Capital: Moscow Currency: Russian ruble Population: 141,377,752 St. Petersburg's Parks and Gardens
St. Petersburg is the greenest of Russia's major cities. The statistics are impressive: Over 200 parks and gardens, plus over a thousand tree-lined streets and more than 700 leafy squares; and more than 2,000 hectares of greenery in total - or more than 56 square meters for each of the city's more than 4.5 million inhabitants.
The Alexander Garden is located in the very center of St. Petersburg, next to Palace Square and behind the Admiralty. Until 1806, the area was covered by the Admiralty's fortifications, but after these were removed it became Admiralty Square. At the beginning of the 19th century an avenue was laid out along the front of the main Admiralty, and very quickly became a fashionable place for the Petersburg aristocracy to promenade and swap the latest gossip from high society. The avenue even made it into Russian literature, when the country's favorite poet, Alexander Pushkin, mentioned it in is immortal novel-in-verse Evgeny Onegin.
The Alexander Garden was laid out in 1872-1874 over what had been Admiralty Square, to a design by the landscape gardener Eduard Regel, as part of the celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Peter the Great. The Garden was formally opened in 1874 in the presence of Alexander II, who agreed to having the Garden named after him. A fountain was installed in 1880 by a team led by Alexander Geschwend - it is known as the musical or dancing fountain because of the way it reacts to any music being played in the Garden. At the end of the 19th century, statues of great Russian cultural figures - the poets Vasily Zhukovsky and Mikhail Lermontov, the writer Nikolai Gogol, the composer Mikhail Glinka and the traveler Nikolai Przhevalsky - were installed.
The Alexander Garden was restored to its former glories at the beginning of the 1920s. During the Siege of Leningrad in the Second World War, not one tree in the Garden was cut down, although the city's inhabitants were in desperate need of firewood. The Garden was severely damaged by air-raids and shelling, but was again restored and opened to the public immediately the Siege was lifted.
The Alexander Garden is located behind the Admiralty, at the top of Nevsky Prospekt. It's a pleasant 10-minute walk up Nevsky toward Palace Square from Nevsky Prospekt metro station.
Unlikely though it may sound, many people have pointed to similarities between the sculpture of Nikolai Przhevalsky and Stalin - and some have even suggested that Przhevalsky was Stalin's father. Some older people, true believers in Communism, to this day bring flowers to Przhevalsky's statue, as they are convinced that it is a bronze representation of Stalin.
The Botanical Garden
St. Petersburg's Botanical Garden - or, to give it its full title, the Botanical Garden of the V.L. Komarov Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences - is located on the Petrograd side, and is one of the oldest Botanical Gardens in the country. The Garden was founded in 1714 by order of Peter the Great as the Apothecary's Garden, and soon became a center for horticultural research that was the equal of any other in Europe in terms of the importance and size of its collection. Originally the Apothecary's Garden focused mainly on growing medicinal herbs, but soon people began bringing saplings and seeds of rare and exotic plants - for which a greenhouse was specially built. Expeditions to various parts of the earth regularly augmented the Botanical Garden's collection with new sorts of trees, shrubs, flowers, and other plants.
Today, most of the Botanical Garden is designed in English landscape style. Plants from Russia's temperate zone grow uncovered, while the greenhouses house a large collection of tropical and sub-tropical plants; the Garden's 'Alpine hills' are also home to flora from the Caucasus, the Mediterranean, and Asia. In addition to all this, the Botanical Garden also has a collection of various types of fern, Chinese and Japanese plants, palms, bamboo, conifers, orchids, and much more. Giant water-lilies flower every summer and fall in the pool of one of the greenhouses - their leaves can reach 2 meters in diameter, and can support weights of up to 60 kg.
In May every year, the rare, tropical Queen of the Night flowers - for one night only. Because of this, the Botanical Garden remains open on that one night until midnight. The collection was seriously damaged during the Second World War, and unique examples of palms, ferns, and cacti died. But despite all the hunger that Leningraders suffered during the Siege, the Botanic Garden's collection of seeds and plants was not touched. After the War the collection was partially replenished, and today the Botanical Garden is again conducting large-scale research, with a rich collection of plants from around the world in its greenhouses.
How to Get There:
The Botanical Garden is located on Ulitsa Professora Popova, not far from Petrogradskaya metro station. Cross the Karpovka River and follow Ulitsa Professora Popova for a couple of hundred meters.
The Catherine Garden is the unofficial name for the public garden in front of the Alexandriinsky Theater, between the Theater and Nevsky Prospect. The Garden was laid out in the 1820s to a design by Carlo Rossi, and the statue of Catherine the Great which dominates it and from which it takes its name was erected in 1873. Looking at the Theater from Nevksy Prospect, to the left of the Catherine Garden - known affectionately by locals as Katya's Little Garden - is the Anichkov Palace, while to the right is the Public Library, which was also built by Rossi and is considered to be one of the world's most important libraries. From late spring to early fall - and sometimes into winter - local artists sit on the sidewalk outside the Catherine Garden exhibiting and selling their work and offering to draw portraits of passers-by.
Leningrad Zoo is located in Alexander Park - of which it is effectively part - on the Petrograd Side. It was founded by two animal-lovers - Sofia and Julius Gerhardt - in 1865. Today it is the second largest Zoo in Russia (after Moscow Zoo), with 2,000 animals from 410 species.
In 1873 the Zoological Garden was taken over by Ernest Rost, who replenished its collection of animals, carried out repairs on all of its buildings and equipment, and made it into a profitable business by splitting it into two parts - zoological and commercial. The Zoo was used for circus performances and concerts by choirs and orchestras, and was also home to restaurants. The Zoo's increased profitability meant it could afford to expand its collection of animals - it gained giraffes, orang-utans, anteaters and African elephants - and create more pleasant living conditions and new enclosures for them. Rost left in 1897, and Zoo began to decline. In 1909 it was closed to visitors.
The Garden remained in desperate condition until 1918, when it was nationalized and began to be restored. A library was collected, research was carried out, and expeditions despatched to all corners of the globe.
The Zoological Gardens were significantly damaged during the Second World War - but even though the city's residents were themselves starving the Zoo's elephant always was fed. When the elephant was killed in a bombing raid in 1944, the whole city mourned. The Zoo closed during the middle of the War, but opened again in 1944. The animal collection gradually grew to include an Indian elephant, chimpanzee, giraffes, a hippo, and a rhino.
How to Get There:
The Zoo is located in Alexander Park between Gorkovskaya and Sportivnaya Metro stations. It's probably easier to get to from Gorkovskaya - turn left out of the metro and left again into the park, and just keep walking.
The Summer Garden is located where the Fontanka River flows out of the Neva River. It was founded in 1704 by order of Peter the Great, who was personally involved in planning it, and is laid out according to strict geometrical principles. The Summer Garden is home to marble statues acquired from Europe especially for Russia's new capital, and also to rare flowers and plants, as well as fountains. It was a traditional location for courtly life outside the palace, and balls were held here by the nobility, who also enjoyed simply taking the air in the Garden.
The Summer Garden is also the location of Peter the Great's first Summer Palace, built by the great Italian architect Domenico Trezzini and still there today. This Summer Palace - a two-storey Dutch-style affair with a high roof and comparatively modest interior - was one of St. Petersburg's first stone palaces. Its original interiors have been preserve to this day.
In 1777 the Summer Garden was severely damaged by flooding: Several statues were destroyed and fountains broken. However, it was soon restored to its original regular plan. Today its avenues are adorned by 79 sculptures by Italian sculptors of the 17th and 18th centuries, including Boratta, Bozzazza, and many others - the oldest collection of garden statues in Russia. And the selection of mythological themes in the statues is no accident, as the images of the gods and heroes of Antiquity reflected the ideas underpinning Peter's state and transforming activity.
The Neva River end of the Summer Garden is bounded by a fence designed by the architect Yury Felten in 1773-1786. The Garden is also home to a Coffee House (designed by Carlo Rossi) and a Tea House (designed by Ludwig Charlemagne); in front of the latter is a statue of the great Russian fabulist Ilya Krylov by the sculptor Pyotr Klodt. The base of the monument is decorated by a bas relief based on themes from Krylov's tales.
How to Get There:
The Summer Garden is located next to the Field of Mars and St. Michael's Castle. To get there, take the metro to Gostiny Dvor station, cross Nevsky Prospekt and head up Sadovaya Ulitsa until you get to St. Michael's Castle. One of the two entrances to the Summer Garden is located just behind the Castle, across the canal.
Field of Mars
Adjoining, among others, the Summer and St. Michael Gardens and the St. Michael Palace, the Field of Mars has a long and varied history dating back to the very beginning of the city's history.
At the beginning of the 18th century, what is now the Field of Mars was essentially an overgrown bog. Subsequently it was turned into a parade ground for troop inspections, and renamed the Grand Meadow. Celebrations and parades were held to mark Russia's victory over Sweden in the Northern War. Following the construction of a palace for Catherine I, wife of Peter the Great, along one side of the field, the Meadow was renamed Tsarina's Meadow, and only in 1805 did it acquire its present-day name of the Field of Mars.
The Field of Mars was used for many years as a training ground for guards' regiments, and parades on it were immortalized by dozens of Russian painters and poets. The Emperor Paul was particularly partial to military parades on the Field of Mars, and had his official residence - the Mikhailovsky Castle - built on the other side of it from Catherine's Palace. But in the second half of the 19th century the Field of Mars once again became a place for ordinary people to spend their leisure time, with lots of attractions and amusements.
In 1917, the remains of those who died during the February Revolution were ceremonially buried on the Field of Mars, and the site assumed another function as a burial ground for heroes of the Revolution. In 1917-1919 a monument to "Fighters for the Revolution" was created here
During the Siege of Leningrad the Field of Mars became a huge vegetable garden, and after the siege was lifted a salute was fired from the field.
In 1957 the Eternal Flame was lit on the Field of Mars in memory of the victims in St. Petersburg of all wars and revolutions.
How to Get There:
From the Nevsky Prospect or Gostiny Dvor metro station, head along Griboedov Canal toward the Church on the Spilled Blood. Carry on round the Church, then cross the Moika, and the Field of Mars is in front of you.
The Michael Garden takes its name from the Michael Palace (better known to visitors as the main building of the Russian Museum) which it adjoins. Throughout its long and varied history it has been a formal French garden, a hunting reserve and nursery, and during the reign of the Empress Elizabeth it housed labyrinths and fountains. Under the Emperor Paul the Garden was used for horseback riding, and it began to acquire its present features at the beginning of the 19th century. The construction of the Michael Castle and after that the Michael Palace, both of which border the garden, fixed the Michael Garden in its present boundaries.
The Michael Castle from which the Garden takes its name was built in 1819-1825 by Carlo Rossi for Grand Duke Michael, brother of the Emperors Alexander I and Nicholas I. When construction of the Palace finished in 1825, the Garden was turned into a landscaped park.
In the north-east corner of the Garden, on the banks of the Moika River, is a small pavilion built in Empire Style by Carlo Rossi in 1825; a century earlier, this site had been occupied by a wooden palace belonging to Peter the Great's wife, Catherine. Next to the pavilion is a symbolic composition called the Tree of Freedom, made out of old oak by the sculptor Anatoly Solovyov.
The Michael Garden was closed after the summer season in 2002 for restoration, and opened again for St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary in 2003. Today it is once again a favorite place for Petersburgers to go for a walk, or simply to relax and do nothing. It is an interesting combination of two landscape style: regular French around the edge, and English landscape in the center. Classical music concerts are often held here in late spring and summer.
From Nevsky Prospekt or Gostiny Dvor metro station exit onto Griboedov Canal. Walk along the canal on the same side as the Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood. One entrance to the Michael Garden is located opposite the Church.go back