Fields of Mars
Fields of Mars is one of the oldest public parks in Saint Petersburg, located in the center of the city, to the west of Summer Garden.
In the yearly 18th century it went under the name of Great Meadow, and hosted celebrations in honor of Northern War victories (over Sweden). When the official part of a ceremony would come to an end, celebrations would continue with traditional Russian festivities such as fist fighting and hunting, and would end with fireworks, called “fun lights” at the time.
And that explains the subsequent name given to the fields – the Fun Fields.
After Peter’s death, the fields were renamed yet again, to Tsarina Fields (during the reign of Catherine I).
An attempt was made to convert the fields into a regular park in 1740s, but ultimately that project was abandoned. In 1805 the Tsarina Fields were renamed yet again, but this time the name would stick – Fields of Mars, in honor of the Roman God of War.
On one side of the Summer Garden is the Tzarizinskoi Lug, or Field of the Czars, which has somewhat inappropriately been translated into Champ de Mars. This place is more used than any other for exercising troops, though there are several other parade places in the city, and many of them much larger than the Champ de Mars.
J. Kohl, Panorama of St Petersburg, 1841
Now it was the place to hold military drills and parades, the latter of which became so popular with citizens of Saint Petersburg that Fields of Mars acquired the status of “the place to be”.
Going down the quay, you reach the Champ de Mars, of such vast extent, that I once saw the Emperor pass in review there a body of 80,000 men of all arms.
E. Jermann, St. Petersburg, Its People, 1855
The western side of the Fields of Mars is flanked by an impressively long yellow facade with three Doric porticoes, that was formerly the Pavlovsky Barracks.
A short street, the Millionnaia, leads from the Winter Palace to a large open space behind the British Embassy called the Field of Mars. This is an oblong area covered with sand in which the sense of spaciousness is increased by the fact that only on one side is there an uninterrupted row of buildings. The field is the review ground for the troops of St. Petersburg, for the capital is strongly garrisoned and the Guards are naturally stationed here. Barracks occupy a considerable portion of the city area; traffic is frequently checked by the marching of troops, and officers of all ranks and privates are the most conspicuous figures in the city throng.
Harold Williams, Russia of the Russians, 1910
An 18th century lithography by S. Galaktionov of the "Tsarina Fields":