St. Petersburg kaleidoscope: Muruzi House

17 April 2020

We continue with the project «St. Petersburg Kaleidoscope from Home». Walking along Liteyny Prospect and its vicinity, you may have a feeling as if you are flipping the pages of a fascinating book. In fact, these are pages made of stone. Each and every building on this street is an architectural treasure with its unique history. They buildings may give insight into amazing event, once having happened in the city of the Neva.

The buildings on Liteyny Prospect are great examples of various architectural styles and epochs – from baroque to constructivism. Eclectics, an architectural feature of luxurious revenue houses of the last quarter of the XIX century is particularly diverse and eye-catching. At that time, architects, having taken into account clients’ aspirations and finances, often used abundance of décor elements and plastic forms of arts to feature the building among the surrounding constructions.

That is how a grandiose apartment building at the corner of Liteyny Prospect and Pestel Street (the house address – Liteyny Prospect, 24), built in the Moorish style stands out among other buildings. The revenue house became known in Saint Petersburg by the name of its owner – Alexander Muruzi (Mourouzis or Moruzi), ‘a byzantine aristocrat and millionaire’, as the newsmen of those day were writing about him. Construction works of the building were covered over and over again in Saint Petersburg press because the project of the house developed by Alexey Serebryakov and decorated so elaborately was recognized as a truly work of architectural art. What is more, the project was extremely expensive for the time – it cost as much as 800 thousand roubles. Exotic facades decorated with beautiful balconies, Arabic and Moorish scripts, terracotta columns and arabesques evoke associations with the ‘Thousands and one Nights’ tales. The customer even organized a trip to Spain for Serebryakov so that he could thoroughly study and deepen into traditions of the medieval Muslim architecture.

The interest of Muruzi in oriental culture lies in the fact that his ancestors were originating from a wealthy Greek family from Constantinople. The representatives from the Muruzi were given a title of hospodars (princes) in Wallachia and Moldavia, Sultan’s deputes, ministers and commandants on Samos island. Being part of elite in the Ottoman Empire, they were orthodox, and after the outbreak of the Greek war of Independence they secretly supported Greek and helped Russia to strengthen and satisfy its political ambitions in the Balkans. Consequently, it all resulted in repression of their family. Most were executed and beheaded, others could emigrate and flee to Russian at the beginning of the XIX

century. The Emperor Alexander I honorably welcomed the family and conferred benefits upon them. So, having arrived in Saint Petersburg in his childhood, Alexander Mourouzis (Muruzi) got an excellent education in the Page Corps, served in the guards and resigned with a handsome capital and plum money. That amount of money was completely spent on the construction of his own revenue house.

Alexey Serebryakov became renowned for construction of Muruzi House in 1874-1876. It was his only famous work. Others weren’t even close to such a grand work of architectural art, neither in terms of design and conception, nor in terms of magnificent realization.

The interiors of apartments indeed were luxurious and magnificent. Marble staircases, electricity, water heating system and even a fountain - all these details attracted wealthy and noble resident. However, even high prices for a room could not cover the cost of construction works and household expenses.

As a matter of fact, the first floor of the building was occupied with different shops. The famous gingerbread shop stood out among others because of its extraordinary advertising slogan: ‘From Petersburg to the Urals, gingerbread made by Abramov is a real furore’

At the beginning of the XX century there was another owner of the house. After the revolution the house was transferred into the communal apartment (Russian: communalka), it was considered a usual run of things at that time.

The Muruzi House indeed is a very special historical monument since it cherishes memory of its tenants. For example, it was the very place where the great Russian satirical writer Nikolay Leskov wrote his most famous work ‘The Lefthander’; the famous literary couple of philosopher and writer Dmitry Merezhkovskiy and poet Zinaida Gippius were holding the literaty salon (studio). Among the participants of the club. such talented people as Blok, Gumilev, Ivanov and Beliy.

The house was also home for some of fictional characters from the Russian literature. Read Dostoevsky's novel The Idiot and Kuprin’s ‘Garnet Bracelet’ once again, and the image of the Muruzi House will immediately pop into your head. In the Soviet times, the Muruzi House was the family home of the future Russian-American Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky, whose family lived in a "room-and-a-half", of a communal apartment. Many people like quoting his remarks about the life in communal flats.

And finally one more thing to be said. When the owner of the house Murizi was just born, there was a small one-story estate of the diplomat and traveler Nikolay Rezanov at that site. The owner of the estate was the very same person from the rock-opera ‘Juno and Avos’, known to every local of Saint Petersburg.