Spit of the Vasilievsky Island
Very early in the history of St. Petersburg the Strelka (spit) of the Vasilievsky Island, the largest island in the Neva delta, was intended to become the heart of downtown St Petersburg. Some of the buildings, such as the Customs House, still remind us today of Tsar Peter’s original intentions. Although the downtown area of the city eventually moved onto the left bank of the river, the architects of the early 19th century did not forget about the Spit of Vasilievsky Island. Neither did the Tsars, since the area could be clearly seen from their royal residence - the Winter Palace.
Vasilievsky Island is a charming place that attract people regardless the season, which Peter I intended to make an administrative and cultural centre of the city by shifting the Commercial Sea port to its spit, Eastern part of the island, washed by waters of the Big and the Small Neva. But due to the lack of access (the first bridge was built only in 1850) and the hazards of floods and stormy crossings, Peter's project was abandoned and the center grew up across the river around the Admiralty instead, while the Vasilievsky Island, developed in the 19th century, became of middle-class haven featuring broad tree-lined avenues, samples of attractive classicism style architecture and several Lutheran churches as well as the area of learning since various museums, institutes and libraries were established here in the former warehouses and customs buildings. The eastern end of the Island, known as Strelka (Spit), has become an inseparable part of the historical city centre boasting prominent architectural sights in Saint-Petersburg: Rostral Columns, Kunstkammer, Twelve Colleges, the Academy of Science, Zoological Museum, the Stock Exchange building, the Lomonosov monument. Offering a picturesque view on Peter-and-Paul's Fortress, the Admiralty, the Palace embankment with the Hermitage Museum, the Spit of Vasilievsky Island ranks as one of the most popular spots for the newly weds to have their pictures taken.
One of the distinctive features of St.Petersburg skyline, the imposing 32 meters high Rostral Columns were designed in 1810 by an architect Tomas de Tomon as lighthouses to emphasize the limpid Classicism of the Stock Exchange building erected behind the green square bordered from the Neva River by granite fence and a long row of trimmed trees. Built as the symbol of the naval supremacy of the Russian Empire and in honor of the Russian fleet victories, the russet-coloured impressive columns are decorated according to the Roman tradition with protruding ships' prows, images of anchors and five-meter high allegoric statues installed on the rostrum of each column representing Volga, Dnieper, Neva and Volhov - the main Russian northern rivers. In the 19th century the oil lamps in these gigantic lighthouses were replaced by gas torches and still lit on special occasions, for instance for Navy days and other water festivals.
The grandeur and expressiveness of the Spit is formed largely due to the Neo-Classical former Stock Exchange building erected 120 meters ahead from the natural coastline to the design of architects Toma de Tomon and Adrian Zakharov in 1805-1810. Modelled on one of the famous Greek temples at Paestrum in Italy, the building was set on a high plinth, surrounded by 44 snow-white Doric columns and adorned with an allegorical sculpture featuring the seagod Neptune in a chariot drawn by sea horses. Initially used for bargaining, the exchange became redundant after the Revolution and in 1940 it was turned into the Naval Military museum, featuring the exhibition on the history of the Russian and Soviet navy from its origins under Peter the Great to the present day.
Other landmark of the Vasilievsky Island Spit is the embankment decorated with lion masks, huge granite balls installed on the ramps, and splendid buildings of warehouses, built on both sides of the Stock Exchange in 1826-1832 by architect Giovanni Lucchini. The northern warehouse is occupied by the Central museum of agrology named after V.V.Dokuchaev, while the southern – by the Zoological institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Zoological museum, where the world’s largest collection containing more than 100,000 specimens is kept.