Capital: Moscow Currency: Russian ruble Population: 141,377,752 St. Petersburg
Peter the Great wanted a modern Russia, so he built a glorious capital to be held up as a beacon of light for his people. Therefore to visit St. Petersburg is not just to visit another place, but to experience a tsar's vision for the future of an entire country.
St. Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It is often referred to as the Venice of the North or the Paris of the East, but its beauty is really a brand all of its own. From the White Nights festival during the mysterious summer twilight to top theater, ballet productions and concerts on magical winter evenings, the city offers a vibrant cultural life that is second to none.
Attractions in St. Petersburg overwhelm even the most seasoned travelers. From the State Hermitage Museum and the Mariinsky Theater to splendid suburban palaces and dozens of smaller museums, today's St. Petersburg is here to explore and enjoy.
Peter the Great dreamt of a great northern capital to protect Russia from Swedish military threats. With prodigious energy and his personal knowledge of building and engineering, he oversaw the rise of St Petersburg from the islands and swamps around the River Neva. By the time of his death, in 1725, he had forcibly moved the seat of government from Moscow, the population was 40,000, the Admiralty was building ships for the Russian navy, the imposing Peter Gate guarded the entrance to the Peter and Paul Fortress on Vasilevsky Island, and the Summer Palace and much grander Menshikov Palace were already built.
Adding to the beauty of the buildings are the canals and rivers, which cross Nevsky prospekt. Although the capital moved to Moscow after the revolution, St Petersburg is certainly Russia’s first city in terms of beauty. It is also the prime centre for classical culture – from opera to ballet to music – with historic venues, such as the Mariinsky Theatre, presenting a repertoire and choreography that Tchaikovsky himself would recognize.
From the creator of the marvelous St. Isaac's Cathedral came this monument to the Russian military victory in the war with Napoleon's France. Named after Emperor Alexander I, who ruled Russia between 1801 and 1825 (during the Napoleonic Wars), the column is a terrific piece of architecture and engineering.
The Alexander Column (Aleksandrovskaia Kolonna ), the focal point of Palace Square, was designed by the French-born architect Auguste de Montferrand and built between 1830 and 1834. The monument is
The pedestal of the Alexander Column is decorated with symbols of military glory. The monument is particularly impressive on a sunny evening shortly before dusk, when the last beams of sunlight are reflected in the polished red granite of the column.
Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood
Alexander II was murdered in 1881 by a group of revolutionaries, who threw a bomb at his royal carriage.
The decision was taken to build a church on the spot where the Emperor was mortally wounded. The church was built between 1883 and 1907 and was officially called the Resurrection of Christ Church (a.k.a. The Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood ). The construction of the church was almost entirely funded by the Imperial family and thousands of private donators. Both the interior and exterior of the church is decorated with incredibly detailed mosaics, designed and created by the most prominent Russian artists of the day (V.M. Vasnetsov, M.V. Nesterov and M.A. Vrubel). Interestingly, despite the church’s very obviously Russian aspect, its principle architect, A. Parland, was not even Russian by birth.
The church was closed for services in the 1930s, when the Bolsheviks went on an offensive against religion and destroyed churches all over the country. It remained closed and under restoration for over 30 years and was finally re-opened in
The State Hermitage Museum
The premier city attraction is the Hermitage Museum. For many traveling to Russia it is the main destination and even the reason for the tour. As the director of the Hermitage once put it “I can not say that the Hermitage is a number one museum in the world but I know that it is certainly not number two.” And with over 3 million works of art exhibited in five connecting palaces the museum can’t fail to impress. If works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Rembrandt or Leonardo da Vinci don’t make you gasp then the interiors of the Winter Palace will.
The five buildings that make up the museum include the opulent Winter palace, which was built by Peter the Great's daughter (Elizabeth) and has undergone major renovations that have left it sparkling. Walk up an imposing baroque marble staircase and marvel at all the gold leaf, and check out the several heavily decorated rooms including a throne room.
Your guide will tell you how the art collecting began with Catherine the Great (although what she collected could only be viewed by royal eyes and invited guests). Today's art collection is in chronological order. You will start with names familiar everyone and not just the art lovers - Botticelli, Leonardo (DaVinci), Raffael, Michelangleo. Next you move on to the Spanish collection (Valazquez, Goya, El Greco to name a few).
The Hermitage's Rembrandt collection is the second biggest after Amsterdam, and among the paintings is The Danae, which may or may not actually be by Rembrandt, but has a place in history for being slashed and burned with acid in 1985 by a madman. It took 12 years to restore the work.
Delightful is the museum's famous Impressionist collection, put together by collectors in Moscow but then declared bourgeois by Stalin -- the collection sat in warehouses until the end of World War II, when it was divided up between the Hermitage and Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow.
There are Renoirs, Van Goghs, Cezannes and Gauguins in room after room, followed by a lot of Matisse and some Picasso too. It can take a complete day to see the highlights, but investigating every corner in each of the five linked buildings could take years.
During a 10 year period (1801-1811), master builder Andrei Voronikhin oversaw construction of this huge building, a majestic semicircular colonnade standing on Nevskii Prospekt . The 96 Corinthian columns are reminiscent of St Peter's in
The building cost the treasury 4.7 million roubles. In 1813-1814, trophies captured by the Russian army during the course of the Patriotic War of 1812 and the Campaigns of 1813-1814 were stored there; in 1813, Field Marshal Kutuzov was buried in the chapel on the cathedral's left side, at which time the chapel was seen as a monument to the Patriotic war of
At that time, artists F.A. Bruni,
In 1991, Kazan Cathedral was given back to the eparchy and became a functioning chapel; in 1998, it was consecrated with full rites; in 2000, it became a cathedral again.
Peter & Paul Fortress
When Peter the Great re-claimed the lands along the
The fortress was founded on a small island in the Neva delta on May 27, 1703 and that day became the birthday of the city of
The Swedes were defeated before the fortress was even completed. And the fortress housed part of the city's garrison and rather notoriously served as a high security political jail. Among the first inmates was Peter's own rebellious son Alexei. Later, the list of famous residents included Dostoyevsky, Gorkiy, Trotsky and Lenin's older brother, Alexander. Parts of the former jail are now open to the public...
In the middle of the fortress stands the impressive Peter and Paul Cathedral, the burial place of all the Russian Emperors and Empresses from Peter the Great to Nicolas II.
On top of the cathedrals’ gilded spire stands a magnificent golden angel holding a cross. This weathervane is one of the most prominent symbols of
St Isaac's Cathedral
The dome of St. Isaac’s Cathedral dominates the skyline of St. Petersburg and its gilded cupola can be seen glistening from all over the city. You can climb up the 300 or so steps to the observation walkway at the base of the cathedral’s dome and enjoy the breathtaking views over the city.
The church itself is an architectural marvel. Built by the French-born architect Auguste Montferrand to be the main church of the Russian Empire, the cathedral was under construction for 40 years (1818-1858), and was decorated in the most elaborate way possible. When you enter the cathedral you pass through one of the porticos - note that the columns are made of single pieces of red granite and weight 80 tons (about
The Bronze Horseman
A monument to Peter the Great The Bronze Horseman, an impressive monument to the founder of St Petersburg, Peter the Great, stands on Senatskaia Ploschad' (Square), facing the Neva River and surrounded by the Admiralty, St Isaac's Cathedral and the buildings of the former Senate and Synod - the civil and religious governing bodies of pre-revolutionary Russia.
The monument was built by order of the Empress Catherine the Great as a tribute to her famous predecessor on the Russian throne, Peter the Great.
The Mariinsky Opera and Ballet Theater
The world-renowned Mariinsky Theater, known during Soviet times as the Kirov Opera and Ballet Theater, reverted to its original name in 1992. The present building, which dates back to 1859, originally housed another theater but was remodeled and taken over by the Mariinsky company. During pre-revolutionary times the theater enjoyed royal patronage and has played host to some of Russia’s most celebrated classical performers; Fiodor Shaliapin sang there, and the dancers Vatslav Nizhinsky, Matilda Kshesinskaya, Anna Pavlova also graced its stage.
The building and its marvelous 1,625-seat auditorium were severely damaged during the 900-day Siege of Leningrad, but later restored in 1944. Since then the theater has maintained its excellent reputation, particularly for classical ballet.
The theater rose to the dizzying heights of international success under the leadership of the conductor Yuri Temirkanov and the current Chief Conductor and Artistic Director Valery Gergiev. The theater’s Ballet Department also flourished under the famous Leonid Yakobson and has enjoyed performances by the world-renown Rudolf Nureev.
The Yusupov Palace
On a quiet stretch of the Moika River stands a long yellow building, which was once the residence of the wealthy and respected Yusupov family and which saw one of the most dramatic episodes in Russia's history - the murder of Grigory Rasputin. In
In addition to being movers and shakers, the Yusupovs were great collectors of art, and their collection was known well beyond Russia. After the Revolution, most of the collection was moved to the Hermitage, making this place just another palace, though traces of the incredible wealth that once kept this place pulsating with life still remain: the various sitting rooms, the intricate chandeliers and candelabras that adorn every room and corridor, impressive Oak dining room, Big sitting room, sitting room with silver alcove, White Column Hall with majestic Corinthian colonnade, the beautiful private theatre in baroque style that looks like a cozy version of the Mariinsky. Nowadays, as before, they get up music concerts, using old instruments from the Yusupov collection.
The Alexander Nevsky Lavra
The Alexander Nevsky Lavra is situated at the end of Nevsky Prospekt. Peter the Great founded the Lavra in 1710 as "The Monastery of Holy Trinity and Grand Duke, St.Alexander Nevsky" to honor the victory of the Grand Duke of Novgorod over the Swedish troops in the Neva battle in 1240.
The construction of the stone Monastery town began in 1717. On August 30, 1724 by the order of Peter the Great the remains of St. Alexander Nevsky were transferred to the new church of the Annunciation and St.Alexander Nevsky. Peter the Great conceived the Monastery as the chief orthodox monastery of Russia. The Highest priests of the Orthodox Church hierarchy were educated in the Theological School located in the territory of the Lavra. The Printing house appeared here in 1720 Monastery, where such famous books "The Primer Book" of F. Prokopovitch, "The Praise of the Russian Fleet", "On Poltava and Gangut victories" of Buzhinsky, etc. were printed.
In 1726 the Slavonic/Greek/Roman seminary was established here. Later on the Academy of Theology (which operates now) was organized. In 1797 the Monastery was transformed into the Laura (the word can be translated as "abbey") with the large historical archive and library. In 1909 the Museum of Lavra was established. The Metropolitan Garden, the Lazarev cemetery (now the Necropolis of the 18th century), the Tikhvin cemetery (now the Necropolis of People of Arts), and Nicholay cemetery occupy a large plot of the Lavra territory. Many Russian luminaries were buried here.
The most impressive of St. Petersburg's suburban parks, Petrodvorets, or Peterhof, is a spectacular park-palace complex with a unique array of fountains, gilded statues, wooden bridges, and well-manicured gardens.
The Grand Palace, a huge and magnificent building originally designed and supervised by Peter the Great himself. Enlarged and modified by architect Rastrelli for Empress Elizabeth and reconstructed after World War II, when it suffered complete devastation, it is now an outstanding monument of architecture inside and out. Its ornate interior, decorated with splendid chandeliers, is a vast museum of fine art and antique furniture. All rooms are equally impressive, but the study of Peter the Great stands out for its wonderfully detailed sculptured panels.
The splendid Grand Cascade facing the Grand Palace is the main reason why you should come here. Rows of terraced fountains, highlighted by splendid gilded statues, are the park's main attraction. More trick fountains and water spouts triggered by hidden switches complete the picture. Partly designed by Peter the Great himself, this wonderful conglomeration of fountains and water canals is the venue for numerous theatrical or musical performances. Stroll around the Grand Cascade and along the main water canal, which runs directly towards the sea terminal and the Gulf of Finland. From the wonderful bridge along Marlinskaya aleya, enjoy the picturesque view of the rising Grand Cascade, backdropped by the magnificent elevated exterior of the Grand Palace.
If you walk east along Marlinskaya aleya and take any path towards the sea, you'll reach Monplaisir, an elegant and cosy palace that was used by Peter the Great to entertain guests. The halls and rooms of the palace are much more splendid than the exterior suggests. The main hall has extravagant marble floors and a wonderful painted ceiling, while the small study overlooking the sea is furnished with a unique Chinese-style writing table and matching showcases.
The area west of Alexandria Park is known as Lower Park. Numerous large fountains, smaller trick fountains, and stone statues adorn the straight forested walkways and elegant wide staircases. If you walk west along Marlinskaya aleya, you'll reach Marly, a medium-sized palace built for Peter the Great to host special guests. From here, take any path towards the shore to reach the small two-storey pink-and-white Hermitage. The second floor of this palace houses an unusual dining area, equipped with special lifts capable of hoisting the table, complete with dishes, from downstairs without the need of waiters.
Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin)
Tsarskoye Selo (formerly known as Pushkin) is one of St. Petersburg's numerous Imperial estates. Located just
Named after its creator, Empress Catherine, the second wife of Peter the Great, the original palace was built between 1717 and 1723 by the architect Braunstein. The palace was expanded later in the century and given a new, richly decorated Baroque facade by the architect Francesco Bartholomeo Rastrelli.
Beyond the south of the Catherine Palace lies the wilder, more natural section of the estate's park.. These include the Admiralty, the Chesma Column, the Marble Bridge, modeled on one in Wilton, England, and the Pyramid, where Catherine the Great liked to bury her favorite dogs.
One of the best-hidden secrets of the Tsarskoye Selo estate is the Alexander Palace, built between 1792 and 1796 by the architect Giacomo Quarenghi. By the turn of the 20th century the Alexander Palace had become the favorite residence of the last Russian Tzar, Nicholas II, and his family. It was from here that Nicholas's family was taken to Siberia to be executed in Ekaterinburg in 1918
Another of Tsarskoye Selo's major attractions is the Lyceum, located on the edge of the estate. Founded at the beginning of the 19th century and remarkably well-preserved, the Lyceum was a boarding school that once taught the most celebrated of all Russian poets, Alexander Pushkin.
Pavlovsk is a gorgeous palace in a suburb of St. Petersburg. The palace was a gift from Catherine II to her son tsar Paul I on the birth of his first son. Paul I was a very strange and very unhandsome man and very much an opposite of his great mother. His main passion in life was military duty and he tried to create his own army basing it on the German army of the time and you can see some militaristic features in decor of several rooms of the palace.
The palace was Paul I summer residence and besides the amazing palace also has an enormous park which is one of the largest in Europe.
The palace is not very big but stunning and it has the most amazing parquet. It is made out of 11 kinds of wood and has very creative pattern to it. The most impressive hall in the palace is Grecian Hall. Columns of artificial marble line all sides of the room. Between the columns on the walls you can see copies of antique sculptures and urns in the niches.
The palace also has a large collection of paintings, furniture, antique sculptures and porcelain that was created during Paul's travels in Europe in 1781-1782. The palace has very interesting architecture and was preserved by the tsar family the way that it was in the beginning of the 19th century until 1917. Pavlovsk was totally demolished by the Nazis during World War II and even in 1960's there still was nothing left on this place except for pieces reminding you of the past. It took several decades for the palace to be rebuilt and now it looks as it did in the 19th century.go back