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Dostoevsky's Saint Petersburg

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky
Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky painted into his St. Petersburg

From Mihailovsky Castle, where Fyodor Dostoevsky studied, the house, where he lived and created his immortal works, to the houses of his characters, where he wandered in search of inspiration, and the statue which immortalized him after his death – all of these places define the face of the city that offered poetic intoxication to him.

Today we rightfully call this great Russian city “Dostoevsky’s Saint-Petersburg”. It is that otherworldly place in former Russian capital where days are gray and winds are bitingly cold; angels of death hide in narrow staircases and true love can emerge in smelly salons. Let us have a walk and trace palpable lines on the body of the city, as we drift deeper and deeper into the mystery.

Vladimirskaya Church (Public Domain)

First there is Vladimirsky prospect, 11 – it is here that Fyodor Dostoevsky became an acclaimed writer after critic Grigorovich and writer Nekrasov had read his first novel “Poor people”. During the Soviet times the house was to be brought down due to a serious crack, but it wasn’t meant to be. The inhabitants of the house committed themselves to save the place where Dostoevsky became famous.

The building housing the Dostoevsky Apartment-Museum

During his 28 years in Saint-Petersburg, Fyodor Dostoevsky moved 20 times. Long sojourns led him to settle in what would be his last address, in Kuznechny Pereulok 5/2. The choice the house was determined by writer’s life-long obsession with street intersections. From the windows of his apartment, images of heterogeneous street life were always on display: churches, bazaars, carriages harnessed with horses, and all kinds of people with their tumultuous past written on their faces. It is here that he ponders on what he retained the most important question of his life – the faith in God. The neighborhood itself subtly suggests his last work “The Brothers Karamazov”. The novel would be written here on the intersection of life dramas, in the house that kindly adopted him. (Today the apartment is turned into Dostoevsky Memorial Museum; admission fee: 200 rubles)

Mikailovsky Castle

And in the map of every city there is always that one place that defines us. To Dostoevsky it was Mikailovsky Castle. The writer lived here from 1838 to 1843 as a cadet of the Main Engineering School of Russian Army. Built as a royal residence for Emperor Paul I, the castle embraced his assassination only 40 nights after he moved into his newly built home. After Paul’s death, the castle remained abandoned until 1823 when it was given to the Main Engineering School of Russian Army. It was there and then that Dostoevsky felt surrounded by the irresolvable enigma of the city and started writing.

Raskolnikov House (Courtesy St. Petersburg.com)

An admirer of Pushkin’s poetry, Dostoevsky is seduced with a promise of romance. He arrives in Saint-Petersburg in 1837 as an impressionable 16 year old who had just lost his mother. The romance of the white nights is poisoned with the after-taste of death. That’s the city he would paint in his famous “The Crime and the Punishment”: cold, gray and merciless to the destiny of a “small person”. Such as Rodion Raskolnikov, a student who kills an old lady to test himself. Enfolded by oppressive courtyards and dark staircases and low ceilings, Raskolnikov lives in Stolyarny, 5, in a room that looked like a coffin.

Griboyedov Canal

Breeding intentions of murdering the old lady, Raskolnikov makes several visits to her rather peculiar house, better known as "the iron" on Griboedov canal, 104 (it took exactly 730 steps to get there from his house). Having made it to the last floor of the building, you might feel slightly carried higher and higher. Imagine this dark and oppressive staircase in the light of lampshades. The house promises a whole range of emotions preceding the famous assassination in "the Crime and the Punishment". Even if you haven't read the novel, you still can embrace the overpowering feelings of despair.

Sennaya Square in the day

Explore the area of the Sennaya Square, which is frequently present in all Dostoevsky's novels. It is here that Raskolnikov finally decided to kill the old lady and Prince Myshkin ("The Idiot") changed his silver cross for a tin one.

Dostoevsky Hotel

Continuing your encounter with the famous writer, you might dine or lodge in a newly renovated Hotel Dostoevsky in Vladimirsky prospect, 19. Placed in "Dostoevsky's Saint-Petersburg", the hotel draws in the atmosphere of the neighbourhood and leaves you inspired by the furnishings and excellent food.

And concluding your visit, take a walk around the central part of the city and get lost. Old buildings with new facades, famous canals, enfolding every street and the palpable sense of the city as a living object will allow you to dive into the beautiful mystery that inspired the greatest Russian writer.

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