The Grim History Tour of Saint Petersburg, Russia

On a dark, dark day in a dark, dark city there was a girl, dressed in dark, dark clothes.

Like, literally… In all black.

It was raining, and raining and just when I thought it couldn’t rain anymore, it did. So instead of shlepping around, lost in said rain, I devised a special tour of Saint Petersburg for avid ghost hunters, history buffs and thrill seekers.

Granted, I didn’t make it to every hotspot on my list… My excuse is, that it did take some time to cultivate. And I didn’t have an umbrella. BUT the good news is, now nobody else has to spend their rainy mornings finding alternative, spoopy things to see in St P.

Before I press on I would like to thank Atlas Obscura for filling me with a real sense of wonder for the unreal and kooky in this world. And before you press on, please download the 2gis app. This is an interactive map that works in every Russian city without wifi or phone signal and has saved my ass more than once.

Brusnitsyn Mansion @ 27 Kozhevennaya line (search особняк брусницыных on 2gis)

Brusnitsyn Mansion (or the Grand Mansion of Russian Merchants Built by The Brusnitsyn Brothers, if you prefer) is pegged as abandoned on most outdated websites. I can attest that it is no longer abandoned, and a surly looking security guard will greet you there. Unless you speak Russian (or have a friend that does), you’re unlikely to worm your way inside.

Our conversation drew to an abrupt close just after he informed me that the place wasn’t a museum. A statement which could be taken two ways:

A) it’s not a museum. Fuck off.

B) it’s not a museum. What are you expecting to find here?

Well actually sir, since you asked…

It is fabled that Dracula’s very own murderous mirror is hidden away somewhere in this very mansion.

Unfortunately I didn’t know how to say that in Rooskiy yaziyk.

Story has it that the mirror was brought here in the 20th Century but soon after its arrival, the granddaughter of the landlady suddenly died. Following another two deaths, the mirror was hidden away somewhere in the mansion in an attempt to prevent more of these mysterious deaths. To this day, it has not been found.

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Bronze Horseman @ Senate Square (search Медный всадник on 2gis)

A monument in the name of Peter the Great commissioned by #1 Peter the Great fan, Catherine the Great, has been known to kill people.

For reals.

Peter the Great was considered a great leader of Russia (believe it or not) but even after his death, some people blamed him for their personal losses. Police records from the 19th Century show that a small handful of citizens were found dead on separate occasions, near the statue. Their heads were crushed.

In one famous story, a Saint Petersburgian citizen gobbed off within earshot of the Bronze Horseman, blaming Peter I for founding a city amongst the rivers and canals that killed his wife, aaaaand subsequently he turned up quite deceased in the morning.

Other passers by have claimed to see his majesty patrolling the area and claim that as long as the statue stands, St Petersburg will never fall or be taken.

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Peter and Paul Fortress (search петропавловская крепость on 2gis)

Pretty much everyone visits Peter and Paul Fortress when they’re in St P. I sorta didn’t. But I did research its sordid background.

Not only is it a magnificent architectural feature, but a lady known as Princess Tarakanova perished here during her imprisonement. I guess that’s what you get for pretending to be of Royal descent when you’re not. She wasn’t just a gold digger in Russia, Princess T had a reputation of bedding rich suitors in France and Italy too.

Though tuberculosis killed her in December 1775, Konstantin Flavitsky painted her “dying” in her cell during the floods of 1777. Others claim that her death was faked, and in fact she was forced to become a nun.

Princess Tarakanova, in the Peter and Paul Fortress at the Time of the Flood, Konstantin Flavitsky
A mysterious woman by the name of Dosifea lived at Ivanovsky Convent from 1785-1810. Many believed her to be the infamous Princess T.

Visitors to the fortress have claimed to hear a weeping woman.

Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral (search Соборная Плошадь петропавловская крепость on 2gis)

St Peter and Paul Cathedral isn’t known to be haunted, but I think it’s interesting to note that this is where all the great emperors and empresses were finally laid to rest; Including the last tsar, Nicholas II and his family, who’s story I followed through Yekaterinburg and wrote about in this post here.

Another of those buried here, was Catherine the Great – the woman responsible for imprisoning Princess T, the possible mastermind behind her husband’s assassination, and whom is well known for her insatiable sexual appetite. Despite these controversial topics Catherine II was one of Russia’s most loved female rulers, lasted 39 years on the throne and died quietly in her bed after a stroke.

No, she wasn’t sexed to death by a horse, however much her enemies fancied it.

If you’re interested in learning more about Catherine II you could ask one of the many actors hovering around popular tourist sites. They like to talk.

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St Michael’s Castle (search михайловский замок on 2gis)

Paul I, illegitimate spawn of Catherine the Great, made it to the throne before Catherine could write him out of the succession.

Paul somehow managed to upset the upper classes with laws about making life for the working man a little more bearable. What a douche. And after five years of rule, lead him to being assassinated in his ‘impenetrable’ castle… That he built solely because he didn’t want to be murdered.

By all accounts the conspirators didn’t mean to murder him (they only meant to force him to abdicate) but after riling themselves up on a stomach full of wine he took a few boots to the face and was strangled. Before the incident he had spoken of seeing himself in the mirror with a collapsed neck and reported experiencing shortness of breath.

Workers at the castle are reluctant to work night shifts after frequent sightings of a short man with a white scarf around his neck. However, the ghost of Paul I seems quite benevolent, and it has become custom to wish his highness a goodnight should you be staying there past bedtime.

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The Church Of The Savior On Spilled Blood (search  Церковь Спаса на Крови on 2gis OR take the blue metro line to Nevsky Prospekt and walk along the river)

Damn, the Russians love a long title. The COTSOSB is undoubtedly one of St Petersburg’s most famous sites and quite frankly, you should visit because it’s stunning.

It gained its place on the Grim History tour because as you might have guessed, it’s built on spilt blood.

Alexander II had managed to avoid premature death when his horse and cart were blown a few feet off the ground by a hand thrown bomb. Unfortunately, when he stepped out, unharmed, someone else threw an explosive directly at his feet… which did end his life. Not immediately though. First, he was ushered to the Winter Palace without his legs and with his guts hanging out.

Then he snuffed it.

Within the church is a cordoned off section where the actual event took place.

Yusopov Palace (search юсуповский дворец на мойке музей on 2gis)

Ra ra Rasputin
Lover of the Russian queen
They put some poison into his wine
Ra ra Rasputin
Russia’s greatest love machine
He drank it all and said, I feel fine

Ra ra Rasputin
Lover of the Russian queen
They didn’t quit, they wanted his head
Ra ra Rasputin
Russia’s greatest love machine
And so they shot him ’til he was dead

Oh, those Russians

Okay, so that’s Rasputin. I’m not wholly convinced he was the lover of Alexandra Feodorovna but he did appear to have an incredible influence on the last Tsar of Russia (no doubt, also a reason the Royal family were deemed weak and were also murdered).

There are tours to Yasupov Palace advertised outside most major metro stations in St Petersburg. Given the cheapness of most things in Russia, I’d be inclined to take a tour as opposed to public transporting it. You might even make some friends.

Rasputin was invited to the palace and offered wine and tea laced with cyanide. As the song says, Rasputin felt fine after ingesting the poison, maybe just a little ‘drunk.’ So Yusopov shot him at close range.

Rasputin continued to live and even attempted to escape.

He was shot again, and the bullet punctured his kidney and lodged in his spine. Both of these shots were enough to kill him within 10-20 minutes but when his body made one last violent jolt, it spooked the assassins. They shot him in the head. If that wasn’t enough, they then dropped old Rasputin into the icy river from the Bolshoy Petrovsky Bridge, where his blasted coat foiled the plan for his body to be carried out to sea.

By the way, this wasn’t the first time someone had tried to kill the almost indestructible Rasputin.

Rasputin, post dipped in the river

Yekateringof Park @ South West St Petersburg (search парк екатерингоф on 2gis)

For a little bit of nature you can check out Yekateringof landscape park. Thanks to its overgrown walkways and abandoned fair rides, there is an air of mystery and thrill.

Also, who doesn’t want to photograph abandoned rides?

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A Night at the Museum

The ghost of Emperor Nikolai I is said to be tending to the Dark Corridor collection of arts within the Hermitage, and the mummies in the Egyptian exhibition sometimes wink at the museum caretakers. Don’t forget that little point in history where everyone ate the cats that lived below the Hermitage, to avoid starving during the siege of Leningrad. The cats were later replaced with moggies from good old Tyumen!

At the Russian Academy of Arts, the ghost of depressed artist, Kokorinov, commissioned by Catherine the Great, rushes through the halls with his tools. He hung himself in the attic of the building after Catherine accidentally brushed past wet paint and ruined one of her dresses.

Guyduk the Giant resides at Kunstkamera (кунсткамера), an oddities museum commissioned by Peter the Great. After his skull was stolen, his ghost roamed the halls at night to search for it. The guards on watch became so sick of the wandering, headless giant that they replaced the skull with someone else’s (abnormally large) head. It seems to have done the trick and Guyduk isn’t so lively these days.

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BONUS ZOE POINTS: And something about a beard tax

On my way to visit Brusnitsyn Mansion a man approached me brandishing some kind of coin. A large coin. More of a token.

I have a sneaky suspicion that it was a fake version of the Beard Tax Token which was in circulation during the years of Peter the Great.

True story; everyone had to shave. If they didn’t want to shave, they had to buy beard tokens.

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I had a lot of fun following this tour (in my head) and I’m thinking of doing more horrible history-esque blog posts for upcoming cities. Where would you like to see one for?

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