Teatralnaya Ploshchad (Theatre Square)

This square by its very name indicates its inextricable link with the theatrical life of the city. At the beginning of the 19th century it was home to the Bolshoi, or Stone, Theater. It was at that time the largest theater in Europe. It burned down, but soon afterward the Mariinsky Theatre was built next to the site. The Mariinsky Theater went on to become the most renowned theater in St. Petersburg and one of the most famous in the world. Also in Theater Square is the St. Petersburg Conservatory, no less famous for its traditional activities.

In the 1730s, this square was known as Brumbergskaya, from the name of the nearby Brumberg saw mills. From the middle of 18th century the area became a place of relaxation and entertainment for the common people. Entertainment of all kinds took place here, including comedy shows and a fanciful carousel moved here from the Palace Square. The area became known as "Carousel."

World-famous Mariinsky Theatre on Teatralnaya Ploshchad (Theatre Square) in St Petersburg, Russia
World-famous Mariinsky Theatre on Teatralnaya Ploshchad (Theatre Square)

But the real history of the area began in 1783 when it opened the town's first stone theater, known simply as Stone Theater. The theater was built by the Italian architect Antonio Rinaldi. The theater immediately became the center of cultural life for the area. Young officers, bored Countesses, government officials, and members of the royal family would often visit the theater up to three times a week. The square was consistently filled with horse-drawn carriages. Beginning in the 1810s, the area became known as the Theatre Square. A curious fact about the square at that time: due to the abundance of cabs at the Theater Square in winter you could see many outdoor pavilions with fires burning as cabbies waited for their riders. Foreigners attending the theater believed that Russians heated the street like this on purpose because they believed it was impossible to live in such extreme cold.

Conservatoire on Teatralnaya Ploshchad in St Petersburg, Russia
Conservatoire at Teatralnaya Ploshchad in St. Petersburg

The Stone Theater had a long, prosperous run up until 1886. It burned in 1810 and again in 1811 and attempts were made to renovate the theater. On its walls hung paintings of outstanding dancers and choreographers of 19th century such as Charles Didelot, Marie Taglioni, Marius Petipa, and singers Enrico Caruso and Pauline Viardot. But by the end of 19th century, the theater was badly decaying and the decision was made not to renovate it. This decision was made easier by the fact that the Mariinsky Theater was already under construction next door. Parts of the stone walls of the theater were used to build the conservatory which opened in 1896.

Monument to Mikhail Glinka on Teatralnaya Ploshchad in St Petersburg, Russia
Monument to Mikhail Glinka on Teatralnaya Ploshchad

In the middle of the 19th century, a wooden building for the Italian circus troupe Gverry was erected on the empty plot of land where the Stone Theater stood. The first performances were so popular that in 1849-1851 Albert Kavos built a new stone building for the circus. But soon the interest in the circus declined, and the show was cancelled to make way for more dramatic performances. In January 1959, the building almost completely burned out. Kavos was once again asked to revamp the building, only this time as a theater and not a circus. Since October 2nd, 1860, Glinka's opera "A Life for the Tsar" has begun the season at the Mariinsky Theatre. The theater takes its name from Maria Alexandrovna, wife of Alexander II.

Since then, the Mariinsky Theater remains almost unchanged save for reconstruction on the interior. Great names such as Fyodor Chaliapin, Rudolf Nureyev, Maria Kshessinsky, and Galina Ulanova have graced its stage. In the era of the Russian Empire, it was the most important theater in the country. Even after Moscow's Bolshoi Theater gained an excellent reputation, the Mariinsky never disappeared. To this day a visit to the Mariinsky Theatre should be a compulsory part of the itinerary of any tourist who visits St. Petersburg.

Monument to Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov on Teatralnaya Ploshchad in Saint Petersburg, Russia
Monument to Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov on Teatralnaya Ploshchad

Among the other attractions of the square: an interesting house in the Byzantine style (No. 6), the Buchholz House (No. 4) where the artist Mikhail Vrubel lived, House of Morgan (No. 12), decorated in the spirit of the Italian Renaissance, and the Mordvinovo Mansion (No. 14). Built next to the Conservatory are two monuments to outstanding Russian composers - Glinka and Rimsky-Korsakov.

Metro stations:Sadovaya
Directions:Exit Sadovaya metro station and ride marshrutka number K1, K34, K159, K186, K212, K222.
What's here? Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg Conservatory
What's nearby? Kryukov Canal, Griboyedov Canal, Moika, Nikolsky Cathedral, Novaya Gollandiya, Bolshaya Morskaya Street