Grigori Rasputin is arguably the most infamous figure in Russian history. His controversial reputation as healer, adviser and friend to the last family of Imperial Russia has followed him through the last century, thanks in no small part to the mystery surrounding his death. And what a mystery it is. After Rasputin made more than a few enemies in those believing he held far too much influence over Emperor Nicholas II and his family, suspicious Prince Felix Yusupov decided to take matters into his own hands. The only real known fact that survives of Rasputin’s death is that he died from three bullet wounds, but Yusupov’s account of the evening has passed into legend. He told of three attempts to kill Rasputin, first by poison, then by gunshot, and finally by drowning. Visitors to Yusupov Palace (or Moika Palace) can even book a special audio tour which puts you in the footsteps of Prince Felix himself.
Mikhailovsky Castle (or St Michael’s Castle) is located just 15 minutes’ walk from Corinthia St Petersburg, its beautiful architecture belying a rather grisly assassination. The tense and turbulent reign of Paul I came to an end there in 1801, after a life spent in power struggles with his mother, Catherine the Great, and his own court when he became Emperor. His reputation for pomp and show, and his granting of greater rights to peasants, left him extremely unpopular with the military and nobility, and he was unceremoniously killed in his own palace.
The short story “Nevsky Prospekt” by Nikolay Gogol was published in 1835, weaving a mysterious tale around St Petersburg’s main thoroughfare, where Corinthia St Petersburg is located. The work is intriguing in itself from both a literary and historic perspective, following two characters from Nevsky Prospect into various romantic misadventures, with one meeting a particularly bleak end. As you step out on to the bustling modern street, it’s worth keeping Gogol’s closing words in mind: "Nevsky Prospekt deceives at all hours of the day, but the worst time of all is at night... when the devil himself is abroad, kindling the street-lamps with one purpose only: to show everything in a false light."
The monument to Nikolay Gogol is located at the crossroads of Nevsky Prospect and Malaya Konushennaya Street
A short ten-minute stroll from Corinthia St Petersburg will take you to the Dostoevsky Museum, the perfect place to take stock of the city’s most immortal and mysterious locations. The museum is on the site where Dostoevsky wrote The Brothers Karamazov, and inside there is a replica of his study which even contains a clock stopped a the time of his death. The location overlooks Sennaya Square, notable for its feature in Crime and Punishment – inside the mind of the writer, indeed.
The mysteries of Egypt came to St Petersburg in 1832 in the form of two sphinxes. How they got so far from home is a tale of Pharaohs, revolution and bureaucracy gone wrong. In 1830, the Russian ambassador proposed buying the artefacts but Nicholas I deemed them an unnecessary purchase, and they were sold to France in the meantime. The French revolution provided the opportunity for Russia to acquire the sphinxes, and they remain the northernmost example of ancient Egyptian sphinxes. Well worth a look, if only for the incongruity with their surroundings.
During the Soviet era, St Petersburg was at the crux of an underground music scene, which started in the 1960s before gaining legitimacy in the 1980s. An essential part of Russian culture, the movement represented defiance of the one and only state-sanctioned record label. Learn more about this melodious rebellion at the Art Center*.
*temporarily closed due to social distancing restrictions
Murder, intrigue, crime and punishment… St Petersburg has it all. Those fascinated by the more ghoulish side of history will love these significant spots from fiction, and real life.