December 26, 2018

Get Thee to Kolomna

Get Thee to Kolomna
Along Griboyedova Canal Elena Bobrova

Many European cities have a “tourism problem”: when the historic city center becomes flooded with travelers, locals flee, pushed out by crowds and higher rents. St. Petersburg has certainly not been spared, as one notices when strolling down Nevsky Prospect and nearby side streets. Most all of the beautiful buildings are filled with shops, restaurants, bars, offices, and universities, but very few people live there.

So, if you want to see the majestic, historic side of St. Petersburg, yet experience an area where people actually live, you should head to Kolomna.

Nestled between the Mariinsky Theatre and the Neva River, Kolomna (not to be confused with the town of Kolomna) is a quaint, quiet part of town where the city center's many canals converge. It may also be the city’s most multicultural district, as it has the Asian Sennoy Market, Orthodox Naval Cathedral, Catholic and Lutheran churches and a synagogue, built in the Mauritian style. Originally populated by mariners, artisans, merchants and poorer members of the gentry, it later became a bohemian area, when, in the second half of the nineteenth century, both the St. Petersburg Conservatory and the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre were built there.

In 1835, Nikolai Gogol wrote,

Тут всё непохоже на другие части Петербурга; тут не столица и не провинция; кажется, слышишь, перейдя в коломенские улицы, как оставляют тебя всякие молодые желанья и порывы. Сюда не заходит будущее, здесь всё тишина и отставка, всё, что осело от столичного движенья"

“Everything here is unlike other parts of Petersburg; here is neither the capital, nor the provinces; listen, it is as if, walking down Kolomna streets, all of your youthful desires and impulses depart. The future does not enter here, here all is silence and resignation, all that has settled to the bottom as a result of the capital’s movement.”

Surprisingly even today you can get a sense of what Gogol was talking about, mainly because Kolomna is rather far from the subway lines.

Start your walk from the Sadovaya or Sennaya Ploshchad metro stations.

Visit Sennoy Market first. Originally located on Sennaya Square (сено is hay in Russian) it was once the city’s filthy underbelly. Vividly described in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment it was also the capital’s largest and least expensive food market. Today, what is left of the market is tucked away between houses 4 and 6 on Moskovsky Prospect. It has an open-air section and the indoor market renovated in 1998. Go inside and you will see where locals buy their fresh fruits, vegetables, fish and meat. Don’t skip the honey stand and “soleniya” (preserved) section, to get a few pickled cucumbers, tomatoes, garlic and cabbage. But be careful. If you don’t speak Russian, some sellers are likely to give you a “foreign price.”

Sennaya Ploshchad in 1830

Sennaya Ploshchad in 1830

Cross the square and turn left on Griboedov Canal. Stop on Kokushkin Bridge and look down Stolyarny Lane. This is where Raskolnikov, the main character in Crime and Punishment, lived and plotted his grisly murder. During Dostoyevsky’s time, this was one of the capital’s seediest spots, as 16 buildings on Stolyarny contained 18 drinking establishments. Today it is a quiet street with the first class Russian restaurant, Severyanin.

Kokushkin Bridge

Kokushkin Bridge and Stolyarny Lane | Elena Bobrova

Walk along the canal towards Lions Bridge – a rare example of a pedestrian suspended bridge. Dating to 1826, it is one of the most romantic places in St. Petersburg; you can often see artists sketching here. The elegant design was so appreciated by contemporaries that a small replica was installed in Berlin’s Tiergarten Park in 1838. In 2017, the actor Keanu Reeves filmed a scene from the 2018 film Siberia there and was  spotted by excited locals, who shared their impressions on social media.

When you reach the St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral and Nikolsky Market, you will finally be in Kolomna. The district consists of five islands located between the Fontanka, Moika and Neva Rivers and two canals: Kryukov and Novo-Admiralteysky. The most emblematic spot is Semimostye, where if you stand just so, you can see seven bridges at once (you should have Pikalov Bridge on your left and Staro-Nikolsky Bridge on your right). Russians are superstitious, so tour guides always suggest making a wish at this lucky spot.

From here, any waterway you follow will offer up discoveries. If you head north along Kryukov Canal, you will get to the old and new buildings of the Mariinsky Theater. Enjoy the stunning view of St. Nicholas Belfry and the Colonel Vege House, built in the Renaissance style (it will attract your attention with a black façade that is unusual for this city, and sculptures of Atlases). If you would like to rub shoulders with local artists, grab a coffee in Romeo's Bar & Kitchen or the Lendoc Film Studio. At the end of the canal you will see New Holland – a former shipyard that has been transformed into a fashionable urban park. It is perhaps the best place to rest your senses from an overload of classical architecture, while watch locals enjoy their free time with family and friends.

Another route from Semimostye proceeds along Griboyedov Canal. There are no special sights there except from the former Estonian church of St. Isidor, but you can simply enjoy the views of the water and the historic architecture. Make a stop near house #174 on the canal. This cute, two-story house with a mezzanine is rather rare for imperial St. Petersburg. And despite what the memorial plague says about Alexander Pushkin, there is no reason to believe that the famous poet ever lived here. But he did live in another house in the district and even wrote a humorous poem, “A House in Kolomna” (and made into a 1913 movie).

Continue to Repin Square and step onto Galerny Island – mostly occupied by Admiralty wharfs. During the summer the place is frequented by bikers and fisherman. Check out the Fontanka and St. Petersburg “Iron house”, which may remind one of New York’s triangular Flatiron building. Then Move towards Trinity Cathedral (you can’t miss its blue dome with golden stars) and go to the top of the Azimut Hotel, where you can get the best bird’s eye view of Kolomna.


The view of Trinity Cathedral from the Azimut Hotel | Mikhail Mordasov, as part of the Spine of Russia project

Trinity Cathedral St. Petersburg, by Mikhail Mordasov


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