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St. Petersburg Channels and Rivers

St. Petersburg is the intellectual center of our country. It is one of the most beautifully cryptic cities in Russia and probably in the world. Built three centuries ago, it is still a model city for many intellectuals.

The colors of its black and white nights grayish blue, dirty yellow, pale green, light orange, deep blue reflect its changing mood: romanticism and realism, refinement and simplicity, fun and business; this creates a terrific atmosphere which is reflected in ideas, verses, music, arts. Because of lots of channels running through the city and bridges across them, St. Petersburg is called the second Venice. But it is offensive. This city is so unique that it is not clear why Venice is not called the second Peter?


The Neva, the St. Petersburg Province River

The Neva river which starts at Ladoga Lake connects the Gulf of Finland with a vast internal basin of Ladoga, Onega, Ilmen and other lakes. The Neva name comes from the ancient Finnish name of Ladoga Lake nevo or nev which means sea. Manmade channels called Mariinskiy, Tihvinskiy and Vyshnevolotskiy connect the Neva with the vast basin of the Volga river. As a result, it is one of the most important water ways in Russia. The head water of the Neva is located at the south-west corner of Ladoga Lake near the town of Schlisselburg, then the Neva flows in a bow concave to the south and flows into the Gulf of Finland in the east with lots of branches that form a large delta St. Petersburg is situated on.

The length of the Neva is 46 miles; the Neva flows out of Ladoga Lake in two branches that form a small island called Orehov with the Schlisselburg Fortress on it which is currently a prison. There are a lot of sand reefs at the entrance to the river which prevents ship with the draft of 5 to 6 feet from sailing to the Neva from Ladoga. The best fairway starts at the Koshkin lighthouse in the direction of Ladoga lake, three miles from the Neva estuary along the west bank; its depth at the beginning is less than 7 feet for about 500 yards, sometimes just 4 feet; than it gets deeper and reaches 21 feet at some places; the width of the fairway is 400 yards.

Except for few locations, the depth of the river is over 12 feet and normally varies between 20 and 40 feet reaching 50 feet at Krasny Sosny (9 miles), 58 at the village of Peski (11 miles), 55 at the village of Murzinki (25 miles) and 59 feet at the city of St. Petersburg at the arsenal. Before its estuary, the Neva branches into the Bolshaya Nevka, Srednya Nevka and Malaya Nevka. Navigable fairways are formed by the flow of these branches: Elaginskiy, Petrovskiy, Galerny, Grebnoy and Korabelny fairways.

These fairways are hardly navigable because of a solid and shallow sand-bar that stretches from the edge of the Neva delta for a long distance deep into the bay and makes it impossible for deep-draft ships to sail from the bay into the river. The main Neva fairway is called Korableny, its length is 4.3 miles. It makes sharp turns and can be as narrow as 80 yards, and it should be noted that its depth varies greatly between 23 and 15, 10 and even 9 feet at the normal level. The rest of fairways are even less suitable for navigation and are 8,7 and 5 feet deep. So, as the Neva has sand-bars both at the riverhead and the estuary, they prevent deep-draft ships from entering the river while even very big ships can sail the river itself. For the time being, this inconvenience was removed by making the Morskoy channel that connects the roadstead of Kronstadt with the New Port at the Gutuyevskiy island in St. Petersburg. The idea of the channel belongs to Peter the Great; however, it was implemented as late as in 1885. The channel is 20 miles long and 22 feet deep.

The banks of the Neva are quite tall, except for the delta, and cliffy in places. From Schlisselburg the banks gradually rise and in 3 miles from the riverhead they reach 36 yards (Preobrajenskaya Mountain), then go down: 12 yards at the village of Ivanovskoye, then 8 yards and less than 6 yards within St. Petersburg; and less than 5 to 3 feet at the estuary. The islands that form the Neva delta rise less than 11 feet above the normal level. The upper banks, up to the river Mga estuary on the left and to the village of Porogi on the right, are mainly sand, there are some pine woods there; in the lower reaches of the river there is clay and finally again sand at the very estuary. The upper banks (up to the village of Ivanovskoye) are beautiful, and the lower banks are flat.

FONTANKA (about 4 miles)

The main feature of the Fontanka is of course its bridges. The first stone bridge across it was built at the riverhead in 1769. It was called Laundry because there was a laundry yard on the left bank. Six sister-bridges were built across the Fontanka between 1784 and 1787. They had towers and looked medieval. They include: Simeonovskiy (now Belinskogo), Anichkov, Semyonovskiy, Obuhovskiy, Izmaylovskiy and Staro-Kalinkin. One of the bridges named after Gen Chernyshov who took part in the Azov campaign and battles at Narva and Poltava was not envisaged by the project so when it was started in 1785 new embankments had to be taken apart. Only two of the bridges survived: Lomonosov (former Chernyshov) and Staro-Kalinkin.

Hanging chains are stretched between four towers based on piers. In the past, they were used to draw the bridge apart. Now they remain as a decoration and remind about their former use. After the Anichkov bridge, the river slowly turns and blue domes of the Troitskiy (Izmaylovskiy) Cathedral can be seen in the haze at a distance (Architect V.P.Stasov, 1828-1835). The Yegipetskiy Bridge was built across the Fontanka where Lermontovskiy Avenue crosses it in 1955 in place of the old chain one that had collapsed because of resonance in January 1905 when a cavalry guard regiment was marching across it. A former country-house of outstanding Russian poet Gavril Derjavin (#118) is close to the Yegipetskiy Bridge. The estate belonged to him from 1791 through 1816 and was built by his friend, a famous architect, poet and musician Nikolay Lvov (he was also the architect of the Post Office, the Kulich and Pasha Church, ground Prioratskiy Palace in Gatchina).

Members of the Talk of Russian Word Fans literature society would often gather at Derjavins. In 1840s the building was reconstructed by the project of architect L.M.Gornostayev for the Roman-Catholic Theological College. In Kolomna, on the right bank of the Fontanka (building #185, rebuilt) lived A.S.Pushkin in 1817 through 1820 after graduating from the lycee. This is where Pushkin finished his first grand poem Ruslan and Ludmila. This is also where Karl Iv. Rossi lived at the end of his life. The great architect died there in 1849 forgotten by all.

MOYKA (left bank 2.5 miles, right bank 2 miles) and PRYAJA (700 yards)

The Moyka river flows out of the Fontanka (at the Summer Garden) and into the Neva close to its estuary. The banks of the Moyka are beautiful at the beginning: there is a Summer Garden on the right bank and the Mihaylovskiy Castle and Mihaylovskiy Garden on the left bank. A three-throw bridge is located where the Griboyedov Channel flows out of the Moyka: the Malo-Konyushenny bridge across the Moyka, the Theater Bridge across the channel and a decorative land bridge. The Moyka flows further along the former Court Horse Department which facades Konyushennaya Square. This is where the burial service for A.S. Pushkin was read on February 1, 1837, in the church of the Horse Department.

The last months of the poets life passed here, at 12 Moyka. Since 1806 the house belonged to the Volkonskiye. This is where the childhood and youth of famous Decembrist Sergey Volkonskiy passed. Mary Volkonskaya stayed here when she came to the capital in 1826 to apply for a permit to follow her husband to Siberia. In the neighboring 12th house Pushkins lycee friend Ivan Puschin spend his childhood. The house belonged to his grandfather, a famous admiral. Ivan Puschin also lived there after graduating from the Tsarskoselskiy lycee when he worked in St. Petersburg and this is where he was arrested on December 15, 1825. The St. Petersburg elite has always liked the Moyka area. House 23 is Prince S.S.Abamelek-Lazarevs mansion. House 35 located at the corner of the Moyka and the Winter Ditch used to belong to Arakcheyev. House 86 was Architect O.Monferrans. Yusupovs Palace is Number 94. The former Grand-Prince Palace is 122. Mansions are interleaved with rented apartment buildings (for example, #58) or offices of companies for example, #72 used to be the office of the trade Russian-American Company and this is where Konstantin Ryleyev lived who was elected the Head of the Office of the Company. Some bridges across the Moyka are called after the color they used to be painted: Green, Blue, Red and Yellow (now Singers).

The Blue Bridge at Isakiyevskaya Square is the widest bridge in the town, its breadth is over 100 yards. Right after the Blue Bridge there is a granite pillar capped with Neptunes trident. It has notches showing the level of the water during the worst floods in the towns history: in 1824, 1903, 1924, 1955, 1967. There used to be a tavern called Potseluy (Kiss) on the corner of Glinka Street at the house of merchant Potseluyev. No wonder that the neighboring bridge was called Potseluyev (Kisses). There is a small triangle island behind the Potseluyev Bridge which is formed by the Moyka and the Kryukov and Krustein channels. A galley yard nearby, the closeness of the bay no wonder that it was called New Holland. Right at the estuary of the Moyka the Pryajka river flows out of it (the former Chuhonskaya river) and there are spinning shops there. Alexandr Block, who lived at the house on the corner of 57 Ofitserskaya (now Dekabristov) Street and Pryajka Embankment, liked this suburb of St. Petersburg.

Griboyedov Channel (2.9 mile) and Kryukov Channel (1.2 mile)

Illarion Kutuzov, the father of Great Prince Kutuzov, presented a project to Queen Yelizaveta titled About Laying Down a Channel to Protect the Inhabitants of the Capital From Deadly Floods. The channel used to be a river named the Krivusha and was flowing out of marshes where now Marsovo Pole square is. It was built between 1764 and 1790 under Catherine the Great. Therefore it was named the Yekaterininskiy (now Griboyedov) Channel. Kutuzov received a golden snuff-box decorated with diamonds for the channel. And then it became clear that the channel could not save St. Petersburg at all. Since then they have been trying to bury and pave it over. Its a pity. The channel flows out of the Moyka at Konyushennaya Square, near the three-throw cast iron bridge. At first, the channel is straight and trim between the multidomed Resurrection Cathedral (Spas-na-krovi) and the Kazan Cathedral. At the Bankovskiy Bridge the channel twists for the first time and then goes on like that weaving around until it flows into the Fontanka in its lower reaches.

Fedor Mihailovich Dostoyevskiy lived next to the Yekaterininskaya Ditch, Sennaya Square and Meschanskiey Streets. This is also where he lodged the protagonists of his story White Nights and novel Crime and Punishment. You can check: it is 730 steps from Rodion Raskolnikovs house (now 19 Grajdanskaya Street) to the house of the usuress (the corner of the Griboyedov Channel and Sr. Podyacheskaya Street).

It is remarkable that house numbering starts off rivers and channels in St. Petersburg. Sometimes it is difficult. For example, Malaya Podyacheska Street abuts upon the twisty Griboyedov Channel with its both ends. The chain pedestrian Lviny bridge takes us directly to Teatralnaya Square where the Griboyedov Channel makes a twist around Bolshaya, Srednyaya and Malaya Podyacheskaya Streets. And then the channel flows into Sadovaya Street where a vast space opens up: the Nikolayevskiy market on one side and the golden-domed Nikolskiy Morskoy Cathedral on the other side. The cathedral was built by architect S.I.Chevakinskiy in 1753-1762 at the location of the Maritime Regiment Yard. Later, in 1782-1787, the Kryukov Channel was dug between the Moyka and the Fontanka. Three bridges at the intersection of the Kryukov and Griboyedov Channels is one of the most picturesque sights of St. Petersburg. Three churches can be seen from here: the Nikolskiy and Troitskiy Cathedrals and the former church of Estonian Orthodox Brotherhood built in 1903-1905 by the project of architect L.L.Poleschuk in the Russian style. Passing by this church and the Alarchin Bridge, we get to the Staro-Kalinkin bridge. This is the estuary of the channel, the lower reaches of the Fontanka can be seen well and the breath of the sea can be felt.

THE KARPOVKA (1.2 mile) and the JDANOVKA (1.3 mile)

The twisty and slow Karpovka river flows between the Big and Small Nevkas cutting a third of the Petrograd side territory. It was called the Apothecary Island because during the reign of Peter the Great medicinal plants were grown there, and in 1931 the Botany Garden was set up there. And the Jdanovka river separates the Petrovskiy island from the Petrograd side.

SMOLENKA (1.1 mile)

The Smolenka separates the Vasilyevskiy Island from the Decembrists Island, former Goloday. In the reign of Peter the Great the stream was called typically for this area, Gluhaya or Chornaya. Then it got a name from the Smolenskaya Church and its churchyard. As a legend has it, that was where carpenter were buried who had been brought there from Smolensk. The closer to the sea, the nicer the banks of the river look. From Primorskaya subway till the Gulf of Finland the Smolenka is made straight and built up with modern buildings.


In 1816-1832 one of the Chornaya rivers in the Neva delta was split into three branches: the middle branch was used as a part of the Obvodny Channel; the lower part was turned back and called the Monastyrka; and the upper reaches (in the former village of Volkovo) separated by the Obvodny Channel was named the Volkovka.


The Admiralteyskiy Channel was much longer in the 18th century: it stretched along present Konnogvardeyskiy Boulevard and was used as a way for floating ship timber from the warehouses of New Holland to the shipyards of The Admiralty. The channel was crossed by two parallel channels that connected New Holland with the Neva: the Kryukov Channel (at present Truda Square) and the Novo-Admiralteyskiy Channel (at the Hrapovitskiy bridge across the Moyka). In 1840s parts of the Kryukov Channel (from Truda Square to the Neva) was directed through pipes. The rest of the Admiralteyskiy Channel together with the Novo-Admiralteyskiy Channel is called the Admiralteyskiy Channel now. In fact, it serves to take the Kryukov Channel to the Neva.

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