Gostinny Dvor means "Guests Yard" and it housed hundreds of retail establishments and innumerable stalls. Here it can be seen on the left.
The American author and translator of 19th century Russian literature Isabel Hapgood describes the Gostinny Dvor in 1900:
"Here stands the vast bazaar known as the Gostinny Dvor... Its frontage of seven hundred feet on the Prospekt, and one thousand and fifty on Great Garden and the next parallel street, prepare us to believe that it may really contain more than five hundred shops in the two stories, the lower surrounded by a vaulted arcade supporting an open gallery, which is invaluable for decorative purposes at Easter and on imperial festival days. Erected in 1735, very much in its present shape, the one common throughout the country, on what bad been an impassable morass a short time before, and where the ground still quakes at dawn, it may not contain the largest and best shops in town, and its merchants certainly are not "guests" in the ancient acceptation of the word; but we may claim, nevertheless, that it presents a compendium of most purchasable articles extant, from samovari, furs, and military goods, to books, sacred images, and Moscow imitations of Parisian novelties at remarkably low prices, as well as the originals.
Another foreign resident of Petersburg in 1900 gives us a further description of Gostinny Dvor:
The nooks and spaces of the arcade, especially at the corners and centre, are occupied by booths of cheap wares. The sacred image, indispensable to a Russian shop, is painted on the vaulted ceiling; the shrine lamp flickers in the open air, thus serving many aproned, homespun and sheepskin clad dealers. The throng of promenaders here is always varied and interesting. The practiced eye distinguishes infinite shades of difference in wealth, social standing, and other conditions. The lady in the velvet shuba, lined with sable or black fox, her soft velvet cap edged with costly otter, her bead wrapped in a fleecy knitted shawl of goat's down from the steppes of Orenburg, or pointed hood - the bashlyk - of woven goat's-down from the Caucasus, has driven hither in her sledge or carriage, and has alighted to gratify the curiosity of her sons. We know at a glance whether the lads belong in the aristocratic Pages' Corps, on Great Garden Street, hard by, in the University, the Law School, the Lyceum, or the Gymnasium, and we can make a shrewd guess at their future professions by their faces as well as by their uniforms. The lady who comes to meet us in sleeved pelisse, wadded with eider-down, and the one in a short jacket have arrived, and must return, on foot; they could not drive far in the open air, so thinly clad.
At Christmas-tide there is a great augmentation in the queer "Vyazemsky" and other cakes, the peasant laces, sweet Vyborg cracknels, fruit pastils, and other popular goods, on which these petty open-air dealers appear to thrive, both in health and purse. The spacious area between the bazaar and the sidewalk of the Nevsky is filled with Christmas-trees, beautifully unadorned, or ruined with misplaced gaudiness, brought in, in the majority of cases, by Finns from the surrounding country. Again, in the week preceding Palm Sunday, the Verbnaya Yarmarka, or Pussy Willow Fair, takes place here. Nominally, it is held for the purpose of providing the public with twigs of that aesthetic plant (the only one which shows a vestige of life at that season), which are used as palmsi from the Emperor's palace to the poorest church in the land. In reality, it is a most amusing fair for toys and cheap goods suitable for Easter eggs; gay paper roses, wherewith to adorn the Easter cake; and that combination of sour and sweet cream and other forbidden delicacies, the paskha, with which the long, severe fast is to be broken, after midnight matins on Easter. Here are plump little red Finland parrots, green and red finches, and other song birds, which kindly people buy and set free, after a pretty custom. The board and canvas booths, the sites for which are drawn by lot by soldiers' widows, and sold or used as suits their con venience, are locked at night by dropping the canvas flap, and are never guarded; while the hint that thefts may be committed, or that watching is necessary, is repelled with indignation by the stall-keepers.
There is always a popular toy of the hour. One year it consisted of highly colored, beautifully made bottle-imps, which were loudly cried as Amerikanskiya zhiteli, - inhabitants of America. We inquired the reason for their name.
"They are made in the exact image of the Americans," explained the peasant-vendor, offering a pale blue imp, with a long, red tongue and a phenomenal tail, for our admiration.
"We are inhabitants of America. Is the likeness very strong?" we asked.
The crowd tittered softly; the man looked frightened; but finding that no dire fate threatened, be was soon vociferating again, with a roguish grin: -
"Kupiti, kupi-i-iti! Prevoskhodniya Amerikanskiya zhiteli! Sa-a-miya nastoydshtschiya!" - Buy, buy, splendid natives of America! the most genuine sort!
Far behind this Gostinny Dvor extends a complex mass of other curious "courts" and markets, all worthy of a visit for the popular types which they afford of the lower classes. Among them all none is more steadily and diversely interesting, at all seasons of the year, than the Syennaya Ploshtschad, - the Haymarket, - so called from its use in days long gone by. Here, in the Fish Market, is the great repository for the frozen food which is so necessary in a land where the church exacts a sum total of over four months' fasting out of the twelve. Here the fish lie piled like cordwood, or overflow from casks, for economical buyers. Merchants' wives, with beads enveloped in colored kerchiefs, in the olden style, well tucked in at the neck of their salopi, or sleeved far coats, prowl in search of bargains. Here sit the fishermen from the distant Murman coast, from Arkhangel, with weather-beaten but intelligent faces, in their quaint skull-caps of reindeer hide, and baggy, shapeless garments of mysterious skins, presiding over the wares which they have risked their lives to catch in the stormy Arctic seas, during the long days of the brief summer-time; codfish dried and curled into gray unrecognizableness; yellow caviar which resists the teeth like tiny balls of gutta-percha, - not the delicious gray "pearl" caviar of the sturgeon, - and other marine food which is never seen on the rich man's table.
"It is estimated that the Gosteny Dvor contains about a thousand shops, filled with all kinds of merchandise, and the Alexander Rinok, a resort of the Jews, as many more. Here beautiful lace made by the peasants of the interior may be purchased, linen from Kostroma, Orenburg shawls of lovely design, lacquer-work, the manufacture of which is still a secret, and fine gold and silver enamel-work, believed to have been introduced by the Varangians or taken from Byzantium. Icons, too, of every description are sold. Many of these are exceedingly beautiful, and their hanging lamps make them an ornament fit for any room-though they are put, one thinks, to better use by the devout, whose erring thoughts turn to heavenly things when they look on the representations of Christ and the saints."
This huge bazaar is divided into "Lines," which are named after the class of goods formerly sold in each part-sometimes even now peculiar to each row of shops; thus the row or line opposite the. Nevsky Prospekt is called the "Clock Line." That looking toward the Sadovaja (Garden Street) is known as the "Glass" or "Mirror" Line, and so on. This, however, is now chiefly given over to jewellers and their exquisite stocks."
Next photograph: Passengers on a Petersburg Tram
For a small map of the St. Petersburg area click here.
To see a large map of the center
of St. Petersburg go here.
Comments on the website should be sent to Bob