One of the oldest squares in Saint Petersburg
Senate Square began to form in 1704, initially being a part of the glacis near the Admiralty. The admiralty was conceived to be not only the shipyard, but also the fortress. That is why there was a great need in free space near it. The western boundary of the square was defined (marked) with a clay-walled revenue house of Prince (Knyaz) Menshikov which is situated at the corner of Angliyskaya Naberezhnaya (the English Embankment) in the mid of 1710-s.
In 1710, the first wooden building of the St. Isaac’s Church was built here, on the bank of the Neva River. It served as a religious place for servants in the Admiralty and for sailors. The marriage ceremony of Peter I and Catherine I was held there.
Since1717, the Admiralteysky Canal washed the southern border of the future Senate Square. Initially, it used to be a place to stock construction timber, later, though, people transported timber via the canal from New Holland Island.
In 1720 another short canal was dug from the Admiralteysky Canal perpendicular to the side of the Neva River, along the western border of the square, where the tarring loft was located. Later, the building for the Synod was constructed at the site of the former tarring loft. Embranchment from the Admiralteysky Canal contributed to fire protection, because the tarring loft put the shipyard at risk.
The Decree of June 30, 1720 adopted by Peter I states: ‘to build a spinning house behind the courtyard of His Serene Highness the Prince and give the street from that courtyard’. So, the decree defined not only the place of the Kanatny Dvor (the Cable Yard) located on the bank of the Admiralteysky Canal but also the direction of Galernaya Street, which runs from the square.
In 1727 a floating pontoon Isaakievsky (Isaac) bridge was launched from the square to the other bank of the Neva River.
In 1730s, at the site of the wooden St. Isaac’s Church a big stone temple was built. It was situated almost at the place where the monument of Peter the Great (also known as the ‘Bronze Horseman’) is now located. It is noteworthy that the temple not only bears the name of the Saint on whose day the founder of St. Petersburg was born, but its first location also coincided with the installation site of the statue of Peter the Great. The first official name of the city square was associated with the temple – Isaakievskaya (St. Isaac’s Square). This name was assigned to the square on April 20, 1738. Then the name was written with one letter ‘a’ – Isakievskaya. However, the name of the square didn’t take root and was used only in official documents. Later, people called this way the area to the south of the modern St. Isaac’s Cathedral.
After Prince (Knyaz) Menshikov’s death, his land plot was assigned to the vice-chancellor Osterman, and in 1744 to the chancellor Bestuzhev-Rumin. For the new owner of the house a new palace with beautiful fronts in baroque style was built. After enthronement of Catherine II, the Senate moved here from the building of Twelve Collegia. In 1760, under the reign of Catherine II the location of St. Isaac’s Cathedral was changed. The basis of the temple, being grounded on the bank of the Neva River, was very unstable, so there was nothing to do but move it away from the river. It is then that the cathedral was based to the south of the square, on the bank of the Admiralteysky Canal. The Bronze Horseman statue, created be the French sculptor Falconet was unveiled on the square in 1782. Since that moment the square was referred to as Petrovskaya Square (in honor of Peter the Great).
At the end of the XVIII century, on the site of the former tarring loft a new house appeared, which at first belonged to The Ustevi merchant family and later to the Kustovnikovs merchant family.
The part of the Admiralteysky canal adjacent to Senate square was enclosed in a pipe at the very beginning of the XIX century. The searching for the man to carry out this work was held in summer 1804. At that time, an arm of the canal towards the Neva River was covered up with sand.
In 1820, an abutment was built right near the entrance to the Isaakievsky (St. Isaac’s) bridge.
The final molding of the eastern part of Senate square was marked with the construction of a new Admiralty building upon the project of Andreyan Zacharov in 1820s. In 1834 the construction of an impressive building of the Senate and Synod was completed.
On December 14, 1825 regiments that refused to take an oath to the new Emperor (Tsar) of the Russian Empire Nicholas I lined up at the foot of the monument to Peter the Great. There were about 3000 rebels who were surrounded by the troops that have already taken the oath. The rebellion was crushed. This remarkable event took place against the background of the construction of the fourth building of St. Isaac’s cathedral designed by Auguste Richard de Monferrand. By 1858 the construction works had been completed. Since then, the architectural design of Senate Square has not been changed.
In 1874 Senate square became part of Alexandrovsky Park which was made near the Admiralty building. The Bronze Horseman was surrounded by green lawns and beautiful flowerbeds. Gardeners planted oaks from the side of St. Isaac’s Cathedral and designed a rock garden between the monument and the Admiralty. In 1890, however the part of the garden near the Bronze Horseman was removed. This place was cobbled and rebuilt into square.
In 1925, in order to mark the centenary of the Decembrist revolt, the square was given a new name – Decembrists’ Square. On July 31, 2008 the square received back its old name – Senatskaya (Senate) Square.