Ploshchad Ostrovskogo (Ostrovsky Square)

Although the elaborate plan of Italian architect Carlo Rossi to create a large urban area between Anichkov Palace and the Imperial Public Library (now the Russian National Library) was never fully realized, Ploshchad Ostrovskogo nevertheless turned out to be one of the more interesting built environments in St. Petersburg. Ploshchad Ostrovskogo is the centre of a grand compositional ensemble connecting Nevsky Prospekt and the Fontanka River Embankment that includes the Catherine Gardens, the Alexandrinsky Theatre, Ulitsa Zodchego Rossi and Ploshchad Lomonosova.

View of Ploshchad Ostrovskogo (Ostrovsky Square) from the roof of the Alexandrinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, Russia
View of Ploshchad Ostrovskogo (Ostrovsky Square) from the roof of the Alexandrinsky Theatre

In the middle of the 18th century the vast Anichkov Palace, with its garden, fountains, and ponds, covered all the territory from the Fontanka River to Sadovaya Ulitsa. In 1818, the estate was re-planned resulting in a space between the newly-constructed Public Library and the Anichkov Palace Garden that was ideally suited to a small square. Carlo Rossi was commissioned to design the project, and it took him ten years to formulate his master plan for the space.

According to Rossi's plans, the Alexandrinsky Theatre became the focal point of the square. Construction of the theater in high neoclassical style was completed in 1832. The ornate facade of the theater was decorated with six Corinthian columns, numerous theatrical masks and figures of the muses, and a sculpture of Apollo riding a chariot on top of the building. In front of the theater the Alexandrinsky Garden was laid out. In 1873, artist Mikhail Mikeshin unveiled his magnificent monument of Catherine the Great, surrounded by prominent public figures of her reign, including Alexander Suvorov, Gavrila Derzhavin, Dashkova, Peter Rumyantsev, Ivan Betsky, Alexei Orlov, and Grigory Potemkin.

Catherine Garden and the Alexandrinsky Theatre - the core attractions of Ploshchad Ostrovskogo in Saint-Petersburg, Russia
Catherine Garden and the Alexandrinsky Theatre - the core attractions of Ploshchad Ostrovskogo

The developments surrounding the square were constructed in the same high classical style. These comprised a new wing of the Public Library facing Ploshchad Ostrovskogo, and two identical three-story buildings with their main facades facing the square. The two buildings stand on opposite sides of what was originally called Teatralnaya Ulitsa (Theatre Street) and now honors its creator as Ulitsa Zodchego Rossi (Architect Rossi Street).One building originally housed the Ministry of the Interior, and the other before the Revolution was occupied by the Directorate of the Imperial Theatres. It now houses the Theatre Museum and the famous Vaganova Ballet School. Ulitsa Zodchego Rossi is famous for its perfect proportions based on the "golden ratio": its length is 220 meters, and width and height are both 22 meters. This is the only street in the city where only two buildings are located.

Views of Ploshchad Ostrovskogo in St Petersburg, Russia
Views of Ploshchad Ostrovskogo

At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries several other buildings appeared on the square, including the Basin Apartment Building, a fine example of Russian Revival architecture to the east of the theatre, and the neoclassical offices of the Society of the Moscow-Vindavo-Rybinsk Railway on the opposite side of the square. The latest addition to the square's architecture, next to the railway offices, was completed in 2008 and is an interesting attempt by contemporary architects to create a building in historical style that blends in with its surroundings. Originally intended as a luxury hotel, it will now house the offices of a Gazprom subsidiary.

Originally, the square was named after the Alexandrinskiy Theater located here. In 1923, it was renamed Ploshchad Ostrovskogo (Ostrovsky Square) in honor of the great 19th-century Russian playwright Alexander Ostrovsky. Today, you can find portrait and caricature artists around in and around the Catherine, as well as photographers and costumed characters in the guise of Catherine the Great and other historical figures.

Metro stations:Gostiny Dvor / Nevsky Prospekt
Directions:Exit Gostiny Dvor metro station and turn right into the underpass under Sadovaya Ulitsa. Then, passing the building of the National Library, continue to Ostrovsky Square.
What's here? Catherine Garden (Ekaterininskiy Sad), Monument to Catherine the Great, Anichkov Palace Garden, Alexandrinsky Theatre, National Library, Basin Building, St. Petersburg City Credit Union, Russian Musical Society, Ministry of Education, Directorate of the Imperial Theaters, Offices of the Moscow-Vindavo-Rybinsk Railway
What's nearby? Nevsky Prospekt, Ulitsa Zodchego Rossi, Anichkov Palace, Sadovaya Ulitsa