view of the Church of the Resurrecton of Christ (demolished in 1932) on Kulibina Square, St Petersburg

THE OTHER

St P

Where to stay?

Kulibina Square

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 soul to be seen; 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 dropped considerably.

Gogol, The Overcoat , 1842

old photograph of the church on Kulibina Square, St Petersburg
There is a strong likelihood that it was Kulibina ploshchad 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 new overcoat of which he had only that day taken possession. At that time, like today, this piece of land had no church standing on it (the Church of the Resurrection of Christ was built in 1847-59 and demolished in 1932). It was, in fact, not so much a properly formed urban square as a wasteland, an ugly hole torn in the fabric of the city’s streets (until the middle of the 19th century it was known as ‘Goats’ bog’). 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.

Kulibina Square in St Petersburg as it is todayKulibina Square today

illustration to Gogol's The Overcoat Boris Kustodiev:illustration for Gogol's The Overcoat, 1905