Soon there stretched before him those deserted streets which even during the day are not so cheerful, and all the more so when evening falls. Now they were even more out-of-the-way and even more isolated: the flickering of the lamps grew less frequent (evidently, less oil was assigned for this purpose); buildings of stone gave way to wooden houses and fences; and not a ?; only the snow glistened in the streets, and the low hovels, asleep with their closed shutters, spread a gloomy blackness. He approached the place where the street was intersected by an endless square. The houses on its other side were almost impossible to make out, and the square itself looked like a terrifying wasteland.
In the distance, God knows where, a light flickered in a hut, which seemed to be standing at the end of the world. At this point Akaky Akakievich’s high spirits sank considerably.
Nikolay Gogol, The Overcoat, 1842
There is a strong likelihood that it was Kulibin Square Nikolay Gogol had in mind when he dispatched Akaky Akakievich over the ‘endless’ ‘sea’ on which he was then robbed of his pride and joy, the overcoat of which he had only that day taken possession.
Such squares were, I think we may say, a distinctive feature of early St Petersburg. At any rate, Astolphe de Custine, who visited the city in 1839, wrote disparagingly of ‘squares decorated with columns that are lost among the deserted spaces that surround them’. Built in a rush to cover as much ground as possible, St Petersburg had bitten off more space than it could properly digest; it was only later, mainly during the course of the last two thirds of the 19th century, that these holes in the city’s fabric were gradually filled in and embroidered.