The city of Saint Petersburg is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places on earth, and virtually any building in the large historic center, threaded with canals dotted with baroque bridges, can be considered an attraction—and indeed, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. This is a magical city, with a long list of major attractions. Its Hermitage Museum, housed in the Winter Palace of the Romanov Dynasty, is both one of the world's greatest and oldest collections of art, treasure, and antiquities, and one of its most beautiful buildings. There are more than 140 museums and around 100 theatres. St Petersburg is often referred to as an Open-air Museum.
This is a painting of one of the Hermitage halls by Russian artist Eduard Gau. Amazing attention to detail!
The tsar wanted a capital that provided Russia with a window to the West. Instead of traditional timber, this city would be made of stone. Architect Domenico Trezzini designed the first stone buildings: the tsar’s Summer Palace and the Peter and Paul Cathedral – the latter based on Dutch examples. Little stone is available in Russia for building. So all the material was shipped to Petersburg; no vessel could dock in the harbour without bringing a cargo of stone. Even so, the city’s first houses and the tsar’s temporary accommodation were of timber.
LIST_SIGHTSIn 1712, Peter the Great left Moscow and moved into his new residence in Sint-Pietersburgh, as the Dutch shipbuilders called the city. Russia’s foreign ambassadors, civil servants, merchants and craftsmen followed suit. Along the Neva and its tributaries rows of mansions and palaces appeared, belonging to leading families: the Orlovs, the Shuvalovs, the Shermetevs, the Yusopovs and the Stroganovs. The more serfs they had, the bigger the palace. As in Holland, all the buildings were arranged neatly along the embankments. None were more than four storeys high, in order not to overshadow the tsar’s Winter Palace. Three large avenues divided the Neva’s southern bank, one being Nevski Prospekt. The grand 18th-century houses on what is today the main thoroughfare are reminiscent of the country mansions along the Vecht and Amstel.
Around the city the tsar (and after him his successors) had huge parks built in different styles. Dutch gardeners were clearly influential, especially in the early years. The lime trees on the terrace at Peterhof, Peter the Great’s summer residence, were specially imported from the Netherlands. The actual buildings are more reminiscent of Versailles: they were designed in the strictly symmetrical French style. Many of the country estates modelled their grounds on the English landscape style.
This glorious city did not build itself. Huge numbers of (forced) labourers, including many Swedish prisoners of war, perished from exhaustion and disease in the construction of St Petersburg. In all, around 100,000 people died in the eighteen years that it took to establish the city. Some called St Petersburg the city built on bones. Constructed in a sparsely populated area of the country, many people were ordered to move to the new city from other parts of Russia.
The Alexander Column in Palace Square, St. Petersburg was erected after the Russian victory over Napoleon's France. Funny thing this monument was designed by a French-born architect.
After Peter the Great’s death, it was his daughter, Empress Elizabeth I, whose enthusiasm encouraged the next surge in construction in St Petersburg. This time new styles predominated: mainly French, Italian and traditional Russian. The residential areas and buildings by Elizabeth’s architect Bartholomeo Rastrelli – who designed the Winter Palace, Smolny monastery and the summer residence at Tsarskoye Selo - set the tone for the city. Under Alexander I, Carlo Rossi provided a classical impulse with his Mikhailov Palace and Alexandrinski Theatre.
More than 100 kg of gold were used to decorate the façade of Catherine's Palace in Pushkin.
Between 1850 and 1915, St Petersburg expanded and modernised, with railway stations, department stores, factories and apartment complexes - many in Style Moderne, the Russian version of Art Nouveau. After the 1917 Revolution, Petrograd (1914-1924), later Leningrad (1924-1991) was no longer Russia’s capital. Government offices moved to Moscow and major architectural innovations passed the city by. During the Second World War many 18th- and 19th-century buildings were either damaged or destroyed. After the war, most were given new functions: Kazan Cathedral, for example, was ironically reallocated as a Museum of Atheism. The architectural impact of the Soviet period remained limited to an uninspiring series of housing blocks and other rectangular structures. Today’s new residential areas have a more typically Russian appearance: functional and monumental, yet here and there an upturned onion.
10 must-do things in Saint Petersburg
1. To take of boat trip along the canals and rivers of St. Petersburg and to watch magic drawbridges across the Neva.