The area to the west of Nevsky prospekt between the River Fontanka in the north and Ligovsky prospekt in the south is a dense network of small streets and lanes dissected by a busy thoroughfare (Vladimirsky prospekt) and magnetized by the radiant, soaring church on Vladimirskaya ploshchad, whose domes can be glimpsed and clear-voiced chimes heard throughout the district.
This is the other end of Nevsky from the residences of the imperial family and court. It is down-to-earth, preoccupied with the struggle for daily survival, teeming with particularly Russian forms of life. Dostoevsky is its genius loci.
The original inhabitants were mostly tradesmen and service people, as the street names still bear witness.
Stremyannaya is ‘Stirrup Street’; Povarskoy pereulok, ‘Cook Lane’; Dmitrovsky pereulok was presumably inhabited by people called to the capital from the ancient city of Dmitrov, 70 km from Moscow; Kuznechny pereulok means ‘Blacksmith Lane’; ulitsa Dostoevskogo was originally Yamskaya or ‘Coachman Street’.
There is also Svechnoy pereulok (‘Candle Lane’), and there were ‘Table’ and ‘Tablecloth’ streets and a ‘Bread Lane’. Slightly later, from perhaps the middle of the 18th century onwards, the area became a natural home for the patriarchal merchant class. The latter supplied the city’s markets and formed the backbone of a close-knit religious, traditional community that was prosperous enough to support three busy religious centres (‘church’ is too modest a word to convey the scale of these establishments) within 500 metres of each other:
apart from the cathedral-like edifice on Vladimirskaya ploshchad’,
there were also large churches on the corners of Kuznechny pereulok and ulitsa Marata and of ulitsa Marata and ulitsa Stremyannaya, as well as podvorya (daughter churches belonging to out-of-town monasteries) at Fontanka 44 and on the corner of Raziezhaya and Marata. As the 19th century progressed, the area kept step with the times – brewing, distilling, imbibing, and spitting back out a powerful concentrate of contemporary problems.
In its decidedly non-aristocratic, semi-provincial streets patriarchal wealth and comfort lived side by side with extreme poverty.
Journalists, musicians, and writers – attracted by the cheap rents, but also, one imagines, by the intensity of life here - flocked to the district. The construction of the railway station on Znamenskaya ploshchad (now ploshchad Vosstaniya) added even more vigour, more colour to the mix: hotels, taverns, noise, dirt, disease, beggars, drunkards, fraudsters, entrepreneurs, patisseries and prostitutes.
Then, in the last third of the 19th century, came a wave of profit-driven development, as landowners rushed to expand vertically where they could not horizontally. Zagorodny prospekt and the second third of Nikolaevskaya ulitsa (now ulitsa Marata) soared skywards, turning into narrow canyons. A whole new street – called, presumably for want of time to think of a better name, exactly this, New Street (renamed Pushkinskaya in 1881) – was built between Nikolaevskaya ulitsa and Ligovsky prospekt. Parts of the neighbourhood became popular with the new middle classes.
Today the area retains much of its original character: alternately dozily quiet and rumbustiously noisy, glamorously smart and filthily dirty,
drunk at nine in the morning and soberly religious at all hours, equally rich in both crude vices and fine arts. The spirit of Dostoevsky is still very much alive.
There is a metro station (Mayakovskaya) on the corner of ulitsa Marata and Nevsky prospekt (5-8 minutes' walk). Dostoevskaya and Vladimirskaya stations are even closer, on Vladimirskaya,
the square with the big church (3-5 minutes' walk).
There is a currency exchange immediately opposite our guesthouse, at ul. Marata 23 (take the steps down into the basement).
There is a small supermarket just across the street from us, on the corner of ulitsa Marata and Kuznechny pereulok (open until 22.00), and another at ul. Marata, 7 (open all hours). A much larger selection of foods, including ready-made dishes, plus wines (expensive) and everything else that one might conceivably need, is to be found at the ‘Land’ (Лэнд) supermarket on Vladimirskaya ploshchad, which is also open throughout the night (Vladimirsky prospekt 19; entrance through the building’s main door; the supermarket is in the basement). There is a more moderately priced wine shop (Aromatny mir) at ul. Marata 13.
Don’t miss the shop of the Leningrad Porcelain Factory (LFZ) at Vladimirsky 7.
LFZ porcelain is almost as much part of the cultural fabric of this city as, say, the Winter Palace or the statue of Peter the Great. As well as traditional porcelain such as the handsome ‘Cobalt’ services, the factory also manufactures Malevich’s wonderful suprematist tea pot and cups (originally designed in 1918; see image above).
Our area has two smart new shopping centres: Galeriya at Ligovsky prospekt 42 and Stockmann at Nevsky prospect 116.
Kuznechny rynok (Kuznechny market) at Kuznechny pereulok 3 is the most spectacular – and most expensive – market of its kind in the city. Look out for heart-shaped tomatoes from Samarkand, red and black caviar sold by the kilogramme, many different varieties of aromatic honey, traditional Russian pickles and preserves, and thick yellow smetana (slightly soured cream) and tvorog (curds) from just outside St Petersburg at Gatchina.
The Dostovesky Museum at Kuznechny pereulok 5, the house where Dostovesky lived during the last years of his life, is well worth a short visit. The Museum of the Arctic and Antarctic, situated in the church in our courtyard, is one of those places in this city where time has simply stopped – in this case in the 1950s; this is a memorial, in fact, to that age’s faith in the power of science.
(Pushkin Street) is the next parallel street to the south of ulitsa Marata, and is so-called for the statue of Pushkin,
which stands in the small garden in its centre. This was a new street created where gardens and vegetable gardens had existed until almost the end of the 19th century, so the houses were all built at the same time, and most of them by just three architects (almost half of them by one man, the prolific Eclectic architect Pavel Syuzur) - which explains its extraordinary architectural unity.
Ulitsa Rubinshteyna (parallel to and just to the north of Vladimirsky prospekt) is packed with restaurants, bars, and cafes, offering food from every part of the world (except Russia itself).
None are outstanding. The best and most reliable are:
, Rubinsheyna 23,
Italian. Spacious and usually quite quiet. Good risotto.
(Фартук – means ‘Apron’ in Russian): a new restaurant opened in April 2011 by three young guys, who seem to do all the work themselves. Good atmosphere and very popular with the city’s young trendsetters. Food not brilliant, but reasonably low prices.
, Rubinshteyna 6
(Кэт), ul. Stremyannaya 22/3 (12-23.00)
A small family-run restaurant serving very tasty Georgian food.
For a fuller list of places to eat in St Petersburg, click here
For suggestions as to what to do in St Petersburg, click here
Help and additional services