and all are unique,” ​​notes Daniil Davydov.

According to him, the uniqueness of the Shchekotovsky tunnel also lies in the fact that there are no more engineering structures similar both in cross section and construction method in Russia. There is a similar collector only in Lviv, the Poltva River has been removed into it.

As the employees of Mosvodostok admit, the Shchekotovsky tunnel is built so well that even after a century it does not cause trouble for engineers.

“Even ground objects without maintenance and restoration do not last long, let alone dungeons. Therefore, we regularly carry out inspections and necessary repairs,” says Dmitry Ryabtsev.

This brick tunnel, more than five meters wide, although not recognized as a monument, is of great historical value. But, unfortunately, not for everyone. Some street artists strive to decorate century-old brick vaults with their graffiti, and often succeed. Unfortunately, preventing wall painting and catching hooligans is quite problematic. It is even more difficult to erase traces of their creativity from an old brick without damaging it.

At the Metropol Hotel, our short underground journey along a route that is almost a kilometer long ends. We managed to see the collectors of three eras at once: the first brick one in 1819, the Shchekotovsky tunnel of 1914 and a concrete section built in the 70s of the XX century. We return to the surface in the same way, while the return trip takes much less time.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and or sentence structure not be perfect.

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