5 scary stories about St. Petersburg that you won’t hear on a tour

Make sure you don’t disturb the Egyptian sphinxes on University Embankment and watch out for the huge black cat in Nikolskoye Cemetery.

Rasputin’s ghost on Gorokhovaya Street

Grigory Rasputin is one of the most mysterious and ill-fated characters in Russian history. After traveling around the monasteries and cloisters of Russia, he gained the reputation of a wise old man, healer, and prophet. The tsar and his family grew to trust him unconditionally, affording him a lofty status in the royal court.  

In 1914 Rasputin settled in number 64 on Gorokhovaya Street, the most prestigious district in St. Petersburg. Common people and nobles alike flooded to the courtyard of this house, desperate to renew their health or hear their futures. Witnesses claimed Rasputin possessed the power of a seer, and foresaw the 1917 Revolution and the demise of the Russian monarchy.  

In 1916 Rasputin was assassinated, but those who schemed to kill him had no idea how difficult it would be. First they poisoned him, then they shot him, and finally they threw his corpse under the ice of the Malaya Nevka river. The autopsy revealed that the actual cause of death was neither poison nor bullet wounds, but drowning. He was later buried in Tsarskoye Selo. In 1917, under the orders of the provisional government, his coffin was dug up for reburial on Poklonnaya Hill. According to legend, the vehicle carrying the coffin broke down on the road, and Rasputin was not buried but rather cremated in the boiler room of the Polytechnic Institute. As a result, people say his soul was never laid to rest and his ghost appears every night in the corridors of number 64 on Gorokhovaya Street. Apparently his ghost means no harm and keeps order of the house.

The sphinxes on the University Embankment

In 1832 church historian Andrey Muravyev was traveling to holy places around the world. While in Alexandria, a pair of sphinxes caught his eye. These sphinxes were made to decorate the temple at Thebes for the pharaoh Amenhotep III (14th century BC). Muraviev wrote to the Russian ambassador and requested that they buy the sphinxes. The ambassador passed on the letter to Emperor Nicholas I, who passed it on to the Academy of Arts. By the time the Academy had agreed to purchase the sphinxes, they had already been sold to France. But then the French Revolution kicked off affording Muravyev a window to purchase - which he did - and that’s how they came to adorn University Embankment.

However, Egyptians have always considered sphinxes to be menacing creatures: Guardians of the world of the dead. For this reason, it’s supposedly dangerous to disturb them and even more dangerous to remove them from their own country. To this day legends have spread throughout St. Petersburg warning people against walking close to - or touching - the sphinxes: Otherwise one will be driven mad by enraged sphinxes with the face of Amenhotep. Some even say that the expressions of the sphinxes change: In the morning they gaze peacefully and calmly, by dusk their faces appear angry and spiteful.

The Maltese knight and the girl with a porcelain doll

Smolenskoe Cemetery is one of the oldest graveyards in St. Petersburg, although luckily the ghosts that live there are said to be mostly harmless.

At the end of the 19th century, local resident Nikolai Verbin wrote a curious entry in his diary. While walking through Smolenskoe on an overcast day in the fall, he suddenly met a man dressed in  the robes of the order of Malta. Nikolai bowed before the stranger as a sign of respect, but when he blinked, the man disappeared just as suddenly as he had appeared. At the same time, Nikolai noticed a girl walking with a porcelain doll in her hands in a nearby alley. But when he tried to follow her she disappeared, and in her place he saw a grave, upon which sat the little porcelain doll, exactly where her hands had been a moment before…

Today many people from St. Petersburg whisper legends about Smolenskoe. They say that if you have a difficult decision to make, go for a walk around the cemetery and the ghosts of professors and academics buried there will advise you.

The boulder from the bottom of the Neva

Until 1875 Liteyny Bridge in the center of St. Petersburg was a floating bridge, and then it was decided to make it permanent. This was no easy task though, for directly below the bridge the Neva was at its deepest (24 meters) and it was difficult to lay solid foundations in the soft riverbed. The engineers used caissons (special waterproof structures for construction work) to pump out water from their workspace. Unexpectedly, they discovered a sunken barge with a giant boulder on board. When they installed the caisson it smashed into the boulder and after a month the entire caisson was flooded. After another month, in September 1876, a large amount of semi-liquid soil broke through yet another caisson and flooded it, killing five people. A year later, another caissons exploded, instantly killing nine people and drowning another 20 under a mountain of soil. In 1979, they completed the construction of Liteyny Bridge but it had already acquired a bad reputation. Townspeople believed that the boulder on the bottom of the Neva had magical properties that when disturbed, would claim human sacrifices.

The monk who practiced black-magic

In St. Petersburg there are many famous cemeteries, and even more stories and legends about them. They say that in the 1970s the monk Prokopiy lived near Nikolskoye Cemetery. He was known for practicing witchcraft  and black magic. One day, supposedly the devil appeared before him and offered him a deal: His soul in exchange for immortality. Fulfilling the terms of their agreement, on the night of Easter, the monk lured a young, promiscuous girl to the cemetery. He tied her to a cross, gouged her eyes out, cut out her tongue, and filled a church’s cup with her blood. Then, he had to curse God 666 times and drink the cup of blood before dawn. But the monk ran out of time, and when the first rays of sun shone, he fell dead upon the ground. Witnesses swear that the right leg of the man became a cat, and that since then, visitors to the cemetery started witnessing a huge black cat with grey fur on its chin.

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