Guiding a friend through the city has made me even more certain that I can not get enough of St Petersburg: the more I know about it, the less I actually know… and the more difficult it gets to transmit this love to all the tiny details to others. And this applies to other cities I love. This post – in which I share with you my own St Pete – follows in the footsteps of the recent one on Modernism and Constructivism in the Petrogradsky District of St Petersburg, aka Petrogradka. We’ll travel along the adjacent Petrogradskaya and Petrovskaya Embankments into the yards full of hidden marvels.
Let’s start with the water tower of the first Russian Tulle Factory built in the mid 19th century. Russian poet Alexander Blok even dedicated a poem to it in 1903. Albeit all the perturbations our city has gone through – this factory still manufactures tulle, lace and curtains. Moving on towards the curve of the Petrogradskaya embankment, where the Petrovskaya embankment begins…
This house-ship was built in 1910-1912 in pseudo baroque style to house various schools – hence its windows-windows-windows to bring light into the classrooms. It’s now the home for Nakhimov Naval School. Opposite it is the ‘eternal’ harbour for Aurora, the cherished ship that fired the signal for the Revolution. It’s now being repaired. Never been inside, by the way. Not much interested in anything Revolution-related. Although I did love the eponymous children’s song, it’s (even now) so tear-drawing with its acute tune that I actually never realised what the lyrics mean!
Let’s follow the curve of the Neva, stepping on the Petrovskaya Embankment now (which is actually the same embankment) and look up feeling suddenly so small and insignificant – this is how you should feel when faced with the Stalin’s neoclassicism!
Built in the 1930s this another ship-like house was planned to be the Inturist hotel for the foreign guests of the city. Later however it was rebuilt to house the navy people (with a shop, kindergarten, etc etc) and later the Soviet elite. Looking at its constructivist original project by Levinson and Fomin, and then back to what it was transformed into just several years later, makes you understand how crucial it was to follow Stalin’s official style in those days. Otherwise… the late 1930s was the era of Stalin’s repressions, you know. More photos of this enormous house here.
What do these Chinese guardian Shi-Tza lions actually have to do with St Petersburg? Well, they just add up to the already rich pandemonium of various chimeras, lions, birds and sphinx that inhabit our city. And they have been the adornment of the Petrovskaya Embankment on the Petrogradskaya Side of St Petersburg since 1907, being a rather heavy (2.5 tons each) present from China. Imaging transporting them all the way from Manchuria…
Right opposite them is one of those heritage items left from Peter the Great, scattered all over the city and not always so easy to … even notice. This is the grate leading to the first house built in St Petersburg in May 1703, the tiny wooden home of Peter I (it was later enclosed in a case to preserve it), one of the musts if you want to get the gist of what both Peter and the early life in the new capital was like. Modest? Nope, ascetic. A lot. Behind it is a 1964 home built for the Communist party and the arts people of Leningrad. There lived theatre director Tovstonogov and quite a number of theatre and music stars. The folk name for this house – Dvoryanskoye Gnezdo, Nest of the Gentlefolk. Although built during the ‘less is more’ era of the infamous khruschevka, this house was created to bring COMFORT to its habitants.
This neoclassical facade belongs to the last home built for the royal family in Russia in 1910-1913. Since then it has changed lots of roles, becoming finally the residence of the representative of our president. Meanwhile we’re moving forward to a fine – and indeed visible – specimen of constructivism with a very bitter history:
One of the first ‘house-communes’ in Leningrad it was built in 1929 to house the families of the political prisoners of the tsarist times (all those people who fought against the existing monarchy). Right in the historical center of the city, on the other side of Neva, not far from the ex-royal Winter palace-residence, it was definitely a manifesto in itself. But… Stalin was truly iron-hearted: he put through repressions the entire house! He just did not need all those people who either knew too much or fell out of favor… There was always a reason – or no reason. Double prisoners of two regimes. There’s a saying in Russia, za chto borolis, na to i naporolis – meaning ‘they tripped over what they were fighting for’.
Due to its certain resemblance to a prison there were all those ‘jokes’ created back then (something like since all those political prisoners got so used to living in prison that their new house was built prison-like).
There are lots of parts and windows and rounds and lines and shapes, especially in its yard. And all the communications hanging above the doors with surviving Soviet period signs:
The feeling one gets when entering the yard with this thick shade and rows of balconies is definitely not pleasant. By the way, the original project did not foresee any kitchen space in the flats as the habitants were to be serviced automatically by food lifts! Those were the new life ideas characteristic of that period and of the constructivism too. Later it was redesigned, though the – children’s! – library still exists.
a local bird
A general view from the Troitsky bridge. The ship is a reconstruction serving as a restaurant and the neoclassical 1950s building to the left is in a super-posh contrast to the constructivism in the center. Remember how small you should feel in front of Stalin’s neoclassicism?
Moving away from the embankment and into the Petrogradsky Island, you will find even more politics. Though wrapped in very beautiful modernist clothes:
This is a very unusual 1909-10 Brant mansion which now houses the Museum of Political History. Never been there but surely it’s worth a visit just for the sake of the buildings and the interiors!
Modernism is all about details…
And this is another modernist treasure, the Winter Garden of the Kschessinskaya mansion, also a part of the museum:
Apart from being a very good-looking prima ballerina, Mathilde Kschessinskaya was said to be the mistress of Nicholas II and wife of his cousin Andrei Romanov. But if we’re talking about the destiny of her modernist mansion which she abandoned in 1917, it became the headquarters of Lenin’s people (including himself and Stalin). It was from its balcony that Lenin addressed the crowd with his revolutionary speeches. Then it was turned into the Museum of Revolution, later Museum of the Political History.
The nearby neoclassical building had a somewhat prison-like feeling about it too…
The yard of this ex-super-secret Naval Institute is full with dilapidated sculptures, fountains, sleeping lions and even mines…
And just to complicate the architectural things of the district, here’s the Samarkand-like blue beauty of the St Petersburg Mosque. It’s a pity they do not let non-Muslims (or women) inside, I guess it should be amazing (judging from this video)! By the way, a). this is also considered to be a modernist building, b). it was open already during the Soviet era, c). it was used as a warehouse for medical goods in mid 20th century. Waiting for the reconstruction to end so that I could take a general photo and tell you the Mosque’s story.
Adding this to my ever-growing St Petersburg series.