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Unusual Past of St. Petersburg Squares
May 27, 2020 20:48


St. Petersburg  celebrates its 317th anniversary. Let's recall the impressive history of four St. Petersburg squares. 

Trinity Square

At the beginning of the XVIII century, this square was the administrative, commercial and cultural center of St. Petersburg. Here were the Gostiny Dvor and customs, the buildings of the Senate and the Collegiums, Trinity Cathedral, where Peter was proclaimed emperor. On the square, parades, folk festivals and masquerades were held, and fireworks were launched.

And in 1721, grandiose celebrations unfolded on the occasion of the victory over Sweden in the Northern War. But then Peter decided that Vasilievsky Island should become the center of the capital. Troitskaya Square lost its significance, and the Petrograd side turned into an area isolated from the rest of the city.   Now the main attraction of the square is the House of Political Prisoners with a monument to the victims of political repression in front of it.

Champ de Mars

In Peter's times, there was a meadow on the site of the Field of Mars, which was sometimes called the Amusement Field. During the festivities, guards parades were held here, military bands played, fireworks were arranged.  More popular entertainment like fairs were also here. This role remained for the Field of Mars until the beginning of the 20th century. During the time of Nicholas II, bicycle races and sports were organized on the field, and in winter a skating rink was made.

In 1910, they built a fashionable skating ring - something like a shopping center with a restaurant and a roller skating area.  Some Petersburgers called it the "palace of drunkenness" and bypassed it. A few years later, the skating ring was dismantled at the request of the townspeople.  After February 1917, the center of the Field of Mars became a mass grave for the fighters of the revolution. Until 1933, prominent party figures were buried near the memorial, and the park turned into a place of memory. True, this does not prevent our contemporaries from using the field as a place for picnics in the warm season.

Sennaya Square 

Since the 18th century, the cheapest market existed at Sennaya Square, where peasants from the surrounding villages brought hay, firewood and food. Of course, that was not limited to trade. The area was immediately overgrown with taverns and inns. As Saltykov-Shchedrin wrote, "this is the only place in the city center where the police do not even require external decency."

The cathedral built in 1765 somewhat ennobled the space, but only externally. As before, a dubious audience gathered at the Haymarket: thieves, crooks, pimps and cheaters.  In 1961, the Spas-na-Sennaya was destroyed in order to build the lobby of the metro station in its place. In the 90s, another reconstruction followed, and now the square is decorated with trees, a fountain and the Peace Tower. And in 2016, stalls and trade pavilions were demolished on Haymarket. But the marginal past still haunts this place because of the proximity of the Apraksin courtyard, the reconstruction of which was put on hold.

Alexander Nevsky Square

At first glance, the area in front of the Alexander Nevsky Lavra changed little, except that a monument was erected. But the changes affected the space around the laurel, which even in pre-revolutionary times was notorious. The bank of the Neva was built up with huge barns where grain was brought from 24 provinces of the Russian Empire. Here the main stock of bread was stored for St. Petersburg.

That's why there were many  rats, and every evening thousands of them rushed to the river for water. Traffic in the area stopped because it was almost impossible to break through this living mass.   In the 1950s, the neglected territory was reconstructed. Barns and part of the dilapidated buildings were demolished, a transport interchange was built, and the bridge of Alexander Nevsky was opened.

Author: Anna Dorozhkina

Tags: St. Petersburg Peter the Great    

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