Jews in Sennaya Square
The majority of Jewish traders and handicraftsmen lived around Sennaya Square. While preserving as much as possible the basic features of traditional Jewish life and observing the mandates of the Jewish religion, they entered into close relations with the surrounding lower class multiethnic slum population of this business and trading part of Petersburg. Many Jews who came to Petersburg illegally found shelter from the police in the overpopulated blocks, houses and basements around Sennaya Square. Jews refused to give up their national identity even under pain of expulsion from Petersburg and police punishment.
"Jews in Sennaya"
"Jews, who can be found world wide wherever industry flourishes, flocked to Petersburg from the western provinces as soon as civilization appeared there. Russians had not yet begun to trade in handicrafts; and therefore, Israel, freely and profitably buying and selling in the young capital, multiplied to such a degree that it comprised a large section of that class. In order to have an idea about the material wealth of the Jews of that time, it is necessary only to glance at Sennaya: this comfortable nest drew them in by virtue of its good lodgings and cheap foodstuffs. Jews took over entire houses there".
"In the morning, crowds of them shopped in the square, where the flying peyeses of Jewish men and the turban-like head-coverings of black-eyed Jewish women were seen at other times of day as well… Enjoying their rights as "The Chosen People", Jews did not enlist with any trade associations and did not pay taxes. Under these advantageous conditions they soon became rich enough to lend considerable capital. Nevertheless, in order to increase their incomes, they often resorted to dishonest means.
In the western provinces Jews were known to earn their livelihood by providing services. In Petersburg such occupations were much less profitable than selling goods and lending money. Subsequently Russian merchants took over trade in Petersburg, as the result of which Jewish business declined and their families were impoverished.
The decline of Jewish trade was especially noticeable in Sennaya Square where Jews lived in great numbers. Later on, when the Regulation on Jews obliged them to legalize their residency, the majority of Jewish households left Petersburg and, Sennaya Square".
A view of Sennaya Square. A. Bryullov, 1822