(Image: Mid-19th century, residential housing.)
Often called the Venice of the North, St. Petersburg is situated on forty-two islands, crisscrossed by sixty-eight rivers and canals and spanned by hundreds of bridges. The Griboedov Canal flows through one of the city’s most fascinating historical districts, frequently referred to as Dostoevsky’s St. Petersburg. The famous writer Fedor Dostoevsky (1821-1881) lived here in several locations for many years. St. Petersburg became the setting for many of his novels—a romantic backdrop as well as an intriguing presence wrapped in its own myths.
In the mid-nineteenth century, the area around Sennaia (Haymarket) Square was one of the busiest trading quarters of the city. Tenement houses for the moneyed and the needy, shops, pubs, warehouses, stables, small factories and cheap eateries were teeming with people of diverse backgrounds and means. Passing through the crowded streets of the Sennaia, Dostoevsky captured his future characters—the starving and rebellious students, poor city girls, cynical aristocrats and saint-like epileptics walking along the granite-clad canals of the great city. “St. Petersburg is the most abstract and invented city in the world,” Dostoevsky famously said.