Get spooked this Halloween with a walk through St Petersburg’s creepiest places
When I arrived in St Petersburg last autumn, I decided to visit the places that are tied to her dark and sinister history. After doing some research online and talking to locals, I identified a few places of particular interest that share a mysterious past. Here’s a map with information of these places.
Smolensky Cemetery at night
Smolensky Cemetery after-hours is one of the scariest places I’ve experienced in St Petersburg. Located in the center of Vasilievsky Island, one can enter the cemetery through a small gate along Bering Street in the northwestern part of the cemetery.
It was dark when I entered the cemetery, one of the oldest but still active graveyards, and pure unadulterated fear swept over me. It’s one that makes your heart beat faster and puts all senses on alert. In this state of uncertainty, your mind starts to register every detail around you — like a twig cracking under your feet or flickering candlelights on fresh graves at a distance.
Stray animals roaming the cemetery, bushes rattling, spooky sounds and dancing silhouettes on tombstones add to the spine-chilling experience. It becomes unclear who you’re terrified of more, the dead or alive, the ghosts and spirits or just strangers passing by.
What makes Smolensky Cemetery particularly scary is its forest-like state. It is as though the cemetery has been abandoned.
Built in 1756, Smolensky was a burial ground for both common and noble people. After the October Revolution, some of the more opulent tombs and monuments were severely damaged or destroyed. The cemetery also faced the possibility of demolition ordered by the local communist government.
Nevertheless, burials continue to take place at the cemetery often with graves on top of each other.
It was not until recently that a decision on restoring Smolensky Cemetery was made. However, there’s still a long way to go. A large part of the cemetery is still in a dreadful state, undoubtedly contributing to its overall eeriness.
The Tower of Griffins
Another place in St Petersburg surrounded by mysterious legends is an old wide chimney on the 7th line of Vasilievsky Island. The chimney was a part of an old pharmacy located in a courtyard of a building.
Entering the building, you’ll see a concierge up front. If you ask him politely about the tower and tip a hundred roubles, he’ll open the door to the courtyard.
It is believed that the tower was named by superstitious locals who thought it was a nesting place for griffins.
If you’re lucky, you might even spot white numbers on every brick of the tower. These numbers are rumoured to appear and disappear without reason.
Legend has it that the pharmacist who built the chimney was an alchemist who worked days and nights to develop the formula for happiness. It is believed that this formula is hidden in the walls of the chimney.
According to locals, the tower brings good luck to those who touch its bricks.
The Rotonda, discreet in appearance, often came up as a suggestion. When I arrived at the address, I wasn’t sure where to proceed.
Some locals pointed me to an inconspicuous grey door to my left. The door was locked, but a sheet of paper attached to it instructed visitors on the rules of visiting the Rotonda. The instructions also suggest a donation of 50 roubles.
At 6pm everyday, a gatekeeper comes and opens the door to the Rotonda. It was built in a house that belonged to a wealthy St Petersburg merchant, also rumoured to be a member of a masonic lodge.
According to legends, occult rituals took place inside the Rotonda and it is believed to have functioned as a gateway to the nether world. Until recently, the Rotonda was a favourite place for youth to hang out. It was filled with filled with graffiti, various texts and scribbles including a large quote from Dante’s Inferno, “Abandon hope, ye who enter here.”
Unfortunately, the Rotonda lost its former allure when its tenants decided not to fight the unwanted intruders, but to accommodate them. They painted over the graffiti, displayed pictures and historical data on the walls and set up a brochure stand in a corner.
The tenants also left a huge white carton board, where visitors can leave a personal message to the other world. The board was almost entirely filled with messages.
Rasputin’s Last Hours
Grigori Rasputin was one of the most mysterious residents of St Petersburg. He was a peasant, a religious mystic and a favourite of the Tsarina. He exerted a tremendous amount of influence on the royal family and shaped the events that defined the ruling of Russia’s last Tsar.
I decided to start my tour from an apartment on 64 Gorokhovaya, the last residence of Grigori Rasputin.
The entrance into the courtyard is usually locked, but one can go in by following a tenant. Rasputin lived on the third floor, in the apartment with the windows facing the courtyard. It was rumoured that in the very same apartment, Rasputin had festivities that would turn into orgies.
Felix Yusupov, a young Russian grand duke, conspired to have Rasputin murdered by inviting him to dinner at the Yusupov Palace.
On the night of 30 December 1916, Rasputin boarded Yusupov’s car from the building’s courtyard never to return again.
Yusupov offered his guest some wine and pastries laced with cyanide and even though he ate it, he didn’t die from it.
The murderers resorted to shooting the Russian mystic three times, with the final shot in the forehead. When the deed was done, Yusupov and his fellow conspirers drove towards Krestovsky Island to dispose of Rasputin’s body.
The island is connected to Petrovsky Island via the Bolshoy Petrovsky Bridge. Even though the original wooden bridge was reconstructed in 2010, one can still imagine how four men dragged Rasputin’s body and dumped it into the icy water of the Malaya Nevka river.
According to Rasputin’s friend and secretary, Aron Simanovich, Rasputin wrote a letter to the Tsar shortly before Rasputin’s assassination.
“I feel that I will die before 1 January … If I am killed by common men, you, the Tsar of Russia, will have nothing to fear for your children. They will reign for hundreds of years.
But if I am murdered by nobles and aristocrats, their hands will remain soiled with my blood for twenty-five years and they will leave Russia.
Brothers will take up arms against brothers, and they will hate and kill each other. There will be no peace in Russia for twenty-five years. The Tsar of the land of Russia, if the sound of a bell will tell you that Grigori has been killed; you must know this: if it was one of yours who have plotted my death, then none of your children will live beyond two years. And if they do, they will beg God for their death as they witness the disgrace of Russia, see the anti-Christ coming, famine, poverty, destroyed temples of God, and desecrated sanctuaries where everyone would turn dead.
The Russian Tsar, you will be killed by the Russian people. They will be cursed and will serve as the devil’s weapon, killing each other and causing death around the world.”
The authenticity of this letter can certainly be debated and history shows that after Rasputin’s death, the days of the Russian Empire were numbered. It only makes one wonder, would it turn out any different if the peasant from Siberia so close to the royal family hadn’t died that night.
The piece was originally published in the November 2015 edition of 1Line.