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Circopedia was originally created with the support of the Big Apple Circus
and inspired and funded by the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation.

In The Spotlight


Although the name Moscow Circus is familiar to the public all over the world, there has never been one specific "Moscow Circus" whose troupe toured internationally. The name was a generic term for the circus shows from the USSR traveling abroad during the Soviet Era. It has, over time, become synonymous with "Russian circus." Yet, there are today (2020) two resident circuses in Moscow, Circus Nikulin on Tsvetnoy Boulevard, and the Bolshoi Circus (bolshoi means big, in Russian) on Vernadsky Avenue—and there have been indeed several others before them.

Bolshoi Circus by night.jpeg

The first circus built in Russia was established by the French equestrian Jacques Tourniaire, who settled in 1827 in what was then the Russian capital, St. Petersburg. The building, designed by the architect Smaragd Shustov and named Cirque Olympique, was located near the Fontanka canal, practically where St. Petersburg’s Circus Ciniselli stands today. Tourniaire’s circus had only a short existence: it was bought back by the government of St. Petersburg in 1828 to be transformed into a theater. Still, the event didn’t fail to catch the attention of the Muscovites, who always took exception to the influence of Peter The Great’s Baltic capital.

The previous year, Tourniaire had exhibited his equestrian prowess in Moscow, in the manège of the Pashkov mansion (today the Russian State Library), on Mokhovaya Street. Another famous trickAny specific exercise in a circus act. rider, Jacob Bates, had long preceded him in the former Russian capital, where he performed in 1864, and since then, Moscow had welcomed several equestrian companies—among which that of Pierre Mayheu, the famous Spanish rider, in 1790—but contrary to most European major cities, the great Russian metropolis didn’t have a permanent circus of its own.

In 1830, Mikhail Zagoskin, a popular novelist who was Moscow’s Director of the Theaters, supported the creation of a summer circus in the Neskuchny Garden, on the banks of the Moskva River, southwest of central Moscow. The circus, which was probably a light wooden construction(French) A temporary circus building, originally made of wood and canvas, and later, of steel elements supporting a canvas top and wooden wall. Also known as a "semi-construction.", lasted only three seasons. For the ensuing twenty years, Russian circus history was written exclusively in St. Petersburg: Although Moscow was still the commercial hub of Tsarist Russia, the giant city didn’t have yet the rich cosmopolitan atmosphere of the Russian capital, or its cultural diversity.

German, Italian and, mostly, French influences were quite noticeable in St. Petersburg, a city wide open on Western Europe, as its builder, Peter The Great, had wanted it. By reaction, Moscow took pride in its being the true heart of eternal Russia, conservative, religious and nationalistic. Even though its wealth attracted traveling entertainers as much as entrepreneurs and merchants, the city was particularly slow in attuning itself to the rest of Europe.... (more...)

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A Message from the Editor

CIRCOPEDIA is a constantly evolving and expanding archive of the international circus. New videos, biographies, essays, and documents are added to the site on a weekly—and sometimes daily—basis. Keep visiting us: even if today you don't find what you're looking for, it may well be here tomorrow! And if you are a serious circus scholar and spot a factual or historical inaccuracy, do not hesitate to contact us: we will definitely consider your remarks and suggestions.

Dominique Jando
Founder and Curator