view of columns of Kazan Cathedral, St Petersburg

THE OTHER

St P

Where to stay?

architectural detail of house at Kazanskaya 18, St Petersburg
Kazanskaya 18
(or: why there are so many columns on the streets of St Petersburg)


House of Varvarin, house of Shuppe
Architect unknown
1802-1810s

Kazanskaya is one of the few streets in St Petersburg that is not absolutely straight. More than that, it actually kinks quite abruptly, as if realizing that it has set out in the wrong direction and then immediately realigning itself once and for all, with true Petersburg precision, with its actual destination. At this point in its progress its path is punctuated by the eight Ionian columns of house No. 18. The latter building is itself unremarkable, especially when seen from its other side (overlooking kanal Griboedova), where it presents a long facade pierced by almost endless rows of windows and topped by a mechanically tacked-on pediment; but the columns on ul. Kazanskaya are something refreshing. Closing off the view of Kazanskaya from Nevsky prospekt, they add variety to the urban landscape.

view of columns on the Admiralty tower, St Petersburg
Astolphe, Marquis de Custine, who visited St Petersburg in 1839, sardonically remarked that on this city’s streets you’re more likely to meet columns than people. His view was that St Petersburg’s Classical architecture is misplaced: forms that work beautifully under Mediterranean skies are absurd when recreated out of wood and stucco among the snows of the north. But in fact there is something very natural about Petersburg’s columns. In the sparse northern light their slender shafts, encountered lining an urban clearing (square), standing in small copses on a river bank, in the thick forest flanking Kazan Cathedral (see image left) or, for instance, in the splendid grove high up on the Admiralty tower, glimmer comfortingly through the gloom. Their tapering whiteness calls up familiar associations. They are the ghosts of the trees that once stood on this spot, stucco allusions to the birches that give the Russian landscape its distinctive character.

Russian landscape: birch trees