Vasilyevsky Island, to the east of St Petersburg has a colourful history – its an island of two halves … the land on the North East was called Halliday Island after the English businessman called Halliday in Peter the Great’s Court who had a house there, but the Russians found that a strange English word so they renamed it to something that sounded phonetically similar Goloday Island – Goloday means hungry or starving.
The bodies of revolutionaries were buried here before 1917. After the October revolution they tried to find them but couldn’t find any trace of them, so in 1926 they renamed the island Dekabristov or Decembrists Island to commemorate those that lost their lives in the Decembrist Uprising – an event that had happened 100 years earlier … and to commemorate all those who lost their lives subsequently. It is often said that the great city of St Petersburg has bones for its foundations.
Peter the Great’s vision for the city was that it should be built to look like Venice, and he built a series of canals with the idea that people would get around by boat, but the climate is very different to Italy and the canals were frozen for half the year. So the canals were filled in and are now the long straight roads which aren’t called streets they’re called Lines. Much of Peter the Great’s vision did come to fruition however, and ‘The Venice of the North’ rose from the swamps.
Vasilyevsky Island is still a colourful place – Vyacheslav Datsik hit the headlines last year; known as Red Tarzan, and fresh out of prison after serving 5 years for armed assault, he declared himself an anti-prostitution vigilante. Armed with an iron bar he forced entry into a brothel and made the 11 inhabitants march naked, five blocks down the road to the police station. It was just one of many raids he made, but after reports of assault and theft came in from those who he was ‘arresting’, he is now back behind bars.