© Wikimedia/Florstein
© Wikimedia/Florstein

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Sennaya Square: The Belly of Saint Petersburg

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Everyone who is into literature should know the Les Halles central food market in Paris, made famous by the French author Émile Zola. Back then, it was named ‘The Belly of Paris’, and in Saint Petersburg, there was such a place too! I’m talking about Sennaya Square, an interconnection between Moskovsky Avenue and Sadovaya Street, known for its bustling life and for being a transport hub of Russia’s ‘Northern Capital.’ Some still call it ‘The Belly of Saint Petersburg,’ remembering its roots.

The origin of the square

© Wikimedia/Ferdinand Perrot
© Wikimedia/Ferdinand Perrot

Sennaya Square is one of the oldest squares in the city. It originated in the first half of the 18th century when it was decided to establish a market here. The square was mostly created for selling hay, dried grass used for feeding horses and cattle. The name of the square, Sennaya, derives from the Russian ‘seno’, which means hay. Apart from it, there they sold straw and firewood as well, and this place was just perfect for it, since the former market, close to Palace Square, had previously burnt down. Located not far away from the entrance of the city, the market in Sennaya Square was very convenient for merchants, who would sell their products right after their arrival.

Back then, it wasn’t a nice place to be at because, close to the market itself, many public houses and taverns opened up, where criminals and imposters gathered. Besides, the market became the cheapest place in the whole town, so there always were a lot of people present.

A place of transformations

© istock/kurmyshov
© istock/kurmyshov

In 1765, The Saviour Church was built in Sennaya Square, serving as a visual dominant of the place. It was demolished in 1961, during the anti-religious campaign of the Soviet Union. In its stead, they built a vestibule of the metro station.

Being a place of trade, in the 19th centurySennaya Square got its very own shopping pavilions. Nevertheless, in the 1930s, they were dismantled. Even earlier, in the 1920s, slums and dens around the square started being demolished. Also, at the beginning of the 20th century, the tramline going via Sennaya Square was inaugurated. Between 1963 and 1991, the square was renamed as the ‘Peace Square,’ only to get its original name back in 1992.

At the end of the 20th century, Sennaya Square got its atmosphere of a buzzing place with a sometimes spontaneous trade back, an atmosphere easily identified by every person who remembers the post-Soviet era. At the beginning of the 21st century, and especially in the wake of Saint Petersburg's tricentennial anniversary in 2003, Sennaya Square got refurbished.

Walking around the square today

Today, Sennaya Square still has its spirit of trading place. Thus, it has some shopping centers and markets on it. So, if you're in need of good old shopping welcome to 'Sennaya' shopping mall - one of the first of this kind in Saint Petersburg. Not only one can buy there clothes, beauty products, and accessories, but also have a cup of coffee or tea, and a pie - here, you can visit 'Pirogovy Dvorik' café, specializing in making traditional Russian savory bakery products, as well as sweet pastry. 

Right behind 'Sennaya' shopping mall there is a market called 'Sennoy', specializing in selling farmers products from different locations in Russia. Go there to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy, and so on. And last, but not least, on Sennaya Square is a five-storey shopping mall called 'PIK'. It's very similar to 'Sennaya' shopping mall in terms of choice, but still differs a little bit. Besides, you can observe the city out of big panoramic windows there. 

Now, Sennaya Square, known for its bustling life, is more of a transport hub, although it still has some trading spaces worth visiting. Just remember it’s a vivacious place, where many people walk by. Don't forget to mind your belongings - as it’s always the case in such crowded places. Located not that far away from Nevsky Avenue, this Belly of Saint Petersburg can also be included in one’s route around the city, a little bit off the beaten track, but still extremely exciting.

Sennaya Square, Saint Petersburg
Sennaya Square, Saint Petersburg
Sennaya Square, Sankt-Peterburg, Russia

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The author

Maria Selezneva

Maria Selezneva

Hi, I am Maria, or Masha, as Russian speaking people call me. I’m your local guide for must-sees as well as off-the-beaten-track places in Moscow and St. Petersburg. I’ll show you my favourite destinations in both cities, where you can feel the true spirit of local traditions.

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