Visiting the Great Romanov Stronghold St. Petersburg Russia
Finally, I’ve made it to Russia…a longtime item on my Bucket List and I’m super stoked to be in St. Petersburg!
My first stop is to check in to the Melange Hotel, a not-so-easy-to-spot accommodation, but nonetheless, very comfortable, inexpensive and ideally located on St. Petersburg’s main street, Nevsky Prospekt.
The City of the Tsars, the Venice of the North, the Artistic Powerhouse, are just some of the names used to describe St. Petersburg. Founded by Peter the Great, who used the creative and artistic skills of European architects, this Romanov stronghold became Russia’s first great modern city. And I can see why!
“There is nothing finer than Nevsky prospekt, not in St. Petersburg at any rate, for in St. Petersburg it is everything…” wrote the great Russian author Nikolai Gogol more than 150 years ago. He was referring to the main road that is the pulse of the city, which even today, throbs with excitement, and is the showcase of the city’s noble past.
In the center of the Nevsky Prospect and Ligovsky Prospect intersection is the Vosstaniya Square (Uprising Square). Its name translates as “uprising” as it was the site of many demonstrations of the Russian Revolution in 1917. In the centre of this square is the Leningrad Hero City Obelisk, erected in memory of the 40th anniversary of the Great Victory in World War II. The obelisk is a heavy granite monolith weighing 240 tons and resembles a bayonet, crowned with a golden star.
Probably the oldest and most famous bridge across the Fontanka River, the Anichkov Bridge was first built in 1841. As well as its four famous horse sculptures, the bridge has some of the most celebrated ornate iron railings in St. Petersburg. I got a message from a friend back home telling me to check out this “16-balls bridge”, a nickname given to this bridge because of the four horses and four (nude) male tamers at the four corners! Sorry, no close ups of that!
I am super excited to be finally seeing this magnificent monument. As I walk alongside the frozen Griboyedov Embankment, I can see the five-domed dazzler, the Church of the Spilled Blood. The closer I get, I can see why this is such an attraction. But its classic Russian Orthodox façade is nothing compared to the interior, which is decorated with over 7000 sq. meters of mosaics, totaling an area of 23130 square feet. It is one of the largest mosaic collections in Europe and breathtakingly beautiful.
Also referred to as the Church of the Resurrection, it was built in memory of Alexander II who was assassinated in 1881. The church stands in the very place where a bomb was thrown into his carriage by a young man who opposed the Tsar’s reforms. Alexander II is among the greatest Russian tsars, and one of his main accomplishments was the emancipation of serfs in 1861, which brought an end to the de facto slavery of the Russian peasantry, five years before the emancipation of slaves in the US.
The State Russian Museum is the world’s largest collection of Russian art, housed in a unique architectural complex in St Petersburg. It was the first museum of Russian art, initiated by Emperor Alexander III. Later, in 1895, Emperor Nicholas II signed a decree ordering the foundation of a special establishment named ‘The Russian Museum of Emperor Alexander III’.
The museum collection contains over 400,000 exhibits covering all major periods and trends in the history of Russian art, all main types and genres, trends and schools of Russian art over more than a thousand years: from the X to the XXI century. Fabulous!
Just outside the Museum is the Michael (Mikhailovsky) Garden. 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 (Empress of Russia from 1741 – 1762) it housed labyrinths and fountains. Under the Emperor Paul, (Emperor of Russia from 1796-1801) the Garden was used for horseback riding, and it began to acquire its present features at the beginning of the 19th century.
Since it’s a bright and sunny day (temp 6C), I’m all up for walking. And what better place than the Summer Garden, another of Peter the Great’s masterpieces. He was personally involved in planning it in strict geometrical principles with marble statues (acquired from Europe), rare foliage and fountains.
In the center of these gardens, at the Monument to the Fighters of Revolution at the Field of Mars an eternal flame was lit commemorating the victims of all wars and revolutions that had befallen this city. These are some of today’s offerings of flowers, messages, plaques and tributes laid around this flame.
A short walk from here, across from Neva River is the stunning St. Peter and Paul Fortress.
Also founded by Peter the Great in 1703, this unique historical, architectural fortification is where the tombs of all the Russian emperors can be found. In the center of the Peter and Paul Fortress is a small wooden church which served as a tomb of the reigning House of Romanovs. Here the Russian emperors and empresses from Peter I to Nikolay II, except for Pyotr II and Ioann of VI are buried.
I enter through a long wooden bridge into the stately gardens, which are surrounded by the fortifications. Walking along this gives me a 180-degree view of St. Petersburg across the Neva River and the Admiralty Embankment on the other side of this river.
This short embankment (only 630 meters long) runs along one of the most historic areas of St. Petersburg. In 1704, Peter the Great founded the Admiralty shipyard at this site, where warships were built for the Baltic Navy. Today everything here is reminiscent of the founder of the city including the majestic Admiralty itself, the world famous Bronze Horseman, and the Tsar Carpenter monument.
Another stunning masterpiece, both inside and out is the St. Isaac’s Cathedral, originally the city’s main church and the largest cathedral in Russia. Built between 1818 and 1858, it was one of the most impressive landmarks of the Russian Imperial capital. Almost 200 years later the gilded dome of St. Isaac’s still dominates the skyline of St. Petersburg.
Also beautiful to see is the Kazansky Cathedral, dedicated to Our Lady of Kazan, probably the most venerated icon in Russia. Built in 1801-1811 by the architect Andrey Voronikhin by order of Emperor Paul I who wanted the cathedral to resemble St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, the cathedral is the monument to glory of Russian arms. The famous Russian Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov, who won the most important campaign of 1812, was buried inside the Kazan Cathedral. In 1932-1991 it housed the Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism. The sacred thing of the cathedral is a copy of an icon of Our Lady of Kazan.
This visit is more like the foreword to my experience in this historical, imperial capital of Russia. I have so much more to see and do. I must come back.
But for now, I’ve got to board the Allegro, the high-speed train that is going to take me to Helsinki, Finland.