Surely the finest building
— the Winter Palace - was built to orders of Czarina Elizabeth, daughter
of Peter the Great. The Italianate Baroque structure is white and green
and Catherine the Great extended it in Classical style for her Hermitage
in 1764 and purchased art treasures throughout Europe. Today this collection
with at least three million pieces of art is the world's largest art museum.
One of the largest churches
in Europe is the St. Isaac cathedral. At 328 foot (100 m) high it dominates
the skyline of St. Petersburg. Its interior is a veritable symphony of
marble, precious and semi-precious stones of every color and it has space
for 14,000 worshippers. The golden cupola is gilded with more than forty-five
pounds in weight of pure gold. From the top there is a breathtaking view
of the finest square of the old city.
The historic centre of the
city is Palace Square, which incorporates the Winter Palace, the General
Staff Headquarters and Ministries Buildings. The Winter Palace used to
be the Imperial residence. Several rooms in the palace were used to house
unique works of art, and these rooms came to be known as the Hermitage.
Later more buildings were constructed for the growing collections - the
Small Hermitage, the Great Hermitage, the Hermitage Theatre and the New
Hermitage. All these buildings now make up the State Hermitage - an enormous
museum of art, history and culture. The collection includes paintings by
Rubens, Rembrandt, Leonardo da Vinci, Titian and many other artists, as
well as historical and cultural objects from many countries.
THE VENICE OF THE NORTH
St. Petersburg is built
on 42 islands at the Neva delta where the river flows into the Gulf of
Finland. It is one of the world's leading cities in terms of its number
of rivers, islands and bridges. St. Petersburg is sometimes called a museum
of bridges - it has over 300 of them.
69 rivers and other waterways
flow through the city and its immediate environs; within the city limits
there are 40 rivers, tributaries, canals and other waterways with a total
length of 217.5 km. The principal ones are the Great and Lesser Neva, the
Great, Medium and Lesser Nevka, the Fontanka, the Karpovka, the Okhta,
the Zhdanovka, the Moika, Chernaya Rechka and the Obvodnyy Canal.
THE MAIN STREET
Nevsky Prospekt is St. Petersburg's
main street. It began with the clearing of a straight cut through the forest
and the building of a road on it.
The straight, wide thoroughfare
starts from the Admiralty, passes through Ploshchad Vosstaniya and ends
at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery. It was named after Alexander Nevsky
(or possibly after the monastery, which was also called Nevsky). The city's
main highway contains St. Petersburg's major shops, theatres and museums.
In the early 20th century
there were more than 100 islands in the city, but as a result of engineering
work to develop the marine facade their number was reduced to 42. There
are over 580 bridges, including 20 that can be raised (7 of these cross
the Neva); the total area occupied by the river within the city's boundaries
is 32 km (its total length from Lake Ladoga to the Gulf of Finland is 74
km). The length of the marine embankment within the limits of the modern
city is about 35 km.
ST. PETERSBURG - A NAVAL
A great deal in St. Petersburg's
artistic decoration is reminiscent of the city's naval glory, which is
inextricably linked with the expanses of the Baltic Sea. Peter I did all
he could to ensure that the sails of Russian ships were seen along the
Baltic coast. Russia became a formidable naval power, confirming its superiority
with glorious victories and round-the-world voyages.
St. Petersburg's first theatre
was opened by Peter I's sister Natalya in 1709. The city is famous for
its theatres - not only for the companies, but for the beauty of the theatres
themselves. From the earliest years of St. Petersburg theatres were built
into the Imperial palaces, while the imposing, monumental buildings of
the public theatres were erected on the city's squares. St. Petersburg
is rightly known as the cultural capital.
The city boasts one of the
oldest circuses in the country, opened in 1877. A great contribution to
the musical heritage of the city and the country is made by the Shostakovich
Philharmonia and the Glinka State Academic Capella.
Among St. Petersburg's unique
attractions are its numerous palaces, constructed in the 18th and 19th
centuries, when the city was the capital of the Russian state; they formed
the ceremonial face of the city. Several of the palaces and other buildings
are outstanding examples of world architecture. They include the vast Winter
Palace, the principal feature of Palace Embankment and Palace Square. Also
worthy of attention are the Mikhailovsky Palace, the architecture along
Nevsky Prospekt and the Engineers' Castle, which overlooks the expanse
of the Field of Mars.
CATHEDRALS AND CHURCHES
MEMORIALS OF MILITARY GLORY
St. Petersburg has 10 cathedrals,
39 Orthodox churches, Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches, an Armenian-Gregorian
church, a Buddhist temple, a Muslim mosque and two synagogues. The world-famous
cathedrals are: the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral of the Holy Trinity - one
of the leading examples of 18th century Russian ecclesiastical architecture;
the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan - a monument of Russian military glory,
featuring trophies from the Patriotic War of 1812; and an example of classicist
architecture - the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ ("The Saviour
on the Blood").
Patriotism, heroism, self-sacrifice
and valour arouse particular respect. It is not surprising that the people's
feats of arms are reflected in the splendid architecture, the numerous
monuments and the names of streets and squares in St. Petersburg.
THE SUMMER GARDEN
The Summer Garden is one
of the favourite spots in our city for locals and visitors alike. It is
situated in one of the outstanding sections of embankment on the left bank
of the Neva and occupies nearly 12 hectares. The garden was created in
1704 according to an idea of Peter I; it became his formal residence and
the city's greatest adornment.
Arts' Square (Ploshchad
Iskusstv) comprises the Russian Museum, the Mussorgsky Opera House, the
Musical Comedy Theatre, the Great Hall of the Philharmonia and the Ethnographic
Museum. From 1819-1825 a palace designed by architect Karl Rossi was built
for Tsar Alexander I's brother Mikhail. Today the Mikhailovsky Palace is
the home of the Russian Museum, one of the world's great museums containing
the largest collection of Russian fine arts: ancient icons, paintings by
Kiprensky, Shchedrin, Venetsianov, Bryullov, Kramskoy, Repin, Surikov,
Serov and Vrubel, portraits by Nikitin, Rokotov, Argunov, Levitsky and
PETER AND PAUL FORTRESS
Peter and Paul Cathedral
is the oldest church in St. Petersburg; building started within a month
of the city's foundation on 29 June 1703. It was completed on 1 April 1704
and dedicated to the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. Peter and Paul Fortress
is the Imperial burial-vault: it contains the remains of almost all the
Russian Emperors and Empresses. Marble sarcophagi are installed over the
graves of the Tsars and members of their families.
The majestic appearance of St.
Petersburg is achieved through a variety of architectural details including
long, straight boulevards, vast spaces, gardens and parks, decorative wrought-iron
fences, monuments and decorative sculptures. The Neva River itself, together
with its many canals and their granite embankments and bridges gives the
city a unique and striking ambience. These bodies of water led to St. Petersburg
being given the name of "Venice of the North".
Over the course of two centuries
from St. Petersburg's foundation in 1703, magnificent palace and park complexes
were constructed close to the Russian capital: Peterhof (Petrodvorets),
Strelna, Oranienbaum (Lomonosov), Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin), Pavlovsk, Gatchina
and a number of other country residences for Emperors, Grand Princes and
grandees. They reflect all stages in the development of Russian architecture
and landscaping from the 18th to 20th centuries.
St. Petersburg's position
below the Arctic Circle, on the same latitude as nearby Helsinki, Stockholm,
Aberdeen and Oslo (60° N), causes twilight to last all night in May,
June and July. This celebrated phenomenon is known as the "white nights".
The white nights are closely linked to another attraction — the eight drawbridges
spanning the Neva. Tourists flock to see the bridges drawn and lowered
again at night to allow shipping to pass up and down the river. Bridges
open from May to late October according to a special schedule between approximately
2 a.m. and 4:30 a.m.
The historical center of
St. Petersburg, sometimes called the outdoor museum of Architecture, was
the first Russian patrimony inscribed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage