Trailing Dostoevsky in St. Petersburg


A pocket-size book maps out places in St. Petersburg, the birthplace of Russian literature, indelibly linked to writers such as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, and Alexander Pushkin--and their most memorable creations.

Below we've reprinted a chapter from Elaine Blair's Literary St. Petersburg on Dostoevsky that includes the spectacular blue-domed cathedral where he married, the site of his mock execution, and the garret apartment that housed Raskolnikov, the protagonist of Crime and Punishment.


In the twenty-eight years that he lived in St. Petersburg, Dostoevsky moved twenty times and never spent more than three years in any one apartment. He preferred to live in buildings situated on corners—he liked intersections and multiple perspectives—and had two favorite neighborhoods where many of his former dwellings are concentrated: one is the area around Sennaya Ploschad (Haymarket Square), and the other is Vladmirskaya. They were both shabby neighborhoods, and Dostoevsky lived in them partly out of sheer financial necessity. But he was also fascinated by the street life in the rough parts of St. Petersburg, and he trailed people on the sidewalks and took careful notes on what he saw.

Sennaya Ploschad, or Haymarket Square, was the site of the city's haymarket in Dostoevsky's time, where peasants would come to sell hay and produce from the countryside. The square and the neighborhood around it were a crossroads for all manner of Petersburg's downtrodden. Taverns and brothels lined the streets around the square. Low-rent apartment buildings housed students, artisans, peddlers, small-time shopkeepers, clerks, servants, and prostitutes. A scene from Crime and Punishment describes an alley near Sennaya Ploschad full of shabbily dressed prostitutes calling out blandishments to men passing by in the street. "Some were over forty, but there were some younger than seventeen; almost every one of them had a black eye."

Today Sennaya Ploschad is still crowded and clamorous, but the commercial activity is somewhat more reputable, with a sleek mall and stands selling DVDs and fast food. The neighborhood around the square is dominated by stores and outdoor markets, including the giant Apraksin Dvor. The residential streets are narrow and treeless. In Soviet times the neighborhood contained some of the most crowded and poorly equipped communal apartments. There are still a small number of communal apartments left, some of which local government uses to house rehabilitated alcoholics and drug users from halfway houses.

Dostoevsky's Former Residences
Kaznacheyskaya Ulitsa, Nos. 1, 7, and 9
Metro: Sennaya Ploschad/Sadovaya

Dostoevsky lived in three different residences on Kaznacheyskaya Ulitsa in the 1860s: Nos. 1, 7, and 9. The street was then called Malaya Meschanskaya, or Petit Bourgeois street, a testament to the commercial activity that took place there. At No. 7, where Dostoevsky lived between August 1864 and January 1867, he finished Crime and Punishment and wrote The Gambler with the help of his stenographer (and soon-to-be second wife) Anna Snitkina.

Crime and Punishment is largely set in this neighborhood. Though Dostoevsky didn't spell out the full names of the streets, he described the streets and buildings very precisely. It's almost certain that Raskolnikov's garret apartment ("more like a cupboard than a room") was in the building at No. 5 or No. 9 Stolyarniy Pereulok. The saintly prostitute Sonya Marmeladov lived at either No. 63 or No. 73 on the Griboedov Canal Embankment. Raskolnikov's victim, the old lady pawnbroker, lived farther down Griboedov Canal Embankment at No. 104.

Scenes in The Idiot are also set near Sennaya Ploschad. Rogozhin, the rich merchant's son who befriends and then menaces Prince Myshkin, lives "on Gorokhovaya Street, not far from Sadovaya," in a "large, gloomy, three-storied house, devoid of architectural pretension, and of a dirty-green colour." It's in Rogozhin's house that Myshkin makes a pact with Rogozhin not to visit Nastasya Filipovna—a pact he eventually breaks, leading to her murder and to his own descent into dementia.

Vladimirskaya is a neighborhood named after the recently restored Vladimir Church. Across the street, at the intersection of Vladimirsky Prospect, Kuznechniy Pereulok, and Bolshaya Mosckovskaya Ulitsa, stands a statue of Dostoevsky. Vladimirsky Prospect, the neighborhood's main artery, is full of new stores and eateries, but the quiet sidestreets are mostly untouched by renovation and have some spectacularly decrepit-looking apartment buildings.

Dostoevsky's Former Residence
11 Vladmirsky Prospect
Metro: Vladmirskaya/Dostoevskaya

These were Dostoevsky's first lodgings after he left the military academy. He rented a single room in an apartment on the second floor, furnished only with an old sofa, some chairs, and a desk at which he wrote his first novel, Poor Folk.

Dostoevsky Memorial Museum
5/2 Kuznechny Pereulok, 011-7/812-311-4031
Metro: Vladimirskaya/Dostoevskaya
Daily 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; closed Monday and the last Wednesday of each month

The museum is in Dostoevsky's last apartment, where he lived with Anna and their two children from October 1878 until his death two and a half years later. The couple's third child, Alexei, had died of an epileptic seizure in the spring of 1878, and they moved into this apartment largely to escape the difficult memories associated with their previous home. The building is the original one in which the Dostoevskys lived, but the apartment had not been preserved. It was later restored based on photos, drawings, and the many documents that Anna painstakingly saved after Dostoevsky's death. A few original items do remain: Dostoevsky's hat, for instance, and a tobacco box on which his daughter had written "January 28, 1881—Papa died."

Semyonovskiy Plats
Zagorodny Prospect, between Zvenigorodskaya Ulitsa and Podyezdnoi Pereulok
Metro: Tekhnologichesky Institut

Now a quiet park called Pionerskaya Ploschad, this square was the site of Dostoevsky's mock execution. He and other members of the Petrashevksy circle were sentenced to death for treason and brought here to be shot before the assembled crowd. The first three prisoners were tied to a stake and blindfolded. Just before the firing squad fired their shots a messenger announced that Tsar Nicholas I had commuted their sentence to hard labor—the fake execution proceedings had been an elaborate form of torture dreamed up by the tsar to punish the prisoners. Dostoevsky spent four years doing hard labor at a work camp in the Siberian city of Omsk, and several more years in compulsory military service.

Trinity Cathedral
Troistky Prospect at the corner of Izmailovsky Prospect
Metro: Tekhnologichesky Institut

Not to be confused with the Trinity Cathedral inside the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, this church with spectacular blue domes is where Dostoevsky married Anna Snitkina. Like many Orthodox Churches, it was shut down under Stalin's reign and did not open again until perestroika.


Mikhailovsky Castle (Engineers' Castle)
2 Sadovaya Ulitsa, 011-7/812-210-4173
Metro: Nevsky Prospect/Gostiny Dvor
Daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; closed Tuesdays

This palace was built at the end of the eighteenth century by Tsar Paul I, who was so afraid of assassination plots that he dug a moat around the palace to hold back intruders. He felt so safe in this castle, however, that he dismissed most of his armed guards. In March 1801, only forty days after he moved into the supposedly impregnable new home, a group of government conspirators broke into the castle and strangled him. The castle later became an engineering school. Dostoevsky enrolled at the age of sixteen and lived between 1838 and 1841 in the building dormitory, where students liked to tell stories of Paul's ghost haunting the castle. Today the castle is part of the Russian Museum and contains a portrait gallery and temporary exhibition rooms.

Dostoevsky's Former Residence
8 Voznesensky Prospect (at the corner of Malaya Morskaya)
Metro: Nevsky Prospect/Gostiny Dvor

Dostoevsky was sleeping in his apartment here on April 23, 1849, when he was awakened by a dreaded knock at the door: the police had come to arrest him for participating in the dissident social group called the Petrashevsky circle. The writer had lived at this address for two years before his arrest, during which time he wrote "White Nights," his most romantic and bittersweet Petersburg story.


Peter and Paul Fortress
Metro: Gorkovskaya
Hours: Monday and Thursday-Sunday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Tuesday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; closed Wednesday; grounds remain open daily until midnight

The fortress was the first building erected in the city. Peter the Great converted part of the complex into a political prison soon after it was built, and its brutal conditions were infamous by the time Dostoevsky was brought here in 1849. For eight months he lived in a cell in the Secret House, a special high-security area within a building called the Alexeevsky Ravelin (also called the Alexis Ravelin), reserved for political prisoners that the tsar considered most threatening.

The Soviets turned the fortress complex into a museum, and several different exhibits, as well as the Peter and Paul Cathedral, are contained within its walls. The original Alexeevsky Ravelin was demolished in 1884, and a building containing administrative offices now stands in its place, still identified on maps as the Alexeevsky Ravelin. Visitors who want a taste of prison life, however, can tour the Trubetskoy Bastion, another tsarist-era jail.

Reprinted from Literary St. Petersburg: A Guide to the City and its Writers by Elaine Blair, courtesy of The Little Bookroom (, $16.95.

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