Field of Mars, Summer Garden, and Periphery

Andrew Andell | Zachary Moore | Benjamin Oelberg

East of the Hermitage along the river Neva are two of St. Petersburg’s oldest and most well known public sites – the Field of Mars and the Summer Garden. Part of Czar Peter’s original plan for the city, they remain iconic and essential elements for any native. However, though they border one another, the Field of Mars and Summer Garden are aesthetically and functionally quite different. The region and its periphery contain a diverse set of designs, each a reflection of its period and each meant to serve some function. Indeed, the most common vein within this truly distinct region is the power reflected in their foundations, in the sense of wonder inspired by their designs. The Field of Mars and Summer Garden, as well as several notable buildings nearby, stand out as testaments to the czars who commissioned them. Even today, as the power of the monarchy in Russia has long faded, St. Petersburg continues to be overshadowed by those whose ambition built it. These sites remain expressions of power, both by the state and the public, over a constantly evolving city; though their significance and meaning have changed over time, they continue to stand as monuments of the prestigious Russian state.

The Field of Mars – Zachary Moore

The Field of Mars, like its surrounding periphery, is the very ideological fingerprint of the Tsars who helped craft it. The spaces in that region of Saint Petersburg are monumental, both literally and in terms of scale. Monuments, commissioned by the Tsars, provide a window into their ideology and ideas about what Russia is and should be. The military might of the Russian Empire is on full display in the Field of Mars, and the glorification of Russia’s military is visible to all who visit the space, and this is part and parcel of its design. The Field of Mars is open and free to all who would come to visit and contemplate Russian military power. This space helps spread and engender the idea of Russia’s glory in its people, and generates pride in their rich military history and the sacrifices made in the name of the motherland. Each Tsar and Tsarina who added to the space left an imprint of their own personal views of Russia’s history and its future.

Though now called the Field of Mars, this historic area of St. Petersburg has been through as many name changes as the city itself. It was initially called the Grand Meadow. Initially drained and created from the swamp in 1712, the then Grand Meadow was a large public meadow (Amery and Curran). It was initially used as any enormous grassy field in the middle of a city would be, as a place for merriment and festivities. Fairs and gatherings were held here during the warm months. The field’s genesis under Peter the Great was modest and pointedly functional, like Peter’s own preferences. It was merely an unadorned grassy field upon which the citizenry of his new capitol would go about their business.


View Field of Mars, Summer Garden, and the Periphery in a larger map

In this era it was a free and open space, and itself a reflection of Peter’s new westernized Russia. It was a blank slate dredged from the brackish swamp waters around Petersburg by force of will, akin to Peter’s new Russia. Upon this tabula rasa would be carved the new empire of commerce and enlightened metropolitanism, or so Peter envisaged.

Photo taken by Zachary Moore

 

Under the Tsarinas who followed, the space became more regimented and militaristic to reflect the changes in Peter’s empire. Under Catherine I the space was partly sunk to create the Krasny Canal which was then slated for noble and mercantile residences, curtailing the public use of the space (Amery and Curran). The 1740′s saw the creation of the Promenade, for the private use of Empress Elizaveta Petrovna’s relaxation. As a result, the field earned a new name, the Tsarina’s Meadow. In the 1770′s, the canal was drained and the meadow was re-opened for public use. 1782 saw the completion of the 20 year construction of the Marble Palace and its annexes and attached structures (Amery and Curran). Also to the north of the actual field were the houses of various nobility and Suvorov Square, in honor of the general Aleksander Suvorov.

Catherine the Great had different ideas about the meadow. Her alterations to the garden would seek to capture the militarism and national pride which she sought to engender during her reign. The most notable addition of her reign, the Suvorov Monument, was constructed to memorialize the service of General Aleksander Suvorov, noted for his perfect record of victory in battle (Cummins). This achievement puts him within the company of the likes of Alexander the Great, Ghengis Khan, and Lucius Cornelius Sulla. For this monumental achievement in military command, Suvorov is roundly considered to have earned his image being cast in that of Mars himself in the monument. The monument now lies to the north of the Field of Mars, in Suvorov Square. After her reign it was further altered to memorialize the sacrifice of the Russian Imperial Army against Napoleon’s forces and their heroic turnaround of the war. This coincided with the construction of the Pavlovsky Grenadier Guards Regiment’s official barracks on the edge of the field. Their exceptional service in the Napoleonic war earned them a place of reverence in the services and the personal favor of the Tsarina (Reese). They, and the other Imperial Guard regiments, would drill on the field for the common folk to see. The people were allowed again onto the field to facilitate this purpose. Then, the monuments to Catherine’s favorite generals were constructed on the field, before being moved to more appropriate locations to make more room for the Guards to drill and parade. While not in use by the Guards, the people were free to use the field. As a result of its contemporaneous monumentalization, the field acquired the popular moniker of “The Field of Mars,” owing to the statue of Suvorov which once adorned the field, which was later moved to its own pavilion north of the field (George and George).

No major changes would be made to the Field of Mars after Catherine, only to its skyline in the form of the Church on Spilled Blood and Engineer’s Castle. As the Communists took control, they left their own mark on the Field in the form of the monument and burial ground dedicated to those who fell in the service of the people against the oppressors (Fitzpatrick). Specifically, the field would become a monument specifically to the 1905 Revolution, in which pro-constitution protesters forced the Tsar to establish a constitutional monarchy, and 1917 Civil War in which the Bolsheviks solidified the central authority of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union over the pro-democracy and pro-Tsarist elements within the new provisional government. The further monumentalization of the space was meant to alter the focus towards the power of the proletariat and the common, rank and file soldiers rather than the elites and Imperial military glory. This evolution is in line, too with the evolution of the Pavlovsky Regiment Barracks. During this era, the barracks were re-purposed – due to the dissolution of the unit during the 1918 restructuring of the armed forces (Reese) – and changed to become office space for apparati of the Party. This re-purposing served to contrast the simplicity of the monument to the grandeur and decadence of the Imperial celebrations of military power and the power of the Tsars. During the Siege of Leningrad during World War II, the Field was repurposed into an enormous vegetable garden to feed the starving citizens of the city (Glantz). After the Siege of Leningrad was broken, a salute was fired at the center of the Field to signify the retreat of the Germans to those still in the city. After the war, in 1957, the Field of Mars and its surrounding structures were repaired and the Eternal Flame was first lit on the Field (Brooke).

To the north of the Field of Mars lies Suvorov Square and its attached buildings. To the east was the Adamini House, which initially housed the merchant Antonov. The Adamini House would go on to house the Art Bureau and now currently houses the Building of the University of Culture and Arts. To the west of Suvorov Square lies houses which were historically the homes of the nobility. After the revolution the buildings were repurposed several times as houses (George and George). These apartments are now privately owned by a variety of private owners and businesses. The Soviet period would see the paving and building of automotive roads through the city. Suvorov Square would find itself transformed into a major thoroughfare, not unlike Trafalgar Square. This evolution shows the Soviet’s refocusing on victory: Victory in the future in the garden and victory in the hallowed past after the war was won. This also showed the switch in ideology from simple glorification of the people to the all-out remonumentalization of the state and state power.

Frankly, the people hardly ever consider the space beyond its practical purpose, which was made apparent in interviews taken with St. Petersburg residents, Ilya and Renea.

For all the pomp and circumstance which surrounded most of its history, the people did and still do regard it as a field. Certainly it is hallowed ground, this much can be seen in the quality of its upkeep and lack of graffiti and typical urban detritus. However, the message is lost on those who use it. It is cherished but not symbolic. Especially notable in our various interviews conducted on-site is the fact that most people remember it for their own personal memories rather than some lofty ideal of military or proletarian might. They remember happier times with their families and loved ones, not who died in what war against what enemy. They remember dates in the park with loved ones, or hanging out after work with friends, or taking a quiet moment away from the hustle and bustle of Nevsky. This disconnect is emblematic of the historic disconnect between Russia’s rulers and its ruled.

The Summer Garden – Ben Oelberg

Photo taken by Ben Oelberg

The Summer Garden of Peter the Great serves as a particularly luxurious emblem of his determination to mark his imperial reign as one that redefined the aesthetic tastes of the Russian monarchy. It is Peter’s tribute to the beautiful French gardens that seventeenth and early eighteenth century European monarchs were ever so fond of. The Garden stands as a symbol of the changes that were coming to Russia under Peter I – of his new city of Saint Petersburg becoming a cosmopolitan “window to the west.” When his court entered the Summer Garden, Peter could pride himself on convincing them that they were entering a garden of Versailles. Peter would demonstrate to his entourage and especially to foreign visitors that Russia was becoming a sophisticated Western society. Even after its loss of prestige after Peter’s death, the Summer Garden still reminds visitors of the majesty of what the Russian state has accomplished.

In the introduction to City A-Z, Fran Tonkiss mentions how urban planning reflects desired paths through cities on the part of the authorities. Yet, people do not always follow the “official” paths of a map because it is not always “sensible.” Tonkiss provides the example of crossing through a park instead of “skirt[ing] its edges” which is only meant to prevent walking on the grass. She states that the “local council is paving the desire path that countless walkers have beaten diagonally across my local park.” She argues that while this might appear to be “democratic,” the walkway is a “means of organising desire” (Tonkiss 1).

In my interview with David and Laura, two American tourists visiting Saint Petersburg, Russia, I first asked them what their opinions were on the Summer Garden of Peter the Great. Reflecting what Tonkiss wrote, David stated that it was “interesting” and “unusual” how the Garden featured “these turn-styles you had to go through to enter and exit the park.” He also found it strange that one could not “deviate from the pathways due to the fencing” (“David and Laura,” 0:48 – 1:06). Later on in the interview, Laura said that the gates of the Summer Garden made her impressed with the Russians’ management of “crowd control” (“David and Laura,” 14:28 -14:39).

Some of the statements made by David and Laura demonstrate Iain Borden’s comments in his entry for City A-Z, titled “Boundaries.” He describes urban boundaries as a “series of opportunity constraints,” as opposed to a “free association of emotional, political and cultural desires translated into spatial vectors” (Borden 20-21). He further discusses the more-or-less authoritarian nature of boundaries because they “prevent horizontal movement across the city” and “deny, control and release spatial movement” (Borden 21). David mentioned that the fencing forced visitors in the Summer Garden to stay on the established paths – to keep people in line, best reflected in Laura’s remark about the Garden’s gates affectively enforcing “crowd control.”

Photo taken by Ben Oelberg

I must agree with David that despite the Garden’s beauty, the paths did seem rather restrictive, making movement through the Garden too rigid. The Summer Garden is certainly not a free and open public space like the nearby Field of Mars. Visitors are obviously not able to run around and play or just lay down on the grass. The Garden had somewhat of an atmosphere of conformity: you have to stay on the designated paths and remain relatively quiet as you stroll along. This certainly reflects the Summer Garden’s role as a place of relaxation only for the elites.

I also had no idea why the fences were necessary. The fencing prevents visitors from seeing these elegant plots of grass surrounded by thick shrubbery. After peaking through the fences to see what was being covered up, I thought, what are these fences for? What is it that has to be hidden? It is only grass and shrubbery. For all that was covered up, I was still very impressed with Peter’s ability to give Russia a taste of Western Europe with countless Italian statues, gorgeous fountains, and a Dutch Baroque palace. I really felt at times as if I were walking through an elegant garden in France or Italy. Based on an interview with two locals, Ilya and Renea, they did not seem to be bothered by the fencing and nor did they feel that the Garden made them “conform.” They simply contemplated its beauty and acknowledged how much of a change it was for Russia, as Peter intended the Garden to be. They also remembered the Summer Garden on a personal level as a place of fond memories.

Renea, a tour guide, said that the Summer Garden is important because it is where the “history of parks” began in Russia and that she has tourists “move slowly along it” and gives them “a chance to see more at the Summer Garden.” Ilya, a graphic design student, walks through the Garden everyday on his way to the university and said that it gives him “inspiration” (“Ilya and Renea,” 2:00 – 3:00). The Summer Garden appeared to be of personal significance to the two locals. Renea described it as a “great place” and a “part of [her] personal life” and that it is “more connected to [her] childhood memories” (“Ilya and Renea,” 3:34 – 3:53). During Andrew Andell’s interview with them, he asked Renea and Ilya about any “significant visits” they had experienced in the Garden. Renea recalled a classical music concert with “marble stages” inside the Garden. When she was at this concert in the Summer Garden, she felt that she was experiencing the “essence of beautiful in the world.” Ilya mentioned how he loved the white swans that lived there during a childhood visit with his parents (“Ilya and Renea,” 3:56 – 5:07).

Andrew then asked Ilya and Renea how the “current use” of the Summer Garden “relates to its history.” Renea replied that like any other park the Garden has merely become a place where people “spend their time” and “hide from the heat.” Yet, she explained that this “current use” of the Summer Garden is essentially the same as it has been in the past. When Peter the Great traveled to Europe, he noticed that “in every city, there was a park for people just to walk, just spend their time,” but there were no parks in Russia. Peter decided to build one so that Russians could experience the leisures of a park (of course it is very important to note that the Summer Garden was used only by Peter and the nobility during his reign). Ilya agreed with this and added that some students from the nearby universities and academies come to the Summer Garden to hang out and celecbrate the end of the year. He mentioned that it is “significant that young people come to such cultural places to celebrate some moments in their life” (“Ilya and Renea,” 5:10 – 7:15).

When asked about any changes she had noticed in the Summer Garden during her lifetime, Renea stated that the last time she saw the Garden was during her childhood as the Garden had been closed for many years. Now that the Garden has opened again, she intends to visit it again during the summer. However, Renea also said that she was a little afraid that seeing it again would “ruin [her] personal memories” and therefore she is “delaying this moment of meeting the new Summer Garden.” Renea mentioned that she is glad that new statues and new fountains have been placed in the Garden. Ilya said that the Summer Garden has become a “modern place.” He thought that before the Garden was restored, it was the “Soviet Summer Garden,” but now it is a “modern contemporary Summer Garden” in the European style (“Ilya and Renea,” 7:19 – 8:38).

In response to being asked how easy it is to travel through Saint Petersburg, Ilya replied that if someone “love[s] a place (especially a place such as the Summer Garden or the Field of Mars), [he or she] will get there anyway.” He recommended walking as the true way to “see” Petersburg, so that you can quite literally see everything and “have a good time.” Renea noted that there were no metro stations near the Summer Garden that required less than fifteen minutes of walking to get there. Therefore, unless one is looking for the Summer Garden, it can be difficult to find (“Ilya and Renea,” 11:45 – 12:53).

Photo taken by Ben Oelberg

The Summer Garden can be hard to notice, considering that you really cannot see much of anything until you walk through one of the gateway entrances. The surrounding gates and numerous tall trees cover up the
fountains and the statues, making the Garden look somewhat secretive despite its current status as a public park. This difficulty of noticing the Garden may perhaps reflect the original purpose of the Summer Garden, which was to be a private park for the elites to take peaceful walks and hold elaborate holiday parties; a place for Peter the Great to illustrate his progress at creating a Western-style city for Russia. Why would Peter need to keep this beautiful garden closed off from the general public? He must have been afraid that the commoners might disturb the peaceful setting of the Garden. Then again, the inability to get a good look at the Summer Garden from the outside serves to enhance the mystery of what one will find when he or she enters the Garden. Once you enter, you notice that the trees cover up the sky and it is as if you have entered a portal into another world – a peaceful escape from the hustle-and-bustle of urban life.

Photo taken by Ben Oelberg

Indeed, the Summer Garden of Peter the Great provides a peaceful green haven for those who might be easily overwhelmed by the noisy concrete jungle. The trees are so tall and thick that they hide the surrounding city. There are benches for people to sit and contemplate the French garden and Italian statues that Peter was so intent on giving his entourage a taste of in order to prove that he could be just as stylistically sophisticated as any other European monarch. One can also find several small vine-covered “huts” with a small bench inside – the perfect private corner to read a book or give your soulmate a smooch.

Once again, we turn to Iain Borden’s essay on “boundaries.” His mentioning of boundaries as “momentary portals” is a perfect description for the Summer Garden (Borden 21). When you enter the garden, one might have the feeling that he or she is not “good enough” to enter such a magical world. Borden writes that boundaries are “manifestations, not just origins.” A boundary is the “outcome of a need and desire for social control, as the pervasive extension of power across the city” (Borden 21). The beauty of the Summer Garden masks the reality that Peter wanted a private space for himself and his entourage so that they could engage in activities that only the wealthy and the powerful could enjoy. Peter the Great and later Empress Elizabeth as well as Catherine II (Catherine the Great) would hold receptions and celebrations in the Sumer Garden (George 63). Peter held parties in the Garden for special events such as “his name day or the anniversary of Poltava” (84). It was a social space safely protected from the supposed savagery and disorder of the poor toiling masses.

Photo taken by Ben Oelberg

One must keep in mind how much effort Peter put into the construction of this garden. He was so committed, that he “issue[d] orders on minute details from afar” while at war with Sweden. He ordered exotic trees, flowers, and “other plants from faraway places,” and even brought them himself on occasion from his travels and campaigns (George 61). During his tours of Western Europe, Peter was impressed with the French-style gardens of Versailles, Dresden, Greenwich, and elsewhere. So he ordered French architect Jean-Baptiste Alexandre LeBlond to “lay out the garden in the formal French style, featuring carefully pruned trees and shrubs and intricate, curving lines” (61). Peter also took LeBlond’s advice and had about fifty fountains built in the Summer Garden. Many of these fountains featured sculptures of gods, mythical creatures, and animals. To provide water for the fountains, a canal was “cut from the Liga River to a small man-made reservoir near today’s Nekrasov Street.” This became the Ligovsky Canal, which is now the route of Ligovsky Prospect (61-62). If this was not enough, Peter even built another popular feature of European gardens of his time – a grotto. This grotto was supposedly “second to none in Europe,” but it is no longer standing and has been replaced by the Coffee House (62).

Peter greatly admired Venetian sculptures. So, not surprisingly, he “lined the Garden’s pathways with their works.” There were originally about 250 sculptures in the Summer Garden, but only about 90 still remain. The most notable statue of the Summer Garden was a nude statue of Venus (now standing in the Hermitage), which was obtained by Peter making a deal with the Vatican (George 62). Peter even had a menagerie that was originally positioned across the Post Office, relocated to the Summer Garden. There were artificial ponds with “exotic fish, swans, other water birds, and a seal.” The menagerie remained until it was moved to Mokhovaya Street in 1737 (62).

Peter also had a Baroque palace built in the Summer Garden. He intended for this palace to be the “ideal home” that was “modest in size with unpretentious interiors in the Dutch manner” (Amery & Curran 26). The palace was to be a “model house for ’eminent people'” (Saint Petersburg Encyclopaedia). The Summer Palace’s ground floor was “decorated according to maritime themes” and one room “served both as his workshop and meteorological observation post” (George 61).

Photo taken by Ben Oelberg

The richness of the Summer Garden is certainly to be admired. Nevertheless, the fences, gates, and fixed pathways still remain. To make it worse, there are now security cameras throughout the Garden.

The Holy Resurrection Cathedral or Cathedral of Our Savior Built on Spilled Blood – Andrew Andell

Photo taken by Andrew Andell

Standing in the Field of Mars, one sees a peculiar building to the south-west – with colorful onion domes and an elaborate exterior, it stands apart from the rest of the city. The Church of Our Savior Built on Spilled Blood, also known as the Holy Resurrection Cathedral, was constructed from 1883 to 1907.

Tsar Alexander II, who reigned from 1855 – 1881, was a great reformer and patron of progressive ideals; having freed the serfs, among other massive legislation, he landed on the radar of the more conservative figures in Russian society – those with a stock in maintaining the status quo. As a result, he became the object of several assassination attempts, with the final one taking place not far from the Field of Mars after he was surveying troops. Alexander III, who succeeded his father, was a much more conservative ruler, blaming radical reform for the death of his father and for the turbulent state of Russia at the time. Though the Duma commissioned a small wooden chapel to be erected on the site of Alexander II’s assassination, the new Tsar found this inadequate. Instead, he had a new cathedral built which reflected his return to the values of old Russia – constructed in the Muscovite Revival style, it was based on St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow and stands in stark contrast to the rest of St. Petersburg. (Amery & Curran, 120) After a long hiatus under the Soviets and renovation since WWII, the Church on Spilled Blood has become a museum and functions as a major tourist attraction. A more in-depth history of the Cathedral can be found here, detailing the deliberations on its construction and evolution over time.

Photo taken by Andrew Andell

In the present day, the Holy Resurrection Cathedral remains distinct from the surrounding buildings. Looming over the south end of the Field of Mars, its colorful cupolas and ornate exterior identify it as notably non-Petersburgian in nature, making it a major element of one’s experience on the Field of Mars. However, the Cathedral continues to exist only faintly in the minds of St. Petersburg residents, its presence a long established fact and thus often overlooked in the bustle of daily life. Built as a private monument and chapel for the royal family, it was never a public space. Even during the Soviet period, it sat empty of visitors, being forbidden to the public until the end of Communism in Russia. In 1970, ownership of the site passed to St. Isaac’s Cathedral, after which it was renovated and converted to a public museum of mosaics. In this role, it instead now hosts thousands of tourists each day, who come to see a major piece of Russian architecture. Many of these tourists, who arrive by busload from their ships on the Gulf of Finland, stay long enough to walk through the museum and to browse the wares outside. As such, the area surrounding the cathedral houses a number of stalls which parallel the Griboyedov Canal. These stalls sell trinkets and souvenirs ranging from novelty shot glasses to Russian hats of many different styles and colors, catering to the mass of tourists passing through the area. The images on these trinkets, however, are notable in that they typically depict various expressions and expressers of Russian authority, both Tsarist and Soviet; matryoshka dolls of Nicholas I, Stalin, and Putin all stand together, the significance of this often forgotten by those who buy them. Indeed, an extensive tourist market has sprung up outside the building, achieving official recognition in recent years. This market is now one of the most heavily trafficked and largest souvenir stations in St. Petersburg, often hosting more than 40 stalls selling a huge variety of wares. In a sense, the relatively new master in Russia, a free market, has overtaken any singular expression of power. However, while a high volume of foreigners visit this area every day, their impact on the surrounding area is minimal. Benches and trashcans, as well as public restrooms (which close after hours), adorn the site only sparsely, and established stores in buildings are not to be found. Because the tourists arrive and depart by bus, their agenda precludes travelling to the nearby Field of Mars. As a result, many of the hallmarks of other tourist sites, such as cold drink and hotdog stations, are absent from the Field, which itself seems to remain an almost purely Russian public space. This segregation between the Field and the Cathedral is most clearly marked by a fairly busy intersection at the Southwest corner of the Field itself – once this point is crossed, the crowds thicken and noise level increases manifold, helping to divert anyone, such as local pedestrians, who might pass through the Cathedral space. The Field of Mars, being a fair distance from any nearby metro station, is inhabited by those who seek it out, less for its history or magnificence and more for its function as a place of relaxation. In our interview with Ilya and Renea, they allow that the distance and trouble in getting to the Field of Mars is checked by its uniqueness and significance as an eye in the storm.

 

This dichotomy between the Field of Mars, a generally relaxing public space, and the Cathedral, now a tourist trap of the highest magnitude, sets a clear distinction between locals and foreigners, and perhaps more abstractly, between those who come to marvel at Old World power and those who are content to let it fade into the background.

The Mikhailovsky or Engineer’s Castle – Andrew Andell

Photo taken by Andrew Andell

Turning directly south, viewing from the Summer Garden, one sees a large, reddish structure across the span of a canal. Tsar Paul I, a deeply paranoid and fearful man, turned much of St. Petersburg’s architecture toward a more militaristic theme; numerous monuments to military triumphs were commissioned for the newly christened Field of Mars and a number of new barracks were built along this theme. Paul’s favored project was Mikhailovsky Castle, built on the site of Empress Elizabeth’s old summer palace in which he had been born. Paul famously stated that, “On that spot I was born and there I wish to die,” a wish he would be granted in his 1801 assassination. (George, 233) The castle that he constructed would reflect his paranoia, featuring a moat, several drawbridges, and secret passages throughout. It was all for naught, however, as Paul was killed in his bedroom less than a month after he and the royal family moved in. Paul’s power and influence over the city died with him, and so too did the castle’s significance. From this point, it came to house a number of different engineering academies, suiting the city as the public needed it; since 1994, the castle has contained an exposition of the State Russian Museum and the central Naval Library with a fairly extensive art gallery supplemented by many of the original sculptures from the Summer Garden. (St. Petersburg Encyclopedia)

Even from its forgotten position and current obscurity, the building cuts a powerful figure, looming over the south ends of both the Summer Garden and Field of Mars, its chapel spire rising, glistening and golden, into the air above all that surrounds it. The only public entrance to the castle is on the south end by a rather sparsely trafficked street; all other sides are surrounded by a ten-foot fence, complete with armed guards and security cameras. The interior which is open to the public (a large part of the building is closed off) consists of a series of long hallways and galleries with high ceilings and ornate classical-style carvings in the details. Familiar paintings of the royal family, and many of Paul himself, adorn the walls and open space. Light floods in through many tall windows which overlook the Summer Garden and Field of

Photo taken by Andrew Andell

Mars, providing a unique view of these two public spaces from a spot originally reserved for the highest, most trusted members of court. At the north end of the compound outside the castle there is a small field stretching from the stairs of the building to the perimeter fence. On some special occasions or holidays, such as Russia Day, this area is used as a concert space and is opened to the public, drawing large crowds and thus a heavy police presence. Otherwise, the building is largely ignored by the general populace of St. Petersburg. In fact, the most popular object which draws Russian attention to the building is located below street-level. On the Fontanka Canal near its intersection with the Moika is a statue of a small bronze bird; as a representative of the Russian nursery rhyme, Chizhyk-Pyzhik, hitting the statue with a coin is said to bring good luck. People mass around this otherwise rather mundane spot, seemingly ignoring the hulking fortress behind them. However, despite the crowds which Chizhyk-Pyzhik brings, the Mikhailovsky Castle is, on the whole, not a public space. Walking along the Ulitsa Pestelya between the castle and the Summer Garden is often a harrowing experience, with constant crowds (which rarely give the castle a second glance) constantly pushing one either forward or into traffic. Like many other monuments to power from various cultures and empires, it is often forgotten by the public, Paul’s legacy of will and paranoia fading into deeper obscurity. (Robinson, 200) While a prime example of baroque architecture, it nevertheless stands imposing and isolated among the flood of people who daily sweep by it. Perhaps in this way Paul’s legacy lives on; the structure remains a manifestation of Paul himself, still full of suspicion and seclusion, a representative of one Tsar’s will still forced upon the people of St. Petersburg.

Conclusion

The shadow of times long past hangs over this space, and the personal touch of powerful men and women has left its mark indubitably upon this space, more so even than anywhere else in the city. This was the personal playground of the Tsars, where their image of Petersburg was directly constructed to their specifications. Each element within the space was born within the whims of the Tsars. It is, therefore, in this area of the city that we get the best understanding, from an architectural and sociological development standpoint, of the interaction between power and populace in historical Russia. While other parts of the city certainly bear the marks left by rulers past, the monument holds no function besides imparting some variety of message which its builder wishes to convey. Therefore, it is a more direct view of the interactions between the rulers and the ruled than could be seen in a space with intended functionality such as Peter and Paul Fortress or St. Isaac’s Cathedral. The image which can be drawn from this interaction is both the overwhelming power of the Russian state through history and its disconnect with its subjects. The lofty ideals imparted into these monuments are largely overlooked by the common man in favor of more utilitarian function.

Works Cited

Amery, Colin, and Brian Curran. St. Petersburg. London: Frances Lincoln Ltd., 2006.

Boglachev, S.V. “Summer Palaces.” Saint Petersburg Encyclopaedia. The Likhachev Foundation. Web. 3 May 2012. <http://www.encspb.ru/object/2855702680?dv=2853931022&lc=en>.

Borden, Iain. “Boundaries.” City A-Z. Steve Pile and Nigel Thrift, ed. London: Routledge, 2000.

Brooke, Caroline. Moscow: A Cultural History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Page 51

Cummins, Joseph. The War Chronicles: From Flintlocks to Machine Guns: A Global Reference of All the Major Modern Conflicts. Beverly, Massachusetts: Fair Winds, 2009. Page 27

Fitzpatrick, Sheila. The Russian Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

George, Arthur L., and Elena George. St. Petersburg: Russia’s Window to the Future, The First Three Centuries. New York: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2003.

Glantz, David M. The Siege of Leningrad, 1941-1944: 900 Days of Terror . Osceola, Wisconsin: Zenith Imprint, 2001

“Interview with David and Laura (00000).” 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qUFfDtnrmUk&feature=plcp>.

“Interview with Ilya and Renea (00010).” 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOyQd7ZYWxM&feature=plcp>.

Reese, Roger R. The Russian Imperial Army, 1796-1917 . London: Ashgate, 2006.

Tonkiss, Fran. “A to Z.” City A-Z. Steve Pile and Nigel Thrift, ed. London: Routledge, 2000.

 

 

 

Form Versus Function and the Two Faces of the Spit of Vasilievsky Island

by Ryan Akens and Jake Stronko

The spit, or strelka, of Vasilievsky Island is the eastern tip of the island, situated in the center of St. Petersburg. The panorama view of the city meeting the Neva River is a popular tourist destination, as illustrated by the numerous buses that unload tourists daily from the cruise ships lining the English Embankment. From the tip of the island, one can see the unique silhouettes of the Admiralty, Winter Palace, the Peter and Paul Fortress, and the dome of St. Isaac’s. At night, the spit is lit up with numerous floodlights as crowds gather to watch the nightly raising of the bridges spanning the river.

The map above outlines the studied area of the spit of Vasilievsky Island, spanning from the Twelve Colleges in the west to the Exchange Square to the east. The area shaded in red is what Russians often consider to be the strelka of the island. Also marked are the notable buildings and landmarks such as the Kunstkammer, the Exchange Building, and the Rostral Columns. The following pictures are a few various views of the strelka as well as the surrounding view from the strelka.

The layout of the spit directs attention not only across the water to the panorama of the city but also to the Exchange Square itself and the Rostral Columns and Naval Museum that border it.  Through practical design, city planners have created two different aspects of the spit. The use of lighting and the arrangement of seating, as well as the general upkeep of the Exchange Square and the various buildings on the spit speak to what the St. Petersburg municipal government values about this space. If the spit draws visitors’ attention to it then by default it draws attention away from some of the poorly developed or undeveloped areas immediately behind the Exchange square. Further illustrating these two aspects of the space, the important and therefore visible and the unimportant therefore hidden, is the presence and location of food vendors and souvenir kiosks. What draws attention on the spit of Vasilievsky Island is largely due to the placement of lighting, food and souvenir vendors, seating arrangements, and the general upkeep of buildings and public squares.

Planning A City

For this project, we have chosen to focus on how the spit of Vasilievsky Island is used by the general public in relation to the aforementioned factors of lighting, seating, various vendors, and public appearance. William Whyte analyzed park and plaza use in New York and found that the use of these spaces correlated with the design of the space rather than the space’s location in the city. People tend to congregate around monuments, poles, and places with a large amount of comfortable seating options (Whyte 489). Visual attractiveness of a space further influences pedestrian traffic. Open areas with an unobtrusive bordering fence or low wall are the most preferred as they add a sense of privacy to a public space (Whyte 490).  Peter Marcuse adds that the style of available seating plays a significant role. Short benches or intrusive armrests discourage people from sleeping on benches, thus limiting the homeless population in an area (Marcuse 19). Comfortable seating yields more and longer-staying pedestrian traffic, while uncomfortable seating encourages shorter stays (Marcuse 20).

Lighting also influences how the space is used. David Gilbert notes what is illuminated is not only an exercise of power, but also a way of displaying what officials deem important or noteworthy in an area (Gilbert 77). That which is illuminated creates the city-scape, while places like slums or back alleys remain in the dark (Gilbert 76). Other lighting, such as lampposts, is used out of utility, allowing people to see at night, creating a sense of safety and security.

Both seating and lighting are tools used by city designers to create public spaces. The placement of these features is born out of practicality and aesthetics and occurs in the planning phases of design. On the other hand, food carts and souvenir vendors crop up based on pedestrian traffic. Souvenir vendors congregate in popular tourist areas  whereas food vendors target both tourists as well as city dwellers. An examination of design elements such as lighting and seating, along with a study of food and souvenir vendor locations will tell us more about this space, both in its intended and actual uses.

The last factor in this equation is the issue of maintenance and the city’s response to how places are used. Building and grounds upkeep are generally focused on what is most often used by the public. The more traffic there is in an area, the more upkeep is required to keep it inviting and clean. Building facades also fall under this category. Which buildings and which parts of those buildings are seen or used the most receive more treatment and care, while the less trafficked areas receive less attention.

A Brief History of the Area

In regards to the spit of Vasilievsky Island, the history and original use of the area play a large role in the modern day layout and use. St. Petersburg was originally modeled after the water-straddling cities of Venice and Amsterdam (Amery). Peter the Great envisioned a city with boats as the primary choice of transportation. Vasilievsky island was originally intended to be navigated by canals rather than by streets, but these plans ran afoul under the care of the city’s first Governor Aleksander Menshikov. Menshikov altered Peter I’s plans by narrowing the canals and making them too shallow to allow boat access (Gosling). This alteration essentially killed Peter’s plan to build a new Venice.

The buildings surrounding the spit were meant to hold the Imperial Russian Government when it moved to St. Petersburg as well as housing the academic center of the city. While the government is no longer housed in the Twelve Colleges, the spit does uphold Peter’s vision as a center for academia and knowledge (Amery). The Twelve Colleges is now home to St. Petersburg State University and the Kunstkammer and the Southern and Northern Warehouses now hold a variety of museums and academic institutions.

Original plans for the Twelve Colleges lining the river (Egorov)

Originally, the spit of the island was formed in an irregular shape (Egorov).  The buildings as they are today were built sporadically throughout the history of St. Petersburg. Two of the original buildings on the island were the Menshikov Palace and the Twelve Colleges. Aleksander Menshikov, one of Peter the Great’s favorites, was given the orders by Peter to oversee the construction of the new capital while Peter was away on imperial business. The Twelve Colleges were intended to be built lining the river. However, Menshikov desired to have more space for his grand palace he was building, and he ordered the Twelve Colleges to be built perpendicular to the southern embankment (Egorov). Thus, today we see the southern side of the island partially occupied by the pale yellow Menshikov Palace.

To the east of the Menshikov Palace stands the Southern Warehouses, a grand yellow building that houses the Zoological Museum. During the birth of St. Petersburg, this site was originally occupied by wind sawmills used for making planks for ships (Raymer). In 1716, these windmills were replaced by the construction of the palace of Tsarina Praskovya Federovna, Peter I’s sister-in-law. After her death in 1723, the unfinished palace was given to the Imperial Academy of Sciences and was finally completed in 1734 (Amery). The building at this time was a single building on the Bolshaya Neva, rather than the triangular building that exists today. The building housed the Academy of Sciences and was where many scientific books and the first Russian newspaper was published and remained until 1825. Up until this time, the modern building that is now called the Southern Warehouse was actually three separate buildings that were finally connected in 1825-28 by the architect Lukini. These buildings were originally the house of the customs staff, the Exhibition Hall, and the Southern Customs Warehouse (Slepkova).

East of the Academy of Science building lies the famous Kunstkammer. The Kunstkammer(Кунсткамера), or Cabinet of Curiosities,

Kunstkammer and Zoological Museum**

is the first public museum in Russia and was directly commissioned by Peter I as a result of his trips throughout Europe. The name kunstkammer comes from the German word for House of Arts. It was built in 1727 by Georg Johann Mattarnovy in the Petrine Baroque style (Nikitenko).

On the very tip of the spit are the two Rostral columns, 32 meter high columns made of brick and finished with dark red stucco and sitting upon a large granite plinth.  They were built in 1811 by architect Jean-Francois Thomas de Thomon, the same architect that designed the neo-classical Exchange Building (Gosling, Nikitenko). In their early years, the columns had torches on the top and were used as light beacons for ships coming into the trading port near the spit of the island; however, today the torches are only lit for special celebrations. At the bottom of the columns are sculptures by S. Sukhanov, J. Chamberlain and J. Thibaud, and depict depict the four great rivers of Russia: the Volga, Dnepr, Neva, and Volkhov (Kaganovich).

The rostral columns flank the very tip of the island occupied by Birzhevaya Square, or Exchange Square.  During the early 18th century, this area was the home of several windmills and an artillery battery. Near this area, the Stroganov palace was built in 1716, although this building is no longer in existence. During the mid-18th century, this area was home to the Illumination Theatre (Amery). The square was designed by J. F. Thomas de Thomon at the beginning of the 19th-century, and the semi-circular shape of the square was achieved by adding tons of soil to the embankment. In 1826, two warehouses were built near the square, one on the north end and one on the south end (Nikitenko). The southern warehouse now holds the Zoological Museum and the northern warehouse holds the Museum of Soil Science. The Palace Bridge and Exchange Bridge were built in perfect symmetry with the square to create the harmonic image we view today of the Spit of the island (Egorov).

The spit of Vasilievsky island in the 18th Century before it was redesigned by Thomas de Thomon***

Looking out onto the Exchange Square is the Naval Museum, also known as the old Stock Exchange. Sitting in the middle of the strelka with the Northern and Southern Warehouses on either side and flanked by the Twelve Colleges, the Exchange is the dominating feature of the spit. Original plans for the building were created by Quarenghi in 1782, and it was intended to be the major architectural element of the strelka (Gosling). The old Stock Exchange housed the St. Petersburg Stock Exchange which Peter I modeled after the Amsterdam stock exchange (Egorov).

The northern embankment of the spit is currently occupied by the Pushkin House, the home of the Institute of Russian Literature. Originally, this building was the home of the old Customs House. It was built in 1832 by Giovanni Luchini (Nikitenko). The Customs House was needed at this location to accommodate the merchant port that was located here on the island during Peter’s time (Egorov).

Design of the Spit

Aerial view of the Strelka.*

Changing focus to the design of the area; factors such as seating availability, lighting, and building and grounds management emphasize the role of the city in the area. The first factor, seating, stresses how the area was intended to be used according to city planners. As stated earlier, a large number of comfortable seating encourages people to linger, whereas the lack of seating does the opposite. In regards to the spit, seating is limited to a few benches arranged in a half-circle lining the Exchange Square. These benches are located along the gravel path that circles the square as well and a few trash receptacles are sparsely situated between benches. While the surrounding barrier wall is another option for seating, the height of the wall discourages many from doing so. Further discouraging the use of the wall for sitting is the Russian superstition against sitting on rock as it is unhealthy. Even sitting on the grass is seemingly discouraged as there is an unspoken rule that restricts pedestrians to the designated paths.

The lack of seating creates a sense of a mobile area that encourages short stays. People are invited in to enjoy the view, but are encouraged to leave shortly. Even the arrangement of the benches furthers this sense of short visits. All the benches are situated so that the person sitting does not a view of the Neva and the opposite banks, but of the street running in front of the Exchange Building. Exchange Square is constructed more for form rather than function.

In comparison to the Field of Mars, the spit is significantly different in its general use. The spit is similar to the Field of Mars in the sparse seating, but the benches on the Field of Mars are more mobile, the benches on the spit are permanent in their arrangement. The Field of Mars also encourages people to utilize the wide-open expanses of grass for activities such as sunbathing. Whereas the Exchange Square is very open and public, the Field of Mars is surrounded by trees and there is a sense of separation from the street and surrounding area.

Lighting

Lighting plays a crucial role, especially at night, in encouraging people on what to look at as well as where to be. Light is associated with sight and safety, whereas darkness is associated with the unknown and danger. By choosing to light an area over another, one can direct attention as well as pedestrian traffic. The spit of Vasilievsky Island operates on this idea. At night, and especially during the raising of the bridges, attention is focused on the buildings along the Neva as well as the bridges themselves. Lights illuminate the areas around the Rostral Columns and along the streets running alongside the river, encouraging people to stick to the outside of the island rather than venturing into the enclosed middle. While the enclosed part of the island does have streetlights, the ambient light is much stronger on along the river. This emphasis is similar to the emphasis placed on appearance mentioned previously.

Upkeep

As there are two faces to every coin, there are two sides to every building. One of the most famous buildings in Russia is the Kunstkammer. The first museum open to the public, the building is famous for housing Peter I’s collection of freaks and oddities in his pursuit to use science to educate. Nowadays the building still houses this collection as well as Museums of Anthropology and Ethnography and is the symbol of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The famous blue baroque façade is easily recognizable and stands out on the University Embankment. This is the daily view of many who live and work and visit the center of St. Petersburg. If you enter the building and peruse the various museums, eventually you will exit through the back of the building into a courtyard. Almost immediately you will recognize there is a significant difference between the front of the building and the back. Whereas the front of the building is nicely painted and clean, the rear of the building is quite the opposite. Parts of the building façade have fallen off revealing the brick underneath. A few of the outer windows are cracked or broken. Graffiti is present on the lower stretches of the walls. Even the courtyard is unkempt. The trees that are present in the courtyard further add a gloomy feeling to the atmosphere as they cast most of the courtyard in shadows. This dichotomy between the two faces of the Kunstkammer exemplifies where people are encouraged to be as well as telling what is shown to be important. Because fewer people see the rear of the building and it is simply an exit area, there seems to be no great need to keep the area as pretty.

The same idea is applied to the Twelve Colleges. From afar, the building maintains an almost regal air to it. It is surrounded by a tall iron fence separating it from the street, but on closer inspection, there is no access to the fenced off grass in front of the building. Instead, the fence runs the length of the Colleges, only stopping at the front entrance where the fence turns and meets the building. While in the vicinity of tourist destinations such as the Kunstkammer and the Exchange Square, the Twelve Colleges distinctly creates a feeling of off-limits to tourists. Even if one is brave enough to enter, proper identification must be shown to proceed past the front desk and into one of the longest academic hallways in the world.

The enclosed part of the spit, the area in between the northern and southern warehouses, the Exchange Building, and the Twelve Colleges is another example of how maintenance is directly proportional to use. The paths surrounding the Nursing College are cracked and misshapen, hedges are overgrown, and beer bottles and broken grass litter the ground. Unofficial paths cutting through the grass are also present, suggesting use by those in too much of a hurry to adhere to the paved walkways. This area is largely devoid of constant foot traffic, and is used primarily as parking for tourist buses as well as hiding public restrooms.
In contrast to the buildings on the spit, the Exchange Square is meticulously cared for. The surrounding walls are devoid of any graffiti, the grass is trimmed weekly, the flowers rotated, and remarkably free from litter.

The areas most easily seen and most used are the ones that are kept the nicest as seen in the Exchange Square and the outward-facing sides of the surrounding buildings. The areas with less traffic, either pedestrian or automobile, receive less attention. This dichotomy further encourages people where to be and where to avoid. The environment created simply through the level of maintenance and upkeep is drastically important in influencing the use of an area.

Food Vendors

As stated previously, the location and distribution of food vendors tells a lot about how an area is used. While the spit of Vasilievsky Island is usually described as the area between the Exchange Building and the eastern edge of the island which is comprised of the Rostral Columns and the Exchange Square, our study expanded the area to include the entire tip of the island from the Twelve Colleges to the Exchange Square (see Irina’s interview). This expansion captures the historical center that Peter I envisioned. Throughout the area there is a large population of food carts as well a few permanent restaurants and a semi-permanent food stand.

The majority of the mobile food carts were along the south-eastern side of the island, positioned largely around the southern Rostral Column. Other carts were stationed near the entrances and exits of the southern museums, the Kuntskammer and the Zoological Museum. The semi-permanent food stands were located at the northern Rostral Column and just to the south of the Exchange Building. As food carts are situated in the highly trafficked areas, it is reasonable that the areas previously described are major pedestrian areas.

The areas that lacked these food vendors were on the interior of the spit. Once past the outer ring of museums, the interior of the spit is surprisingly devoid of food carts as well as pedestrians in general. Permanent restaurant, on the other hand, were present. As the center of the island is dominated by the Nursing and Gynecological Institute, it is safe to say that the main cliental of these restaurants are those studying at the institute or those working in the surrounding museums. The northern side of the spit past the northern Rostral Column is also devoid of food carts.


View Food and Souvenir Vendors on the Spit of Vasilievsky Island in a larger map

The map above displays the placement of souvenir and food vendors with yellow and blue markers respectively.

Souvenir Vendors

As the spit of Vasilievsky Island is a prime tourist destination, so is it a prime spot for vendors selling mementos or stereotypical Russian souvenirs such as fur hats and nesting dolls. The primary location for these vendors of the spit was similar to the location of the food vendors. Most of the souvenir stands were gathered around the Rostral Columns with a larger crowd around the southern column than the northern column. A few other stands were located near the entrances of the museums as well, trying to entice those going into the museums, as most of those going into the museums are tourists.

Similar to the food vendors, the areas devoid of souvenir stands were the interior of the spit and the northern side of the island. A striking difference to the food vendors though was the presence of smaller less official souvenir vendors situated on the Exchange Square as well as the cobblestone road that surrounded the eastern side of the spit and met the Neva River. These smaller and more mobile stands had a smaller selection comprised many of small metal figurines of prominent buildings in St. Petersburg as well as busts of famous historical figures such as Lenin, Peter I, and even Putin. These vendors are also harder to haggle with than other tourist vendor sites in the city such as the tourist market across the street from the Church on Spilled Blood. While some price negotiation is available, one is more likely to meet non-negotiable prices here.

In addition to the souvenir vendors was the occasional presence of animals. Doves, horses, and even a bear were present as photo opportunities aimed at the numerous wedding processions that came by daily. For a price, the animals could be used as props in the ceremonial pictures. All of these vendors were situated on the cobblestone road, the prime destination of the wedding procession as the newlyweds had champagne and pictures taken with the city and river in the background.

The location of these two vendors on the spit reveals quite a bit about how the area is used. The primary finding is the vendors congregate in areas that are along pedestrian routes rather than at destinations. The museums and the Exchange Square are the final destinations for pedestrians and especially tourists. The spit of the island is most accessible on foot, and many of those who are going to the spit are coming from other tourist areas located along or near Nevsky Prospekt such as the Winter Palace and the Kazan Cathedral. The Palace Bridge is the most direct path between the spit and these other areas and most of the vendors are gathered around the southern Rostral Column, directly in between the bridge and the square. Fewer vendors are located on the northern side of the island because there is less foot traffic arriving from that direction.

The placement of the vendors is in response to the foot traffic, but at the same time the vendors encourage the same sort of traffic to continue. The vendors attract people as well, especially tourists seeking souvenirs or a bite to eat. The relationship is a dual one, as pedestrians attract vendors, and vice versa.

Hiding the Unattractive

Toilet nicely tucked away between two buildings

As mentioned previously, there is a distinct difference between the river facing facades of the buildings on the strelka and the interior faces of the very same buildings. The outward facing sides, which are much more visible than the interior, are more attractive and visually appealing than the interior. The interior is largely unnoticed and ignored by pedestrian traffic as people stick to the perimeter of the island which is well lit, has available if not limited seating, and has a large quantity of food and souvenir vendors. Due to this, the interior space is often used for practical reasons and to hide the unattractive, yet necessary parts of city life.

Toilet Bus alongside the Exchange

 

Behind the Exchange Building is a large expanse of pavement often used as parking for tour buses. Sitting alongside the Exchange is a mobile toilet, tucked away between the Exchange and Southern Warehouse. The toilet is not completely hidden behind the Exchange in order to be publicly available, yet is arranged in such a way that the eye moves quickly from the Southern Warehouse to the Exchange and glosses over the blue toilet bus. This allows for a necessary part of city life to blend into the surroundings, yet still be readily available for those who need it.

Along with food carts and food stands come generators to power them. These generators are noisy, bulky, and unsightly. Again, the low-traffic interior is used to hide them, situating the generators behind building corners. This not only removes them from public eye, but reduces the noise level on an already loud street.

Hidden generators

Conclusion

By comparing individual aspects of an area, the intended use and the actual use of the area become quite apparent. On one hand, the design of an area and how it is maintained and lit play a large role in encouraging a unique type of response. Lighting and maintenance create different types of atmosphere to an area. On the spit of Vasilievsky Island, these factors encourage people, mainly tourists, to stick to the perimeter of the island. Furthermore, the planning of the area intended for use influences how that area is to be utilized. The Exchange Square is a very open and public space and offers a picturesque view of the city. This creates a very safe environment, but the lack of seating and non-use of the grass encourages shorter visits.

As lighting, seating, and maintenance encourage those on the spit to keep to the perimeter, the location of both food and souvenir vendors further that mentality. As vendors crop up in high-traffic areas, the intended plan as envisioned by city planners is further ingrained into daily use.

The Exchange Building on the 50 ruble note

Through a number of factors, city planners can direct how an area is used, what paths are most used, and can discourage traffic from other areas. By examining how the spit of Vasilievsky Island was planned, the primary function of the spit as a tourist location becomes apparent. Form is desired over function on the spit, especially on the Exchange Square itself. Access to the square is difficult in itself, as one must cross multiple lanes of traffic if coming from the rest of Vasilievsky Island or walk across the Palace Bridge from the mainland. Tourist buses are common as well as wedding motorcades, further creating the area as more of a tourist or ceremonial destination.

The spit of Vasilievsky Island offers a unique view of the city of St. Petersburg. Even though the spit is popular among those in St. Petersburg as a spot to take wedding pictures, the primary use of the space is by tourists. While used occasionally as a concert location, this area is more popular among those foreign to the city than those who call St. Petersburg home. Squares and gardens such as the Field of Mars, Alexander Garden, and beaches along the shores of the Peter and Paul Fortress attract more city dwellers on a daily basis than the spit of Vasilievsky Island.

Bibliography

Amery, Colin. St. Petersburg. London: France Lincoln, 2006.

Egorov, I. A. The Architectural planning of St. Petersburg. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1969.

Gilbert, David. “Floodlights.” City A-Z. Ed. Steve Pile and Nigel Thrift. New York: Routledge, 2000. 77-76.

Gosling, Nigel. Leningrad: History, Art, Architecture. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co, Inc., 1965.

Kaganovich, Abraam. Splendours of Leningrad. New York: Cowles Book Company, Inc., 1969.

Marcuse, Peter. “Benches.” City A-Z. Ed. Steve Pile and Nigel Thrift. New York: Routledge, 2000. 18-19.

Nikitenko, G.Y. “Spit of Vasiliesky Island.” Saint Petersburg Encyclopedia. <http://www.encspb.ru/object/2855701463?lc=en>

Raymer, Steve. St. Petersburg. Atlanta: Turner Publishing, Inc., 1994.

Slepkova, Nadezhda. “To the History of the Zoological Museum.” Annual Reports of the Zoological Institute. St. Petersburg: Russian Academy of Sciences, 2000.

Whyte, William H. “The Design of Spaces.” The City Reader. Ed. Richard T. LeGates and Frederic Stout. New York: Routledge, 2000. 483-90.

*http://englishrussia.com/2011/01/10/st-pretersburg-and-astana-from-the-birds-eye-perspective/

**S.-Petersburg. Academy of Sciences. Engraving of G. A. Kachalov (by drawing of M. I. Makhaev). 1753

*** View of the Spit of Vasilievsky Island. Engraving by J.A.Atkinson. 1805-07.

Photos courtesy of Ryan Akens.

Театральная площадь: A structural evolution

by Rachel Faith & Rachel Janis

When first faced with St. Petersburg’s Theater Square, one is at somewhat of a loss for words, partially from the majesty of the square’s two main buildings, the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory of Music and the Mariinsky Theater, but also from the strange, cramped chaos in which they are located. Each building is surrounded on almost all sides by wide, busy streets, construction, canals, and haphazardly parked cars, punctuated occasionally by a monument or a row of trees. Ultimately, the main impression created by all of this is “They call this a square? Why?” Compared to some of Russia’s other squares, such as the Palace Square in St. Petersburg or the famous Red Square of Moscow, Theater Square looks more like a large intersection than a square. Even the Theater Square in front of the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow presents a more open, pedestrian-friendly space which greater resembles the traditional idea of a public square than its counterpart in St. Petersburg. At this point in time, Theater Square no longer functions as a square in the traditional definition, but greater resembles a node as defined by Kevin Lynch. The “square” part of the location’s name is a carryover from its earlier days when it actually fit such a description. To better understand how the space went from square to node, one must look back to the very beginning of this space and watch how it grew and evolved over time .

Kryukov Canal; taken by Rachel Faith, summer 2012
The Kryukov Canal, looking from the edge of Theater Square towards New Holland Island

Theater Square’s area first began to form as a defined space with the building of transportation paths and around it. By the definition of Kevin Lynch in his work “The City Image”, a path is a channel along which movement occurs with any varying degree of regularity (Lynch). In the area of Theater square, four paths serve to define the space: Dekabristov Street, Soyuza Pechatnikov Street, the Kryukov Canal, and the Griboedov Canal. All of these paths were built to facilitate and expand movement throughout the young city of St Petersburg as it spread further out into the surrounding countryside. Through their intersecting, they set the space which would later be developed into Theater Square apart from the surrounding land.The first of these paths appeared back in 1719 with the building of the Kryukov Canal, the square’s current western border. Built from 1719 to 1720 specifically for transportation purposes, this canal originally stretched from the Moika to the Neva. The section from the Neva to the Admiralty Canal was filled up in 1842, and today it runs 1015m from the

Theater Square, taken from an 1844 map of St. Petersburg, highlighting by Rachel Faith;  http://www.bergbook.com/htdocs/Cache321.htm
The Kryukov Canal

Admiralty to the Fontanka. The creation of this canal, along with that of the Admiralty, also formed New Holland Island, which is located not far off of the northwestern corner of the square. The Kryukov had granite embankments added to it from 1801 to 1807, and six bridges currently span it. It was named in 1783 in honor of the contractor Semen Kyukov. (Priyutko. Kryukov…).

 

The southern and eastern sides of the square were both formed around 1739 through the

Soyuza Pechatnikov Street; taken by Rachel Faith, summer 2012
Soyuza Pechatnikov Street as it runs along Theater Square

creation of Soyuza Pechatnikov Street and the Griboedov Canal. Soyuza Pechatnikov Street currently runs from the Kryukov Canal to Kulibina Square. Like many places in St. Petersburg, this street has gone through a couple name changes. In 1739 it was named Bolshaya Matrosskaya Street , which was then changed to Torgovaya Street in 1776. The name which it bears now was given in 1925 in honor of the 20th anniversary of the of the Union of Printing Workers. This union was quartered at 25 Soyuza Pechatnikov Street, and a plaque can be found at this address today in memory of the street’s present namesake (Priyutko, Soyuza…).

Griboedov Canal; taken by Rachel Faith, summer 2012
Renovations being done to the granite embankments of the Griboedov Canal, June 2012

The Griboyedov Canal is found curving slightly away from the square on its eastern

Theater Square, taken from an 1844 map of St. Petersburg, highlighting by Rachel Faith;  http://www.bergbook.com/htdocs/Cache321.htm
Soyuza Pechatnikov Street (red) and the Griboedov Canal (orange)

side, separated from it by a block of buildings located directly on the square. This canal was connected to the Moika in 1739, and currently stretches 5 km from the Moika at the Field of Mars to the Fontanka at the Malo-Kalinkin Bridge. In 1764-90, the canal was deepened and covered with granite embankment, as well as receiving a name change in 1767 to Ekaterininsky Canal, which held until 1923. The embankments currently allow for one-way traffic, and the river, approximately 32m wide, is spanned by 21 bridges (Contacts; Privalov).

The space which would come to be Theater Square was fully enclosed in the 1740s with the addition of Dekabristov Street, its northern border. At the time when it was laid, it was called Ofitserskaya Street, and ran through the area where the Admiralty Board attendants lived. This area, called the Officers’ Settlement, was the namesake of the street until 1918, when it was renamed in honor of the Decemberist Movement. The buildings along this street range in origin from the 18th to 20th centuries, and tram lines were set into the street itself in the 1920s  (Nikitenko, Dekabiristov…). The street currently extends from Voznesensky Avenue to Pryazhka River Embankment.

Theater Square, taken from an 1844 map of St. Petersburg, highlighting added by Rachel Faith; http://www.bergbook.com/htdocs/Cache321.htm
Dekabristov Street
Dekabristov Street; taken by Rachel Faith, summer 2012
Dekabristov Street

The final additions to the area which defined it as a public square were those of the carousel and first theater it housed. The square, originally called Carousel Square, was laid in the 1760s, and throughout the 1760s and 70s was known best for the equestrian evens, called carousels, housed there in amphitheaters erected on the square. A small wooden structure was also built to house dramas and Italian operas. In 1783, the Bolshoi Kamenny Theater was built on the square by the architect А. Rinaldi at the current location of the Music Conservatory. The theater was run by the Russian imperial court company which is the origin of the company of the modern Mariinsky Theater, and which, along with other branches of the court theater, took its origins Empress Anna’s private Italian Company, which was meant for court entertainment. This new company, established in the same year as the Bolshoi Kamenny Theater, had ownership of Italian and French Opera troupes, a drama troupe, a ballet company, and an orchestra. The theater built on Carousel Square was intended to be one of their venues, in which dramas, comedies, and operas would be performed, and most importantly provided a space in which the court theater could carry out a new decree of Catherine II; in the same year as the founding of the Bolshoi Kamenny, Catherine declared that court troupes must preform a certain number of shows for the public each month. Places such as the Bolshoi Kamenny served as stages outside on the court upon which the imperial theater could preform for the masses (Porfiryeva, Kruzhnov). In the early 1800s, the square’s name officially changed from “Carousel” to “Theater” in honor of its new centerpiece.

During the same time, life on the borders of the square was developing as well. At the corner of Theater Square where Soyuza Pechatnikov Street and the Griboedov Canal meet, an important spot of political activity within the city began to develop: the Green Lamp Society met from 1819 to 1820 at number 8 Theater Square, right at the intersection of these two paths. Although structured and showcased as a literary society, the literature presented there had an interestingly political tone, specifically one to the tune of  anti-tsarism, and the society served as one of the roots of the Decemberist movement. Among its regular attendants were such literary figures as D. N. Barkov, F. N. Glinka, N. I. Gnedich, A. A. Delwig, P. P. Kaverin, Y. N. Tolstoy, S. P. Trubetskoy, A. D. Ulybyshev, and N. V. Vsevolozhsky, owner of the flat in which the meetings were held (Akhapkin). Such meetings were also held in number 109 on the Griboedov, which is not directly facing the square but falls within the perimeter created by the Giboedov Canal, and finally at 18 Theater Square, where the Kryukov intersects Soyuza Pechatnikov. It was at this address in January of 1820 that the members of  the Main Board of the Union of Workers (many of whom had previously been associated with the Green Lamp Society) made the decision to actively fight to achieve a republican government (Margolis, Decemberists). In spite of the fact that Theater Square had only been around for slightly more that 50 years, it was already becoming a place where important figures within literature and politics (albeit underground politics) were gathering and exchanging ideas. This atmosphere combines well with the tremendous meeting and conversing among theatrical and musical greats which was beginning to develop through the presence of a branch of the Imperial Theater company the Bolshoi Kamenny Theater.

Another important aspect of the life of the square was the Lithuanian Castle prison. Although it is no longer a part of the modern square’s scenery, having been burnt down in 1917 during the revolution, it was a long-time companion to the square, and contributed greatly to the kind of people who could be found in the area.  The prison was built from 1783 to 1787 under the architect I.E. Starov in the space which is currently ocupied by 27 and 29 Dekabristov Street. This building was originally used as a palace for various guard regiments; its name relates back to the regiment of Lithuanian musketeers who lived in the palace during the late 18th century. In 1823-24 it was rebuilt into a prison by I.I. Charlemagne, and received further reconstruction in 1883-84 under architect K.I. Reymers. During its time as a prison, the Lithuanian Castle held prisoners being punished for all sorts of crimes, form petty to violent and eventually including political in the second half of the 19th century(Margolis, Lithuanian…). These people, although imprisoned, were far from removed from the life of the city and the square. Prisoners would be taken out into the city during the day to work, and  some criminals convicted of less serious crimes would occasionally be granted day passes and allowed to leave the prison for a while. Due to the prison’s proximity to the square, these prisoners would have frequently traversed the square and its borders, becoming a regular fixture of the square’s scenery and atmosphere.

Looking at this engraving from 1815, one can get an idea of how the space was set up in its early days. The view comes from what would now approximately be the corner of Dekabristov and Glinka Street. One sees the Bolshoi Stone theater standing opposite a wide open space where the Mariinsky Theater would later be located, rows of buildings along Soyuza Pechatnikov Street, and the evidence of traffic along the area where Glinka Street currently lies, bisecting the square and leading towards St. Nicholas’ Cathedral (also visible in the background of the engraving).

Theater Square, engraving, 1815
Theater Square, engraving, 1815

Both in form and function, Theater Square appears a great deal more like a square in its earlier days. To begin with, it actually looks like a square; the open space in front of the Bolshoi Kamenny Theater is exactly the kind of space we imagine when someone talks about a public square. The only visible paths of non-pedestrian transportation appear to be  along the edges of the square on Dekabristov and Soyuza Pechatnikov, and directly in front of the theater in the area of the current Glinki Street, leaving the rest of the space across from the theater free for pedestrians to wander and gather. Before the construction of the theater, one can imagine how this pedestrian space would have been even larger. People at that time took advantage of such space; beyond the carousel and theatrical structure, the open area of the square was used for fetes, dancing, and music. This period of use presents a square that follows Camillo Sitte’s idea of the square as a place of practical public gathering and traffic, as a place of theater, festivities, ceremonies, and public presentations (Sitte). The expansiveness of the square, especially in the days when it housed the carousels, was help by the fact that it was at the time located at the edge of the city, and therefore was not so tightly bound in by large rows of buildings and busy streets. Even after the open-air venues were replaced by the more formal, enclosed Bolshoi Kamenny Theater, the vitality of public life in the square would hardly have been dimmed. One of the main purposes of this theater was to provide a venue in which the court theater could cater to the citizens of Saint Petersburg on a regular basis. The square and the streets on its edges probably received steady traffic of actors, theater staff, and viewers coming to and from shows and rehearsals, as well as the congregation on the open square which surely happened before and after shows. Additionally, the prisoners of the Lithuanian Castle would be consistant participants within the space of the square, moving about it and the paths around it as they went about their work and free time, and adding a grimy, slightly dangerous feel to literary minds the crowds of theater goers who used the space. The consistently public and open nature of the square and the entertainment which occurred on it would have kept the public actively involved in this space in a way which suits Sitte’s definition of a square in terms of social atmosphere while also preserving a structure which matches the universally held image of how a square should look.

The square took a defining turn in its structure in 1849, when the wooden Circus-Theater was built across from the Bolshoi Kameny by the architect Cavos. In keeping with the previous uses of the square, this building was meant for equestrian shows, but was also built in such a way that it could function as a theater. In 1859, the Circus-Theater burned down, and in its place Cavos built a new theater which was named “Mariinsky” in honor of Empress Maria Alexandrovna, wife of the current tsar, Nicholas II. The Mariinsky opened its stage with Glinka’s “A Life for the Tsar” in 1860, and within a few years was well on its way to becoming one of the greatest theaters in Russia. The troupe which had previously been playing in the Bolshoi Kameny was eventually moved over to the Mariinsky, where it remains to this day, and the Bolshoi Kameny was destroyed and rebuilt into the building currently used as the Conservatory (Mariinsky Theatre).

In terms of the rest of the square, the importance of the Mariinsky’s appearance lies not in the cultural and artistic greatness which it would come

The Mariinsky Theater, end of the 19th century; http://www.alexanderpalace.org/petersburg1900/45.html
The Mariinsky Theater, end of the 19th century

to represent, but its position opposite the Bolshoi Kamenny. When it took over the open area across from the other theater, it swallowed up a majority of the space that had been free to pedestrians and had put the “square” in Theater Square. The geometry of the space was completely disrupted; with the Mariinsky’s back directly on the Kryukov Canal, an entire side of the square was lost to pedestrian access, and one had to circumnavigate the Mariinsky in order to get from Soyuza Pechatnikov Street to Dekabristov Street, whereas one could have simply walked through the square before. The square took on more of a closed- in atmosphere, particularly in the small canyon between the Mariinsky and the Bolshoi Kamenny Theater,  and the open, pedestrian friendly space had been reduced to four miniature squares on the north and south sides of the theaters, separated by Glinki Street and bound in by the residential buildings and the back wings of the Mariinsky.

At this point, one could possibly still argue that this space was rightfully called a square. Although the area in which people could wander, gather, and interact was significantly smaller than before, such space still did exist, particularly on the south side of the square, where the longer wing of the Mariinsky is located. Even if the form of the square remained, though, the function had taken a significant hit. With two serious enclosed theaters on the square now, it was highly unlikely that the festivals, equestrian events, and public gatherings of past years would continue to occur on the square. With such large, prestigious performance venues right next to you, why bother putting your sets and actors out on the dirty street? Furthermore, the societal atmosphere which  these theaters would have promoted would not have been conducive to such activities. As the quality and prestige of the Mariinsky grew, it began to attract the strong and continued attention of the upper class, including the tsar and his closest relatives. Boxes in the theater became a much coveted possession, and eventually the only way to obtain such a seat was to have it already in the possession of a relative or friend, or go through the often unsuccessful process of filing a petition with Chancery of the Imperial Theatres (St. Petersburg 1900…). Going to the ballet, particularly in the Mariinsky, was now a fashionable hobby particularly valued in the upper-class; such a mind-set would only have been detrimental to the casual open-air theatrics which were once shown on Theater Square back in the days of the carousel. Although there still might have been space around the Mariinsky and Bolshoi Kamenny (soon to be Conservatory), it was no longer being used in the socially interactive sense of public gatherings and entertainment which Sitte describes as so crucial to the nature of a square.

Theater Square; taken by Rachel Faith, summer of 2012
The miniature park on the northern side of the Conservatory, looking down Dekabristov towards the Kryukov Canal

The final nail in the coffin would have been the conversion of the open space on either side of the Mariinsky into the parking area it is used as today, possibly occuring with carriages, but guaranteed with the proliferation of the automobile. With this, pedestrian area would become limited to the thin, narrow stretches on either side of the Conservatory, surrounded by wide busy streets. This is how the square appears today. Although those stretches are pleasant enough in their own small way, with intriguing  monuments of Glinka and Rimsky-Korsakov and several rows of trees, they are not places one would want to linger for lunch or a conversation with a friend; the noise and smell of the traffic pouring through the square (particularly on Glinka and Dekabristov Streets) make these small, greenish spaces good only for a gathering point before a show or a smoking break in between music classes.

So if Theater Square is no longer a square, what has it become? I would argue that it greater resembles a node, as defined by Lynch. He describes a node as “…strategic spots in a city which the observer can enter, and which are the intensive foci to and from which he is traveling. They may be primarily junctions, places of a break in transportation, a crossing or convergence of paths, moments of shift from one structure to another. Or nodes maybe simply concentrations, which gain their importance from being the condensation for some use or physical character,as a street-corner hangout or an enclosed square…Many nodes, of course, partake of the nature of both junctions and concentrations. The concept of the node is related to the concept of the path, since junctions are usually the convergence of paths…” (Lynch). This description fits the modern Theater Square beautifully.

First of all, “intensive foci” to and from which one travels is a phrase which embodies the current attractive nature of the square. Contained within this space are two of Russia’s greatest focal points of music, the theatrical arts, and education in such spheres. People come not only from all over the city and country, but from all over the world to Theater Square to experience what these places have to offer. This presents Theater Square in the sense of a concentration, a an extreme, high quality condensation of the arts in an area which is otherwise not an arts or theater district. Due to this concentrated nature and the way the paths around Theater Square very clearly define the borders of the space, the square also fits Lynch’s requirement in a physical and conceptual sense of being a spot into which an observer can enter.

Furthermore, Theater Square has very close links to the concept of paths, as Lynch says nodes often do, and while the square has always had a

Bus stop in front of the Mariinksy; taken by Rachel Faith, summer 2012
Bus stop in front of the Mariinksy; taken by Rachel Faith, summer 2012

relation to the paths running around and through it, that relationship now has become stronger and more important than ever. Although back in the 18th century one could get around the square by traveling along the paths of the streets an canals around the square or simply crossings the open space of the square, now that this pedestrian expanse is gone, people rely solely on the paths to make their way around the square. The paths that once formed the boundaries of the square are now its regions of freest movement. Furthermore, these converging paths give the square a junction aspect. Theater Square in this way can be seen as a vast intersection; as you come across the Kryukov on Dekabristov Street or take Glinki Street towards its bridge over the Moika and later the Neva, Theater Square is the place where you are called to look at your route and determine where you are going. Should you keep heading past the two towering buildings in the middle of the square and continue towards the Neva, or would it maybe be better to turn onto Soyuza Pechatnikov Street and then onto the one-way embankment on the Griboedov? This intersection of routes is further enforced by the bus stop in front of the theater, and would have had the same interaction with the tram track which once lay on Dekabristov Street. These transportation routes present the idea of a path in an even farther reaching sense than the streets on which they lay; the bus route may follow Glinki Street for a while, but it is greater than the confines of that street, winding through the city on different avenues and side streets before and after if follows Glinki. One could consider it’s overlap with Glinki Street a kind of intersection, coming together on top of Glinki Street while both the buss route and the street simultaneously intersect with Soyuza Pechatnikov, Dekabristov, and whichever routes of public transportation which might lie on top of them. All of these paths come together in the pulsing node and transportation junction that is Theater Square.

The question that remains is where the structure of the square will head in the future. Will it continue to be a node, or will it progress into something different? Would it ever be possible for the square to return to its original structure and function? In terms of the second question, I would say the answer is almost certainly no, the area will never truly be a square again. In order to physically achieve the state of the square, some building within or on the edge of the space would need to be destroyed. Due, however, to the extreme fame and cultural value of the Mariinsky and Conservatory, it is inconceivable that either of them would be purposely destroyed. Even if one were to stop functioning in its current manner, it would most likely be turned into a museum in honor of its historical legacy. As for the buildings on the edge of the square, their age (most of them originating in the 18th and 19th centuries) and the variety of important historical figures who have lived in them give them cultural value, making it unlikely that they would be destroyed simply to achieve more open space. When it comes to the uses which could define the space as a public square, the primary deterrent would be the extreme spacial limits. When compared to other, far more expansive public spaces such as the Palace Square in front of the Hermitage, the chance for Theater Square to come out on top in the choice of where to hold a major public event are virtually non-existent.

As to the question of the square’s future structure, it still remains difficult to say for sure what will happen. On one hand, it is plausible that Theater Square might permanently retain its function as a node. There is little doubt that the Mariinksy and Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory will remain world leaders in ballet, music, opera, and artistic education, and will attract crowds of visitors for many years to come. In this way, the square wouldn’t lose its power as focal point to  and from which people travel, and so long as this holds true, it is unlikely that the paths leading to, wrapping around, and intersecting on the square would be eliminated, causing the square to lose its status as a junction. In fact, it seems far more likely that more paths of various types will be added to the junction; in our interview with the Tom Farell, owner of the Shamrock Pub on Theater Square, he expressed the belief that sooner or later, the as of yet unfulfilled plans for building a metro station on or by the square would eventually come to fruition. The greatest doubt as to the square’s current form and function being enduring lies in the building of the Mariinsky’s second stage and the possible conflict this might cause with the square’s nature as a concentration. For many years, the Mariinsky and the Conservatory had existed as a small but intense island of the arts in their area of the city, bound in neatly by the paths which had always defined the edges of Theater Square. In 2006, however,  a new concert hall was built for the Mariinsky off of the square at 37 Dekabristov Street, and now the construction of the Mariinsky’s second stage on the west embankment of the Krykov, conceived in 2001, is due to be finished by the end of 2012. These tendrils of the Mariinsky stretching our into the surrounding area start to bring into question the strength and importance of the square as a single, compact place in both structure and cultural relevance, and cause one to wonder just how much physical growth might be in the Mariinsky’s future. If new halls and stages continued to develop throughout the neighborhood over the years, it’s possible that the node of Theater Square could diffuse into a larger, more general theater district. At the same time, though, the square could still remain a node by being the central, most potent embodiment of the greater district. Without a doubt, the growth of the Mariinsky will play an important role in how the space which we call Theater Square is defined and used, but the exact nature which definitions and uses will take on is still hard to predict.

 

Works Cited:

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Nikitenko. “Teatralnaya Square.” Saint Petersburg Encyclopedia. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. <http://www.encspb.ru/object/2804018933?dv=2853931022&lc=en>.

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Akhapkin, D. N. “Green Lamp, Literary and Political Society.” Saint Petersburg Encyclopaedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2012. <http://www.encspb.ru/object/2804028508?dv=2853931022>.

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Sitte, Camillo, and Charles T. Stewart. “Buildings, Monuments, and Public Squares.” The Art of Building Cities: City Building According to Its Artistic Fundamentals. New York, NY: Reinhold Pub., 1945. N. pag. Print.

Lynch, Kevin. “The City Image and Its Elements.” The Image of the City. Caimbridge, MA: MIT, 1960. N. pag. Print.

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“St. Petersburg 1900, Photo 45 Imperial Mariinsky Theatre of Ballet and Opera, a Petersburg Travelogue by Bob Atchison.” St. Petersburg 1900, Photo 45 Imperial Mariinsky Theatre of Ballet and Opera, a Petersburg Travelogue by Bob Atchison. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2012.