Non-tourist Petersburg: a guide to the underground places of the Northern capital

DRuzy, have you ever walked through St. Petersburg courtyards? Have you caught the reflections of mosaic stained glass windows in ancient front doors? Have you looked at the pseudo-Gothic turrets on the roofs of apartment buildings? If not, then you have lost a lot. Because the real St. Petersburg is not in guidebooks or on tourist routes. It is in the details, in unexpected angles, in the combination of the pathos of palace facades and the bohemian atmosphere of art spaces. Now I will try to draw you a portrait of underground St. Petersburg - the way the locals know and love it.

First, let's take a look at one of the most luxurious parade grounds of the city on the Neva - in apartment building of the Rossiya insurance company on Bolshaya Morskaya 35. Just look at this complex of mosaic stained glass windows! Here you can find harsh Scandinavian landscapes, scenes from ancient myths, and even the battle of the thunder god Thor with the Midgard Serpent. And all this in one entrance! The stained glass windows were made in 1909 according to the sketches of the artist Nicholas Roerich, who decided in such an ironic way to convince the residents of the house to insure themselves in case of the end of the world. Pretty creative, huh?

Apartment building of an insurance company Russia

Do you want to visit the courtyard where the mystic and esotericist Nicholas Roerich himself once lived? Then you should 4th line of Vasilyevsky Island, 5. Locals call this gloomy courtyard-well “courtyard of spirits” and they claim that the spirit of the great occultist is still invisibly present here. They say that if you stand in the center of the courtyard and ask correctly, your most cherished wish will certainly come true. The main thing is not to tell anyone afterwards, otherwise it won’t work. Real, mystical, and only...

Courtyard of Spirits on Vasilyevsky Island

By the way, if you have reached St. Petersburg for the first time in your life, oddly enough, I recommend starting your excursion epic with one of the sightseeing tours of the Northern Capital. This approach, in my opinion, will allow us to prepare for a better perception of the most interesting places in the city in the future. You can easily choose the option that suits you at spb ticket, which will offer exactly what you need.

Okay, let's get back to the architectural delights. Have you ever seen a temple that looks like an alien spaceship? No? Then welcome to Church of the Holy Trinity on the Obvodny Canal, popularly affectionately nicknamed “Kulich and Easter”. Isn't that a cute name? And the shape of the building is truly extraordinary: an octagonal lower tier (this is “Kulich”), a rotunda with a rounded roof (this is “Easter”) and a sharp spire pointing into the sky. The author of the project, architect Nikolai Lvov, wanted to symbolically depict the idea of ascent from the earthly to the heavenly. How do you like this architectural metaphor?

Kulich and Easter

Well, how do you like this architectural curiosity - Church "Ark" in the village of Pontonny on the outskirts of St. Petersburg? When I first saw it, I didn’t even immediately understand that it was an Orthodox church. It looks very unusual: a mushroom-shaped dome, streamlined shapes, a complete absence of traditional decor. It more closely resembles an alien spaceship or the houses of fairy-tale creatures than a religious building.

It turned out that the author of the project, architect Igor Shmelev, specifically conceived the “Ark” as an example of new church architecture of the 21st century. He took as a basis not canons and traditions, but modern design solutions and technologies. Thus, the massive base of the church is stylized as the bottom of the ark, and the ribbed vault symbolizes its lining. It is noteworthy that pontoons left over from the Okhtinsky gunpowder plant were used as building material. This is how the industrial heritage of the Soviet era formed the basis of an ultra-modern sacred object.

Ark Church

Let's move on to industrial locations transformed into fashionable creative spaces. For example, New Holland is a former naval prison, and now an island of freedom for hipsters and other advanced audiences. Here you will find designer clothing stores, conceptual cafes, and open-air contemporary art exhibitions. And in winter, right in the center of the island, the largest natural ice skating rink in the city is opened. Definitely romance...

New Holland

Another example of creative rethinking of industrial zones is art cluster “Red Triangle” on the site of a former rubber products factory. Here, right in the workshops, there are lofts, showrooms, galleries and music clubs. In the evenings, the territory of the “Triangle” is in full swing with a vibrant bohemian life: either a concert of independent rock bands, or an exhibition of avant-garde artists, or a street food festival. The main thing is to be on time everywhere.

Red triangle

Well, and in continuation - a couple of eccentric museum spaces, without which the portrait of alternative St. Petersburg would be incomplete. First - Museum of Soviet slot machines. Here you will plunge headlong into the nostalgic atmosphere of the USSR era with its simple, but so attractive entertainment. Do you want to play Battleship, drink a soda from the machine, or play table hockey? All this is quite real! The museum contains a unique collection of working slot machines from the 70s and 80s. It feels like you've returned to childhood.

Museum of Soviet slot machines

But in Museum of Untruth on Pravda Street (sounds like an oxymoron, right?) A real surreal attraction awaits you. Here you will be invited to believe in world conspiracy theories, admire portraits of the city's crazy people and immerse yourself in an alternative history where everything is topsy-turvy. It turns out that Hitler was a peacemaker, Lenin was an agent of the imperialists, and the Americans never landed on the moon. In general, complete fakes and conspiracy theories. The creators of the museum claim that they wanted to teach people to think critically and distinguish truth from fiction. Well, well, let's take his word for it.

Museum of Untruth

In fact, the inhabitants of the St. Petersburg “bottom” - holy fools, sectarians, criminal elements - are the favorite characters of classical Russian literature. Just remember Raskolnikov, Marmeladov or Prince Myshkin. So the idea of a museum is not that original. But it is presented, it must be admitted, with imagination and drive.

Witch's suitcase

And in St. Petersburg there is an absolutely amazing social project - Theater "Uppsala Circus". Its artists are difficult teenagers who are trained by professional teachers, directors and clowns. On the Uppsala stage, the guys turn their complexes and fears into art, talking about painful issues in the language of circus and street performance. It turns out sharp, daring and extremely frank.

Uppsala Circus Theater

The play “Semyanyuki”, created by the teenagers themselves, is especially popular among viewers. This is such an evil satire on modern society with its total absurdity and simulacra. The characters speak street slang mixed with quotes from Russian classics, sing rap, perform magic tricks - in general, they display the entire range of boy theater techniques.

Some may find the performance too provocative and marginal. But let’s be honest: weren’t the Russian avant-garde and the Soviet underground recruited from such asocial elements at one time? The art of rebellion is our national tradition, after all.

So, friends, I seem to have gotten carried away and painted an overly mosaic and motley picture of St. Petersburg bohemian life. Don’t judge harshly, I just wanted to inspire you to make your own discoveries. Believe me, in St. Petersburg, in addition to Palace Square and the Bronze Horseman Wow, so many interesting things! You just need to be able to look, listen and be surprised. So throw tourist guidebooks aside and boldly turn off the beaten path into gateways and courtyards. Wander around, look around, engage in conversations with local weirdos.

And then, lo and behold, the brilliant and mysterious Peter will reveal to you some of his little secrets. This is the advice from a local resident and your humble servant. Explore, enjoy, be inspired! And may the muse of adventure and curiosity be with you. Good luck!

Instead of a conclusion

In the process of writing this text, I suddenly caught myself thinking that I miss good old St. Petersburg with its bohemian salons, drunken poets, and extravagant artists. For those already nostalgic 90s, when the city was rapidly impoverished and destroyed before our eyes, but was young, daring and recklessly talented. It may seem strange, but it was then that it seemed real, not ceremonial, not touristy, but alive and real.

Now everything is different. The historical center is polished and restored, cultural life is in full swing, and the cute word “hipsters” has come into fashion. This is wonderful, of course. But let’s be honest: without the underground, without some bohemian “dirt” and eccentricities, St. Petersburg is not the same. He no longer has the freedom and courage that he had in perestroika times. You ask, is it possible to bring back the spirit of that dashing and reckless city?

I don't know, honestly. Perhaps we need a new generation with a different vision and psychedelic experience. We need some crazy geniuses like Kuryokhin, the ever-living Tsoi, or the now disreputable Grebenshchikov, who are capable of turning the cultural paradigm around. We need a reboot of meanings, a total breakdown of customary aesthetic norms. Is this possible in the era of hype and endless news feeds? Not sure. However, this is a topic for a separate big conversation.

In the meantime, let's appreciate what we have. Despite total gentrification and the spread of format establishments, there are still authentic places and people in St. Petersburg who keep the city code. They exist, as it were, in a parallel reality, not really trying to stick out themselves and fit into the current agenda. But it seems to me that the future lies with them. Because only in the underground today can one find fresh meanings and images.

So let's believe in the transformative power of marginal art. And continue to look for new facets and manifestations of the eccentric St. Petersburg spirit. It hasn’t gone away, it’s just somewhat mimicked modern realities. But in essence it remained the same - mysterious, alluring and endlessly attractive. After all, it was not for nothing that Alexander Blok wrote about St. Petersburg: “It is a goal, it is a myth, as before. It doesn’t matter when. He is eternal in the darkness."

So it turns out that the main thrill is not so much discovering new fashionable places, but seeing reflections of a bygone era in the familiar landscape. Feel the flair of legends in the damp air of narrow alleys. Catching glimpses of the past on peeling facades. Here it is - genuine St. Petersburg magic from, which you will not find in any guidebook.

Take a closer look at the details - and perhaps the brilliant Peter will one day wink at you with a sly smile. Like your own, like a local. After all, he knows how to be supportive of those who are sincere in their love for him. Go for it!

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