Lybed River

Following the river that is no longer there
Almost all old Russian cities were built on hills, where one river merged into a larger one. Erected on the confluence of the rivers of Lybed and Trubezh, Ryazan is no exception. For several centuries, Lybed was a river of major importance for the city before it grew smaller and basically turned into a drainage ditch by the 19th century. A commission from St Petersburg that inspected the Ryazan Governorate in 1830 described the river's condition as substandard. A river improvement plan was prepared by 1838. The plan included floodplain redevelopment, with a number of ponds to be created. Several dams were indeed put in place across the river, but the banks still remained in a poor state for a long time afterwards.
The Lybed River before 1950s. The view on Lenin st. from the point of where the circus is now. Some more information on the two-storey house on the right can be found below.
In the early 20th century, Ryazan's Chief Sanitary Officer Nikolay Kassil wrote about the Lybed River:

"One of the main problems of Ryazan is the lack of a single sewer. The city uses the Lybed River instead, which flows across the old town and created a strong malodour. Piles of garbage on the banks grow bigger every day. Also, just about any butcher's shop or grocery store has its own cesspool, sometimes without even a lid attached. Any sanitary compliance is out of question as city dumps are piling up at an alarming rate. All attempts to put up a single place to host waste outside the city boundaries are undermined by the total lack of comprehension from residents, who prefer ditching their stinking garbage right next to their yards.

Provision of waste disposal carts fails to provide the desired effect. The Governorate's sanitary office has been attempting multiple times to raise awareness among city residents, but to no avail."
Part of Ryazan's layout of 1909. Lybed entered the city in the Ryumin Park, with a series of ponds located downstream. Ryumin Pond is the only one that is left. The river flows across the downtown. Visible on the right is its confluence with the Trubezh River near the Kremlin.
From circus to Lenin Street
Let us stroll across downtown Ryazan, look at old photos and trace the disappearance of the Lybed River and the changes in its vicinity
On the left is the post-WW2 photo of around 1940s–1950s. View from the Astrakhan Bridge (on Lenin Street) downstream. The river has its natural banks, and kitchen gardens of the nearby houses stretch all the way down to the water. This looks almost rural. Far away on the left bank is a two-storey house that has made it until today. It is also visible on a modern photo taken from the same point. The photo on the left depicts groups of people with tools. Apparently those were not simply volunteers at a community event: shown on the picture is the start of works in the river valley. One could think that it was preparation to confine the river to a tunnel, but in fact the river was given some more time to remain in existence – and in a very fine state, too.
Urban redevelopment of the 1950s. The central part of the boulevard already hosts a fountain decorated with elk.
The same view from the Astrakhan Bridge after the redevelopment of the river valley in the early 1950s. It is when Lybed Boulevard came into being – but not as a replacement of the river but rather as its embankment. It looked like redevelopment of Soviet health resort premises during the Stalin era. The river was straightened and new footbridges with delicate tracery in the railing were erected. And, finally: this is when the famous elk-decorated fountain came into being. A 1955 guide titled The Rivers of Volga, Kama, and Don wrote, "Lenin Street then crosses Lybed – more of a creek than a river. Lybed's valley has paths, green lawns, flower beds, and sculptures, serving as a go-to place for citizens looking for a stroll. The valley is one of the many spots in Ryazan that have seen improvement over the past years, with capital expenditure into city development growing almost eight-fold."
Another photo of the last decades of the Lybed River before it was taken underground: this is a colour photo of 1967–1968, shot 15 years after the previous one. The trees had already grown big – so big the river on the left hand side is hardly seen behind them. The elk-decorated fountain had by then become an integral part of the city. It was just under a year before the next urban renewal kicked in. Unfortunately, when running through the city, Lybed continued serving as a drain for a variety of malodorous sewage effluents, resulting in the river emitting the stench. Lybed was deemed beyond salvation, with the only solution being to confine it into a pipe – and so it was done. In the late 1960s, the river was taken underground starting from the bridge at Lipetsko-Kazanskaya (Mayakovsky) Street to Kremlevsky Val. The layout of Lybed Boulevard was redesigned completely.
Triumph of modernist architecture: circus built in 1971 and new urban improvement designs that replaced the Lybed River and its valley. The lonely fountain with elk is the only reminder of the Stalin-era architecture. One can see that it is not aligned with the two pedestrian walks leading to the circus.
Ryazan was first introduced to circus arts in the early 20th century thanks to the famous Nikitin brothers. After the Russian revolution of 1917, strongman G. Yakovlev built a wooden circus in 1927, which went into a state of disrepair by the time the war began. It was not until the 1960s that the decision to erect a full-fledged circus building was made. Back then the city was actively reinvigorating the Lybed River embankments, so the initial idea was to build the circus on the opposite side of Lenin Street (where today's Main Post Office is located). But eventually those plans were dropped, and the circus was built at its current spot. The project was created by architect L. Segal and engineer V. Mironovich. The circus has a seating capacity of 1,716 people.

Astrakhan Bridge
The stone Astrakhan Bridge was reportedly built in the second half of the 19th century. It looked less like a bridge and more like a wide pipe running under the street.
Astrakhan Bridge in the early 20th century. On the left, in the middle of the approach embankment, one can see the bridge's surviving stone arch that the river used to go through.
These are views from today's Astrakhan Bridge and Lenin Street. The bridge itself is well visible on the left. It is still in place today. Both shots (above and below) were made at approximately the same time in the early 1950s, when the city started the redevelopment of the Lybed River's valley. As shown on old photos, the Astrakhan Bridge does not yet have the typical Stalin-era fencing. It was only installed during the first redevelopment of the valley that began precisely in the early 1950s.
Above, you can see a photo made in the 1960s, with the river still flowing under the bridge. Below is the way everything looks now. The Stalin-era fencing still remains, and the former path of the river is very easy to see. It is only the arch of the bridge that was completely infilled.
Only the brick top of the bridge's arch is visible from where the circus is located.
From Lenin to Gorky street
View from Lenin Street. Shown on the left is the early redevelopment of the 1950s, with the street's current state on the right. Several buildings further away are still standing, including a three-storey house, now painted yellow and with a red mansard roof. The industrial buildings have also survived. It was only the Main Post Office that was not erected until the 1970s.
And here are the benefits of the redevelopment done in the 1950s: on the left, the Lybed River is still above ground, and several houses with the chimneys shown in the previous two photos are seen in the background.
Lybed Boulevard from Lenin Street towards Gorky Street. The landmark here is the corner house of the Stalin era in the background (59 Gorky Street).
Part of the closed-over Lybed River between Lenin and Gorky streets as seen in 1976. Back then, there was no boulevard and it was just an empty spot instead of the river. The old houses on the embankments had still been standing. In the foreground is Gorky Street and the number 59 Stalin-era house seen in the previous photo.
From Gorky Street to Mayakovsky Street
Nowadays, this is the most unattended area of the Lybed Boulevard and 100 years ago this place was a rather big pond. The former pond's bottom is currently occupied by the Spartak stadium. Comparing the view from the early 20th century to today's photos, one can see that only St. Catherine's church remained in its place and barely recognise the hill slope. Everything else has changed completely.
On the left, at the beginning of the 20th century, the church is still on the pond bank. On the right, the pond is replaced with the stadium, and the church is surrounded by the central market.
The maps of Ryazan now and in 1913 compared. The old map shows the Lybed riverbed and the Ekaterininsky Pond location.
Today's central market was a place of trade back in the 18th century as well. Then it was called Dairy Market, as most of the goods sold were dairy products. At market days, peasants from all nearby villages gathered here to sell their goods. As trade increased, new goods were put on sale. Soon, the place was referred to as simply Ryazan Market. It was renamed as Kolkhozny Market after the revolution. St. Catherine's church became a market pavilion.

The stadium's initial gates built in the 1950's remain at the very end of Pravolybedskaya street. Unfortunately, the gates and the stairs have dilapidated greatly being unattended for a long time.
On the left is the debris of the Spartak Ice Stadium, which used to be a fine example of the 1980's Soviet modernism. In the centre, one can see the highway bridge in Mayakovsky street. Now, there is an asphalt footpath underneath it, but half a century ago the Lybed river was flowing there. Trees hide the remaining small section of the river behind Mayakovskogo street in a watercourse reaching the railway.
The 1979 topographic map shows the Lybed river openly flowing through the entire city. However, we know that it was confined to a pipe back in the late 1960's. So, why is it plotted on the map? The answer is simple: topographic maps have been reissued multiple times without properly reflecting changes in the landscape. Data on the Ryazan's downtown district are outdated, and the lag is about 10 years.

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