on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Walking in Moskovsky District of St Petersburg

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I’m exploring the Moskovsky District of St Petersburg very sporadically. You see, it’s usually the city center that people consider as historically or architecturally interesting… But actually there’s always something unusual to see all over St Petersburg. I’ve started my explorations back in autumn when I could go around on bike and now I’m almost ‘hiking’ through the snow and ice.

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Why do I start the post with this more than just rusty old car? I’m jogging past this car almost every morning, noticing how it looks with each change in the weather or season. I think this car can be compared to those larger-than life Stalin-time buildings. This is the most recognizable car of all the USSR-made cars, Pobeda, called so to commemorate the victory in the Second World War (the official name being GAZ-M20). It was massively produced in 1946-1958 and I remember seeing quite a number of these cars on the roads back in the 1990s. Now only few are used by babushkas and most of such cars are considered collectibles and carefully restored by old car fans.

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The “M 20” sign indicates the model (there was no such thing as a fixed logo for this car at the time). They say that originally the car was supposed to be called Rodina (Motherland) but was replaced by Pobeda after Stalin asked the price of Rodina =)

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The letters LE in the car’s registration number say that it was registered in Leningrad, the Soviet name for St Petersburg. Strangely enough but I like the name Leningrad, regardless of what nonsense it gives (the city of Lenin?! built by the first Russian emperor Peter the Great?!). It immediately conjures up the image of a city of intellectuals, probably suggested by those old Soviet notebooks with the outlines of the St Peter and Paul’s fortress engraved on the top cover. It also brings the images of the Siege, while ‘St Petersburg’ creates a completely different picture with something stately, grand and centuries old. Its third name, Petrograd, doesn’t remind me of anything except for the Revolution. Weird, eh? Same city, but what difference with its names!

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Where was I? Right, the car. It was one of the iconic cars and one of the status-cars too. Imagine that in USSR a new car model was ordered by the state (and even before the actual Victory Day)! Although it was fashioned after some American models (as many many other things in the USSR, from food to computers), the body was designed completely in USSR, unlike earlier Soviet cars. And the interior design was highly praised by foreign experts… And I’ve just read that they later designed a cabriolet out of it, wow!

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But I was actually going to tell you about other Stalin’s plans, his great plans to create an idyllic (from his point of view) district that would welcome those coming to Leningrad from Moscow or vice versa. Hence the names Moskovsky District and Moskovskaya metro station (the closest on the way from the airport into the city center) and of course the  Moskovsky Avenue, the leader by the number of metro stations (10!). This long-long and always traffic-jammed street can be studied alone – it’s just like a museum of all the epochs the city went through, with a monastery, Triumphal Gate, parks and numerous architectural marvels (how about this constructivism one?)! It starts in the center of the city, some 7 or 8 km away from the Moskovsky district. And as it runs further south, it becomes first more and more Soviet and then more and more modern.

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There was this new general plan for the city development according to which Moskovskaya Square (well, they were not very imaginative with names back then, were they) was to become the heart of the district and of the entire city. Who would doubt a grand sculpture of Lenin (as always pointing somewhere with his mighty hand) was placed there. You see, Stalin did not like St Petersburg that much – with all its imperial past and always being opposed to Moscow as an intellectual, cultural and a more refined place than Moscow, even with its being the ‘cradle of the Revolution’. So there was quite a pressing task to create something more Soviet out of this Europe-like city. And the plans WERE grand, just look at these original plans for Moskovskaya Square (and here too)!

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For example this very building on Moskovskoye Highway (:) which is one of a whole series of similar buildings found in various corners of our huge Rodina, can easily compete with all those imperial palaces and such (by the way there WAS a palace near by, demolished cause it would not fit in the ensemble of the square in the next picture). The pre-war building has two wings with arches as tall as you can only dream, and a small square in between. It was built for the workers of the Meat plant located further south and there was a grand plan to build a whole residential district for them. They say that shared flats (the infamous kommunalki) occupied the top floors while the first floors were quite large flats. These days people have appropriated the building and make virtually ‘whatever’ out of its balconies.

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Not all of those marvels of the Moskovsky District would pass as such nowadays though. Like this Victory Square (Ploschad Pobedy) ensemble designed much later, in 1970s, with the two residential towers (the left one is out of the picture) visible from far away thanks to the very patriotic illumination (guess in what colours). The first floor of them is now occupied by a strange mixture of various shops and cafes, alongside the original Moskovsky department store (I wonder if anyone goes there still? It looks so chic!). In the middle of the square there’s the Siege monument and the museum, which I would certainly leave as it is. By the way, notice ridiculously low Stalin era yellowish building on the right. See the panoramic view from the center of the Square here.

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Of course the history district is older than the Stalin era, it goes back to times when there was not such city as St Petersburg and the merchants were passing via this place to get to Novgorod. And there was a forest here! So all through the history of St Pete and later Leningrad this district gradually expanded and conquered more territory to the South. Nowadays the high rises are more and more dominating the area (there’s this 140 m high tower that is illuminated in such a way you can see it before you enter the city), making the low 5-floor buildings in between them oh so tiny – sometimes I wonder these old-time gnomes are still there and not demolished!

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So, if you take a walk in the residential area of the district close to Moskovskaya metro station, it seems you can get pretty easily lost in the repeating blocks of buildings, all the same. When you move further South (haha, don’t expect the weather to change though!), you get lost in the identical 1960s and 1970s houses interspersed with high rises of the new era which at least help you understand where you are, giving you a sense of orientation both in space and in time : )

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Strange to see three (!) churches in one park to the South of this Stalinist district. One of them is like a small monastery, placed on an island. But they are a fairly new addition – the beginning of the 2000s. Oh, that was a fine day in October!

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Another emblem of the Soviet times spotted!

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This time – Volga (or GAZ-21), the child of the same car plant as Pobeda. This one is after-Stalin car, in particular this model of the late 50s. It was a less grand-looking car, long and Volga was to become a new mass-produced model, adapted to the ehhhm Russian roads (or rather no roads), easy in repairing… and it did become a very popular car until the 70s came. Regardless of a pretty elevated price. This car has had so many modifications, that the one that was made in the 2000s looked so very far from the original. I prefer the retro models : )

Chesme Church in St Petersburg

This is Chesme Church, the cake-like neo-Gothic building lost in the Soviet woods of the Moskovsky District. It was built back in late 1770s to commemorate the glorious victory in Chesme bay battle, right on the way between St Petersburg and Tsarskoye Selo. I’ve finally walked to see it in its loneliness, surrounded by Stalin era block of flats. This Church as well as the Chesme Palace just opposite, both have a very sad connection to Stalin.

Chesme Church in St Petersburg

Because after being the last home for the invalids of the Napoleon war (1812) and a hospice later, it was turned into the first concentration camp in USSR, christened Chesmenka by the people. The Church found itself right in the middle of the forced labour camp and was consequently deprived from its bells… Almost ruined during the Second World War, it was later reconstructed as the museum of the Chesme battle and eventually returned to the Church. It just needs some fresh painting from my point of view!

Chesme Church in St Petersburg

But the Chesme Palace on the other side of the road is in a very sad condition right now, although it is currently used as lecture rooms for the Aerospace State University (the wings were added later, of course). The palace originally was triangular in shape with three towers and a round hall in between, fashioned after some castles in UK. It looks like a ruined and poorly readjusted church now although it’s actually an architectural monument of the 1770s. There’s Chesme Cemetery behind the church and hospice which make this pink & cream cake-church look a bit out of place (I wondered why the territory behind it was all surrounded with a fence as I wanted to see a large Stalinist building – when I came home I found out it is a hospital).

Will finally get to the curious block of flats ‘on legs’ where Viktor Tsoy lived. They say it was designed by Swedes and had special storing place for you pickles and jam =) Expect more stories!

Adding this to my St Petersburg posts.

G.

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