Created by Carlo Rossi in the 1820s and 1830s, this square is named for Alexander Ostrovsky (1823–86), a celebrated 19th-century playwright. An enormous statue of Catherine the Great (1873) stands amid the chess, backgammon and mah-jong players who crowd the benches here. At the Empress’ heels are renowned statesmen of the 19th century, including her lovers Orlov, Potemkin and Suvorov.

The most prominent building on the square is Rossi’s neoclassical Alexandrinsky Theatre.

The square’s west side is taken up by the National Library of Russia, St Petersburg’s biggest, with some 31 million items, nearly a sixth of which are in foreign languages. To gain access for research purposes only you will need to bring your passport, registration documents for the city and either copies of your higher education certificates or proof of student status.