«St. Petersburg Kaleidoscope»: the Egyptian House

10 April 2020

We continue with the project «St. Petersburg Kaleidoscope from Home». In the first episode of our video tour series, you have learned about the “Architectural Masterpieces of Rossi”. Today, the project offers to your attention the history of a unique building of our city, the Egyptian House.

Zakharyevskaya Street is notable for its interesting buildings. But one particular house stands out so much that it makes passers-by pause, forget about their business and examine its decorative elements for a long time. And there are many good things to see!
The house feels as if it was a decoration for the «Aida» opera or the «Cleopatra» film. Looking at it, you can feel the greatness of the ancient Egyptian civilization, reviving across the millennia in the new architectural forms.

A strange and unusual house, built in 1911-1913 to the design of an architect Mikhail Songailo (Lithuanian Mykolas Songaila), gained fame by its own name – the Egyptian, and not by the name of the owner, as was customary in St. Petersburg. But precisely thanks to the wishes of the owner of the house - Mrs. Nezhinskaya, the wife of a successful lawyer, it was decorated in the style of the monumental temple complexes of the Nile Valley.

Egyptian motifs manifested themselves in the architectural appearance of St. Petersburg much earlier. Ancient sphinxes on the Neva’s quays and the Egyptian Gate of Tsarskoye Selo, the Egyptian Bridge and even the milestones remind of the artistic connections of the Northern capital with Egyptian culture.

Not to mention its popularity at the beginning of the twentieth century, when the circles of the St. Petersburg intelligentsia were fascinated with oriental mysticism and symbolism, the fashion for Egyptian was widely spread in the fine arts, poetry and literature.

But the purest embodiment of this influence is the house on Zakharyevskaya Street.

Built in the era of Art Nouveau and neoclassicism, the Egyptian House, with all its mystical appeal, has retained the features of a functional and comfortable apartment building (rus. dokhodnyy dom, lit. a revenue house). The courtyard is decorated, among other things, by the glassed lift shaft of one of the first automatic lifts in St. Petersburg produced by the German company «Stiegler».

And the first thing about the house is, of course, its façade! In the apartment buildings (revenue houses) of St. Petersburg, it served as a kind of a signboard and advertisment for future residents and tenants.

Statues of the pharaohs in the guise of the sun god Ra, clutching the Egyptian cross-ankh in their hands, a symbol of eternal life, decorate the façade. The tops of the columns are crowned with the faces of the beautiful Hathor - the goddess of love and beauty. The walls of the building are abundantly covered with bas-reliefs of sacred snakes and scarabs.

The house survived all the turmoil that befell the city: revolutions and wars. During the blockade, an anti-aircraft machine-gun was installed on its roof. Not a single bomb or a single shell hit the house.
And today, more than a hundred years after the date of its completion, the Egyptian House in 23, Zakharyevskaya Street attracts passers-by and tourists. There is even an urban superstition - if lovers kiss under the arch leading to the courtyard of the house, they will live a long happy life. Goddess Hathor will help them with that. To believe or not to believe in superstitions is a personal matter, but why not have a go?!!