In the 1890s Appolinarii Vasnetsov began producing historical paintings and drawings of Moscow set in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Concerned about their historical accuracy, Vasnetsov undertook a serious study of the known literary texts on the life and customs of medieval Russia. One of the literary sources often used by the artist was the memoirs of the 17th Century traveler, Augustin von Meyerberg, an Austrian diplomat who was sent by Emperor Leopold to the court of the Russian Tsar Aleksei and who had an album of drawings prepared to illustrate his account of his diplomatic mission in 1661. Lively descriptions of Moscow and other Russian cities combined with drawings depicting the most important historical monuments and genre scenes became an invaluable source of inspiration for Vasnetsov - a fact that the artist acknowledged in the inscription on the reverse of the painting.
The present work depicts the walls of the Belyi Gorod (White City), a fortress and settlement comprising the third defensive belt around Moscow, which joined the Kremlin and Kitai Gorod on the left bank of the Moskva River. Built of stone between 1585 and 1593, the fortifications of Belyi Gorod were critical in providing defense for the Moscow settlement. The gates of the fortress were connected to the suburbs by series of bridges, a few of which were designed to float and were remarked upon by the contemporary travelers as marvels of construction. Very little of the infrastructure that what was depicted by Vasnetsov in this work survived by the end of 19th Century, which makes this historic re-creation particularly interesting.