By Martha Jette
For Local Storm Media, Inc
The symbol of St. Petersburg, Russia sits high atop Peter and Paul Cathedral. Called “the Angel,” it is perched on the cathedral’s gilded spire at the highest point in the city. It is believed that the angel watches over the area and also protects Venice in the north.
With three busy ports, the city has become a major gateway for trade making it a booming financial and industrial center. Its industries include gas and oil, shipbuilding, aerospace products, electronics, computers and software, transportation, heavy machinery such as tanks, publishing, automobiles, medical equipment, and distilleries for vodka and beer.
St. Petersburg, formerly known as Petrograd and Leningrad, sits beside the Neva River and features a wide variety of palaces, museums, monuments and other sites that hold the keys to the city’s long history. The city center features Baroque and Neoclassical architecture from the 18th and 19th centuries. The city’s historic buildings are now under the watch of UNESCO to ensure their preservation.
The baroque style of architecture became prominent followed by influences of Elizabethan baroque and then neoclassical. Catherine the Great (1760’s to 1780’s) added to the city’s features with granite embankments along the Neva River.
Tsar Peter the Great originally founded Petrograd in 1703 and for a time, it was the capital of Russia. The site has a turbulent history, including three devastating fires in 1736-1737. During the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Bolsheviks took over the Winter Palace, home to Nicholas II. As a result, he abdicated his throne ending the monarchial system. Vladimir Lenin then came to power. In 1917, German troops invaded Petrograd, which led to civil war. Lenin died in 1924 and the city was renamed Leningrad in his honor. Today St. Petersburg boasts about 230 sites that tell of his life and times.
The first public elections were held in St. Petersburg in June 1991. Anatoly Sobchak became the first city mayor and five years later, Vladimir Yakovlev elected in his place. More than a million people live in this thriving city today. Tourists will find countless attractions, including The Hermitage cited as the “largest museum in the world,” many magnificent churches and cathedrals, musical sites, museums, castles a fortress established by Peter the Great and much more.
Also known as the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts and formerly the Academy of the Three Noblest Arts, this site was built by Ivan Shuvalov in 1757. Under the direction of Catherine the Great, a new building was constructed and opened in 1789. Following the Russian Revolution, the academy was abolished and was given various names over the years.
Sitting beside the Neva River, this historic site is used as the Ilya Repin St. Petersburg State Academic Institute for Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. Its stunning features include two 3,000-year-old sphinxes from Egypt, a quayside in front and stairs leading to the Neva River.
Formerly known as the Russian Museum of His Imperial Majesty Alexander III, this site holds the biggest collection of the country’s fine art works. Dating back to 1895, the museum was established by Nicholas II in honor of his father. Its initial collection included words from the Hermitage Museum, Imperial Academy of Arts and Alexander Palace. After the revolution, many of these were moved to the Russian Museum.
The museum is located within Mikhailovsky Palace, which was built in 1829. Two features of the museum are a collection of Buddhist religious relics and the Ethnographic Department, which houses the private works of Prince Tenishev on the life of peasants in the 1800’s.
Moika Palace is also known as the Yusupov Palace after the wealthy noble family that lived there beginning in the 1800’s. It was built in 1770 and has undergone a number of architectural changes over the years giving it an eclectic style.
In December of 1916 the palace prince, Felix Yusopov and Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich from the House of Romanov entertained Grigori Rasputin. The story goes that Rasputin was given red wine and cakes with cyanide, which they expected would kill him. When they did not, the prince shot Rasputin but even that did not kill the man. The two conspirators then shot him three more times to finish the job. When Rasputin tried to get up and run, they clubbed him and threw him into the Moika River. Surprisingly, the coroner found that Rasputin died of hypothermia, not from any of the things inflicted upon him!
After the Russian Revolution, Moika Palace was confiscated by the Soviets and given to the St. Petersburg Education Commissariat. It then became a public museum.
This site is one of five comprising the Hermitage buildings along the Neva River. The theatre was built from 1783 to 1787 thanks to Catherine the Great. It was constructed in a Palladian design replacing the third Winter Palace of Peter the Great, which was demolished.
The theatre, which opened in 1785, includes a semi-circular auditorium with marble and statues throughout. It was generally attended by only aristocrats invited by Catherine and later admitted diplomats as well who enjoyed comedies, operas and ballets. When the Bjolsheviks arrived, they turned the site into an administrative center. In 1991, it reopened with performances on the stage.
Formerly the home of Russian emperors, the State Hermitage Museum is a feast for the eyes with its Corinthian columns and building painted in green and gold – a Baroque style built in 1732. Sitting along the Neva River, the museum is huge and holds more than three million works of art.
From Paleolithic, Iron Age, Neolithic and bronze artifacts, to items used by early farmers and Scythians, to the works of nomads from the Altaic region, a Siberian collection of Peter 1, Pereshchepina treasures and more, there is plenty for visitors to see. A display of Sarmatian and Hun relics give visitors a look into the life of these nomadic peoples. There are also Turkish stone figures, items reflecting the Baltic medieval culture and many other artifacts of ancient Russia.
Of special interest are the frescoes on canvas in the Vatican Gallery and Raphael Loggias, which includes works of art, architecture and sculpture. Each of the site’s 13 sections contain vaults displaying Bible scenes representing events from the Old Testament.
This site was once home to Russian emperors Nicholas I and Nicholas II. Built in the 1700’s, the palace features a baroque style. There is much decorative work in this elegant site from high-rising columns to window architraves, arches and cornices.
The palace is filled with graphic art, photographs and paintings from their day to the present. Visitors can see the Throne Room, a stately main staircase, living suites and more. Outside the palace is a small courtyard with cobblestones and stone flags. There is also a tower clock, which was installed in 1839 during the reign of Nicholas I.
The Winter Palace is open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (5 p.m. Sunday & closed Mondays). For more information, call +7 (812) 710-9079.
This palace, which is part of the Hermitage, was once the home of Prince Alexander Menshikov, St. Petersburg’s first governor. When Menshikov fell from power, the state confiscated the property and in the 1880’s it housed the Cadet Corps.
European architects and artists worked on this site over many years. The interior shows marble work, decorative painting, and both old and new Italian sculpture. The palace houses a vast collection of art works, medals, coins and books. In the 1970’s, restoration work began to return the site to its former glory and it opened to the public in 1981.
More than 30,000 pieces of porcelain, glass, rare publications, drawings and more can be found in the Museum of the Imperial Porcelain Factory. Founded in 1744, this former factory was the oldest of its kind in the Russian empire. This site opened to the public in 2003 with state-of-the-art technology.
This fort established by Peter the Great in 1703 became the first building constructed with bricks and stones in the area. Situated on Zayachy Island along the Neva River, the Neoclassic fortress was built during the Northern War to protect the area from the Swedes. While this became unnecessary, the fort was used as a garrison and a prison for political prisoners. During the 1917 revolution, Pavlovski soldiers attacked and all of the prisoners were set free.
When the Bolsheviks attacked the fortress, 8,000 soldiers stationed there changed sides placing it firmly in their hands. In the first quarter of the 1900’s, the site was converted into a museum but suffered much damage during WWII. It has since been restored and is open to the public.
The site on which the fortress stands also includes the Peter and Paul Cathedral built in 1712-1713. Its outstanding features include a bell tower and copula with a gilded angel on top of it. Inside the cathedral, a mausoleum holds many Russian tsars that were laid to rest, including Peter I, Alexander III, his wife, Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna and Nicholas II.
There is also a mint building, Commandant’s House, Engineer’s House and Gazodinamicheskava Laboratory and the Old Printing House, each with exhibits. The Grand Dukes Mausoleum built between 1896 and 1908 holds members of the Imperial family.
Every day at noon, a cannon is fired from the Naryshkin Bastion, one of six within the fortress. Below the fortress lies a sand beach, which is a popular spot for both locals and tourists. The museum is open Thursday to Monday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are available at a site near the Ioannovsky Gate or at the Boat House by the cathedral.
This palace is so named due to the vast amount (32 shades) of marble inside of it. Finnish granite, stucco and Tallinn dolomite were also used. At one time the home of Count Orlov, it lwas later claimed by the empress. In 1797, it was leased to a Polish king and then became home to the Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich. Under his orders, the site was renovated and renamed the Constantine Palace.
In 1917, the palace was used by the Ministry of Labor, in 1919 by the Academy of Material Culture and in 1937 it became the Lenin Museum. Today the site houses works from the Russian State Museum and Peter Ludwig Museum, which features the talent of such modern day notables as Andy Warhol. Outside the palace, visitors will find an equestrian statue of Alexander III by Paolo Troubetzkoy in a recessed courtyard.
Also called the Russian State Pushkin Academy Drama Theater, this site is the oldest theatre of its kind in Russia. Built in 1756, this Empire-style building sits in the heart of Alexandrinsky Square (Ostrovsky Square). Its stage has seen the likes of Anton Chekhov, Alexander Griboyedov and Alexander Ostrovsky.
The theatre underwent some reconstruction after the year 2,000 and reopened to the public in 2006. In 2010, Valery Fokin, artistic director of the theater, received “The Order of Merit for the Motherland of the III Degree” for his contributions toward theater art and other creative endeavors.
Also known as Mikhailovsky Castle and Engineers Castle, this site was constructed in 1797 for Emperor Paul I. The builders employed different architectural styles on the castle’s sides, including Italian Renaissance, Gothic and French Classicism.
Paul I was paranoid about being assassinated so the castle sits on what appears to be an island surrounded by the Moika and Fontanka rivers, as well as dug out canals making access to the site by drawbridges only. In an ironic twist, he was assassinated 40 nights after moving in. His family then moved back to the Winter Palace.
IN 1823, the castle became home to the army’’s engineering school. Today visitors will find a portrait gallery featuring Russian empresses and emperors, as well as other celebrities and dignitaries. Outside the castle they will see an octagonal courtyard.
Built in neoclassical style, this palace was built for Prince Grigory Potemkin of Tauride in the late 1700’s. It actually includes three linking buildings, with the center one featuring a dark green dome. Yellow facades grace the outside of the palace, as well as a six-column portico. The inside of the palace features luxurious decorations as well as a gallery that is 75 meters long and includes a winter garden.
After the prince died, the palace was taken over by the Treasury and became home to Catharine II. It was later used by the cavalry regiment and in 1802, as the home of an emperor. Until 1906, it was the site of various exhibitions and balls, and later became a government site. After WWII, it was home to the Leningrad Higher Communist Party School. It has now housed the Interparliamentary Assembly of Member Nations of the Commonwealth of Independent States since the early ‘90s.
This baroque-style palace was used as a summer residence by various Russian tsars. Located just 25 kilometers southeast of St. Petersburg, it is one of the more famous sites for tourists.
Built in 1717, Catherine I called for the palace’s construction. Other royalty lived here, including Empress Elizabeth, who directed reconstruction work to replace the palace with a more grand Rococo-style building.
The inside of the palace was lavishly decorated using at least 100 kilograms of gold to decorate the facades and statues. Catherine the Great was not pleased by the extreme cost of the renovations and called for an end to them.
After Catherine died, the palace was not used for a number of years. In 1817, Alexander I turned it into one of Empire style. Due to the German onslaughter of WWII, much of the palace and furnishings were destroyed. Most of the site has been restored but the work is ongoing.
The palace includes personal apartments, formal rooms called the Golden Enfilade, a Great Hall with an amazing painted ceiling, White formal dining room with gilded wall carvings, a Portrait Hall, which was a lavish apartment and now displays pictures of nobility, a drawing room with walls of Chinese silk, cold baths, a chapel, the Hanging Gardens and the Cameron Gallery, which features bronze statues. The adjacent Catherine Park includes a Creaking Pagoda, the Dutch Admiralty, Cehsme Column, Marble Bridge and Rumyanstsev Obelisk.
This site is open to the public daily (except Tuesdays and last Monday of each month) from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is 310 rubles (adults), 150 rubles (students) and 100 rubles (children).
Situated on Nevsky Prospekt, the city’s main thoroughfare, this palace was built in 1741 at the request of Empress Elizabeth. She gifted the site to her “unofficial spouse,” Aleksey Razumovsky. After his death, the palace was purchased by Catherine the Great and passed to her lover – Grigory Potemkin. Under his watchful eye, it was renovated with baroque and neoclassic features.
For a few years in the late 18th century, the palace housed the Cabinet of his Highness the Emperor. Subsequently, it was home to such Imperial family members as Nicholas 1, Alexander II and Alexander III. It briefly became a museum after that and in the 1930’s became Leningrad’s Pioneers’ Palace.
This museum features the history of Russia’s navy through more than 800 exhibits. These include naval memorabilia, maritime equipment, armaments, models of historic vessels and paintings created by marine artists. Of special note is the boat of Peter the Great, which was called the “grandfather of the Russian Navy.”
The museum was built between 1805 and 1810, and features Greek and Roman architecture. Situated on Vasilyevsky Island, the site is open Monday, Tuesday and the last Thursday of each month from 10:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. For more information, call +7 (812) 328-2501.
This museum is charged with protecting and restoring monuments across St. Petersburg. These include such sites as the Moscow and Narva Triumphal Arch, the Anichkov Bridge horse teams, the sphinxes at the Academy of Fine Art, the Pushkin monument, the Alexander Column and more.
An exhibition hall on Lavra Lane houses a permanent exhibit of models of the city’s sculptures all in one site. There is also a Signs of Memory exhibition in the Annunciation crypt on Floor 2, which displays portraits, symbols and heraldry, such as family coats of arms from past centuries. As well, the crypt holds military leader Suvorov, along with royal family members and other political notables.
Admission to the museum is R70 (adults/students) and the hours of operation are Tuesday and Thursday to Sunday from 22 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin was a Russian author during the Romantic Era. He is considered the best poet and writer of his time. He lived and worked in St. Petersburg and its citizens are justifiably proud of him. During a duel with d’Anthes in 1837, he suffered fatal wounds and died.
The museum, which is the house where he lived, was refurbished in his honor and opened to the public exactly 100 years later. It includes his study where he completed much of his work, along with his belongings including Pushkin’s death mask, family portraits and a lock of his hair in a medallion.
The cost of admission is R80 and the museum is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
This museum displays the “First Russian theatrical exhibition” ever held in the city in 1908 at the Panaeysky Theatre and focuses on Russia’s dramatic theatre productions, theatre history and musicals. It includes photographs of famous actors, their belongings and portraits of those who took part in productions, costumes, stage set sketches, posters and more. Concerts are also held at the site, which is open daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday from 1 to 7 p.m. (closed Tuesday). For more information call (812) 315-5243.
This museum houses blueprints of important buildings and models of railways throughout Russia and elsewhere. It also includes plans for civic buildings, cathedrals, transport facilities and monuments. The museum has grown over the years and today there are more than 50,000 exhibits. This site is open daily from 11a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (except Friday, Saturday and last Thursday of the month). For more information, call (812) 315-1476.
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