Rotonda na Gorokhovoy

I helped guides from Rotunda with leaflet translation. They seem to be ready welcoming English-speaking guests which is wonderful as there is no place like Rotunda.

From the outside it's typical old city building with tenants but the inner round porch is amazingly unusual. Drop by and check it out. The entrance is not free (the fee about 50 RUR goes into printing leaflets and cleaning porch). The door is usually closed but there always is someone to guide you (and there is his phone number on the door to call guide if he is inside with other guests).

See map directions here, scroll to read the whole story.

Rotunda. A door to another dimension (Yevment’ev’s building) 

Alexey Kvasov was the Chief Architect of Building Commission in St Petersburg. He’s been responsible for all stone building development in 18th century. Would he anticipate to be known in 21st century mostly as creator of small revenue house on Fontanka river embankment? Even more, would he say this particular revenue house will be a place for underground artists or that the inner Rotunda porch will be named «Devil’s stairway», «door to another dimension», «center of all things»?

Myths and legends embrace this average green (from outside) building for dozens of years. They say masons had their meetings here, on inner steps. They say this place was mentioned in «War and peace» as a spot of Pierre Bezukhov’s initiation (although there is no proof in the novel).

In 19th century (1860s to be exact) dancing master Martsinkevitch (1) bought this building and started its musical history. First «Martsinki» dance class, then «Public dance hall of Alexandrov», then «Entertainment by Tumpakov», then «Cabaret show hall»… then revolution came and entertainment was shut down at 1918.

On another side of Gorokhovaya street in 64th building lived famous Grigori Rasputin. They said he messed with some magic (and girls, and gold — the whole bunch) in his own house but he went to Rotunda to practice some additional witchcraft. Maybe there was some brothel.

Communists were super efficient in making people move to new places and make them live in unusual circumstances. For some reason Candlemas church was moved to Rotunda for couple of years, held some services and was closed in 1920s.

Rotunda rises again in history books at the end of USSR era. This circle hall became home for underground people in 1970s. Rock bands, hippies, hitchhikers, Saigon’s (2) haunters and other counter-culture folk. Why? First, location was a killer. Close to Saigon, The Pipe (3), Kazantip (4) and other major city spots. Second, flea market Apraksin Dvor was close which made it possible to come and get («ask», as those hippies said using this word in English as a Russian one) free cigarettes, free food and even money from people who shopped there. During summer Rotunda’s new unofficial owners raided nearest garden, during winter they stayed inside the porch on the inner stairs thanks to central heating.

Collective memory of St. Pete’s System (5) holds some of the residents' names dear. Rotunda’s guest list was huge, there is a quantity of underground celebrities inside. Let’s check one by one: poet Alexander Bashlachev, rock-star Konstantin Kinchev, punk singer Yanka Dyagileva, rock-musician Yuri Shevchuk, members of Piknik rock band, members of Auktyon band… We are not sure if it is all true but it might be. Many of people mentioned (those who are still alive) speak on the subject of Rotunda and share warm memories. It was warm here physically — and mentally. You could meet nice people, maybe your friends, share a cigarette and a story, listen to some new song, drink beer or get weed, speak on awareness and purpose of life...

Thus «center of all things» nickname of Rotunda emerged. It was ironical but secured Rotunda’s status as a source of vital and rare information for those who understand. «There is energy boost, it comes through Rotunda, right in the middle, do you feel it? Some people do» — Rotunda residents shares.

One of visible Rotunda's features is multitude of hand-written notes all over the place. Short and long, in prose of lyrical, funny and tragic, they create unique verbosity of System, sometimes starting to talk to each other:

— But walls are virgin as fresh snow,
I whisper to hand-rails (and get no answer)
that I would really like to hear another
guitar’s or violin’s or any laughter.
But they keep quiet as they don’t care
and I'm worried deep inside.
Oh God! Oh God! I’ve never felt
such loneliness of heart.

— You’re not lonely! We’re here. Waiting for you. Ira and Masha.

(From Rotunda’s wall, year 1988)

These hand-written notes on the walls are often deeply connected with System’s legends and have no meaning for a passer-by. Sometimes Third would be mentioned («Who is going to be Third?», «You will find dead body in this wire loop if Rotunda dies. The Third», «Go Trird!» etc — some of graffitis from years 1987-88). It all comes clear if you know that two suicides have happened in Rotunda before, both used long wire, and they were posthumously named «First» and «Second» by Rotunda’s residents.

Some myths come from unusual architectonics. Six detached columns coming to the bowl at the third floor level with short metallic railing. They create independent space inside the round hall. It looks like second circle with open borders. Two sets of spiral stairs come from the center and embrace walls with their cast-iron hand-rails. They end at the landing with specific acoustic features. You can hear everything from the stairs but there will be no echo. There are some specific spatial features, too, because people standing on the landing are not seen from outside.

But time has the most specific features in Rotunda. There is a legend that you cannot reach landing if you closed your eyes and went up the stairs: Devil’s stairs go nowhere. Another myth tells us about a boy who went to the basement for 15 minutes... it added him 70 years.

Rotunda drew attention of many, not only rock music lovers and hippies. Some legends say this place heals non-mutual love so many enamored came to write their wishes on the walls, to seek help from unknown yet powerful. Some people say that Rotunda stays in the center of a pentagram: five other city rotundas — which led to satanist and esoteric visitors.

In 1988 walls of Rotunda were whitewashed. Residents were terrified. «Rotunda dies! Let’s save Rotunda! It’s only alive if we are!». But the real end of System's era in Rotunda was stimulated by another cause. New century came and new underground cultures replaced old ones. 

Now the Rotunda’s round porch attracts another people. To be honest, almost everyone. Savvy tourists, rock fans, magic lovers and every visitor willing to read all the wishes from these walls. Comparing old graffitis to new ones we adore simplicity of new style: «I want sex», «I want money», «I want grade with distinction» (years 2001-2012).

Insert #1
Historical notes

1760-1790 — architect Alexey Kvasov creates Semenovskaya square architectural ensemble

1780s — future Rotunda building is being built (Fontanki embankment 81 / Gorokhovaya 57) as a revenue house for merchant Savva Yakovlev

1856 — Rotunda is being reconstructed, cast-iron hand-rails appear with the project of architect E. Wintergalter

1860-1918 — people are having fun at various entertainment venues of the building

1990s (till 1917) — the owner of the building is merchant Alexander Yevment’ev (his name is written near Rotunda in the historical monuments' list of St. Pete now)

1970s — 1990s — Rotunda and Saigon are favorite spots for undersground and System’s residents

1990s — our days — Rotunda as unofficial pilgrimage site for those who love mystical stories, last-century scent, rock music.

Insert #2

Hello Rotunda, my dear.
I’ve no other place to go.
They don’t understand my pain,
I've come to your place again.
Hello Rotunda, my shelter
My temple of love and respect
I vanish in your atmosphere,
I close every door of myself...

(graffiti, 1998 (1,82))


1. V. Toporov «Texts and myths of St. Petersburg», 1995, pages 368-400
2. T. Schepanskaya «Young communities», 2003, pages 34-85


(1) There were two people with surname Martsinkevitch. Do not mix them up. One is Kazimir Martsinkevitch from 19th century and another is gypsy singer Alexander Martsinkevitch, famous in 1990s. Some people think second Martsinkevitch had gypsy dance classes in Rotunda building for street gangs during perestroika which is utter nonsense.

(2) Saigon was unofficial cafe name. It united all the city underground peeps from 1964 to 1989.

(3) The Pipe is slang for one of pedestrian subways under Nevsky avenue. Underground music bands were performing there.

(4) Kazantip was slang for Kazan cathedral yard. Underground music concerts, meetups and other gatherings were held there.

(5) System was endonym (self-given name) for a huge amount of Soviet hippies and underground peeps at 1700s-1800s.

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