Saint Peters­burg: Ar­chi­tec­tural Par­adise

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Li Shasha Edited by David Ball

Home to over 1,000 well-pre­served his­tor­i­cal sites, St. Peters­burg is a par­adise for lovers of ar­chi­tec­ture. The His­toric Cen­tre of Saint Peters­burg and Re­lated Groups of Mon­u­ments were in­scribed on the UNESCO World Her­itage List in 1990.

In Voltaire’s opin­ion, “Saint Peters­burg in­cor­po­rates the beauty of all Euro­pean cities into one,” whilst Alexan­der Pushkin chose to ex­press his love for the city in his poem, “The Bronze Horse­man: A Peters­burg Tale.“

I love you, Peter’s great cre­ation; I love your view of stern and grace, The Neva wave’s re­gal pro­ces­sion, The gray­ish gran­ite—her bank’s dress,

The airy iron- cast­ing fences, The gen­tle trans­par­ent twi­light

Saint Peters­burg, a city built on rock by Peter the Great (reign: 1721–1725), is the cul­tural cap­i­tal of Rus­sia. It is home to over 1,000 well-pre­served his­tor­i­cal sites, in­clud­ing 548 palaces, churches and court­yards; 32 me­mo­rial tablets; 137 gar­den land­scapes; and more than 200 mu­se­ums and for­mer-res­i­dences of no­table fig­ures such as the Pushkin Apart­ment Museum, Dos­to­evsky Museum, Stieglitz Museum, and Ilya Repin’s For­mer Res­i­dence. This “Venice of the North” is made up of 42 pic­turesque is­lands, nu­mer­ous in­ter­con­nected canals and more than 400 bridges, as well as var­i­ous styles of ar­chi­tec­ture, such as Baroque, clas­si­cal, im­pe­rial, ro­man­tic and eclec­tic, touched with Man­ner­ist and Goth­ic­styles. Dur­ing its 300-plus years of his­tory it has re­tained many of its im­por­tant and in­tri­cately de­signed palaces and churches through­out the vi­cis­si­tudes of his­tory. The His­toric Cen­tre of Saint Peters­burg and Re­lated Groups of Mon­u­ments were in­scribed on the UNESCO World Her­itage List in 1990.

Im­pe­rial Cap­i­tal on the Marsh

Sit­u­ated in the north­west of Rus­sia, Saint Peters­burg is lo­cated on the Baltic Sea and is the sec­ond largest city in the coun­try after Moscow, as well as the for­mer cap­i­tal of Im­pe­rial Rus­sia.

Saint Peters­burg was orig­i­nally a wet­land at the head of the Gulf of Fin­land on the Baltic Sea. The area around the

wet­land in­clud­ing the Gulf of Fin­land was pre­vi­ously called “Inger­man­land” and was in­hab­ited by Fin­nic tribe of In­gri­ans. In or­der to gain a sea­port to Western Europe, Peter the Great waged his “Great North­ern War”(1700–1721), declar­ing the es­tab­lish­ment of a new im­pe­rial cap­i­tal—saint Peters­burg— on the bank of the Neva River at the en­trance to the Gulf of Fin­land in 1703, thereby firmly gain­ing con­trol of the seas and re­al­is­ing his am­bi­tion of con­quer­ing Europe. On May 27, 1703, the foun­da­tions of the Peter and Paul Fortress were laid. Over the two years from 1713 to 1714, Peter the Great then moved the cap­i­tal from Moscow to Saint Peters­burg, mark­ing the first time the city be­came the cap­i­tal of the Rus­sian monar­chy. Ad­di­tions to the cap­i­tal took place over more than 200 years through­out the reigns of Cather­ine the Great, Alexan­der I and Ni­cholas II. The city grad­u­ally turned from a marsh into one of the most glo­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal, cul­tural and eco­nomic cen­tres of Rus­sia, in what Pushkin called “Rus­sia’s win­dow to the West.”

Peter the Great ap­pointed Swiss ar­chi­tect Domenico Trezzini (1670–1734) as chief ar­chi­tect of the new city’s ur­ban plan­ning. The Sum­mer Palace of Peter the Great, Saints Peter and Paul Cathe­dral, and the Saint Peters­burg State Univer­sity were all de­signed by Trezzini. In ad­di­tion to palaces and churches, he also de­signed three types of stan­dard res­i­dence for rich peo­ple or crafts­men, mer­chants and the no­bil­ity, re­spec­tively, to suit the de­vel­op­ing cap­i­tal­ist econ­omy. Over 300 years later, the cen­tral area of Saint Peters­burg has been largely pre­served ac­cord­ing to Trezzini’s blue­prints, and still meets the re­quire­ments of a mod­ern city.

Vic­tory in the Great North­ern War gave Rus­sia con­trol over the Baltic Sea re­gion, al­low­ing it to dom­i­nate Europe. At that time, the main ar­chi­tec­tural style in Saint Peters­burg was the mag­nif­i­cent and pros­per­ous Baroque. A large num­ber of palaces and churches rose up, in­clud­ing the Win­ter Palace (now the State Her­mitage Museum) and Saint Isaac’s Cathe­dral, lay­ing bare Im­pe­rial Rus­sia’s ag­gres­sive for­eign ex­pan­sion. In 1714, Peter the Great banned the con­struc­tion of stone houses in other cities across the coun­try and or­dered that all ma­sons join in the con­struc­tion of the new cap­i­tal. About 100,000 crafts­men are said to have been sent to work on the swampy site and stone from all over the na­tion had to be trans­ported there to lay its foun­da­tions. In ad­di­tion, ships ar­riv­ing in the city had to pay taxes, not in the form of money, but in stone they had to bring with them. At the time, large ships were re­quired to carry 30 stones, and small boats were re­quired to carry 10 stones, each weigh­ing no less than 10 pounds.

Saint Peters­burg is well-known for its net­work of canals con­nected to the Neva River, which has earned it the ti­tle of the “Venice of the North.” The dig­ging of these man­made canals was or­dered by Cather­ine the Great, the only woman to ever be called tsar, who had them built to ease the flood­ing of the city from the Gulf of Fin­land. Since her coronation in 1762, Cather­ine had es­tab­lished Saint Peters­burg as Rus­sia’s only cap­i­tal, end­ing the pe­riod of the cap­i­tal switch­ing back and forth be­tween Saint Peters­burg and Moscow. The canals helped fa­cil­i­tate trans­porta­tion and de­velop the ur­ban

econ­omy, with com­mer­cial ships from Fin­land, Swe­den and other coun­tries still pass­ing through its canals even to­day.

In ad­di­tion, the city’s more than 400 large and small bridges over the canals form a unique sight ev­ery sum­mer known as “Whites Nights and Open Bridges.” Be­tween 2 and 5 a.m. when the skies are still light from April to Novem­ber ev­ery year, the bridges over the Neva River slowly open up un­til they reach 45 de­grees. The bridges open to al­low large boats to pass through on their way to Fin­land, Swe­den and other North­ern Euro­pean coun­tries, leav­ing pedes­tri­ans un­able to cross be­tween parts of the city.

Grand and Gor­geous Palaces

The 74-kilo­me­tre-long Neva River be­gins in Lake Ladoga, with a 28-kilo­me­tre­long stretch flow­ing through the city of Saint Peters­burg. Along the city’s “mother river” sit nu­mer­ous palaces, man­sions and churches. These build­ings have borne wit­ness to the his­tory of Saint Peters­burg, es­pe­cially the Win­ter and Sum­mer palaces, both of which are con­sid­ered must-see ar­chi­tec­tural master­pieces.

The Artis­tic Win­ter Palace

The Win­ter Palace is the most fa­mous build­ing in Saint Peters­burg. Sit­u­ated be­tween the Palace Em­bank­ment and Palace Square, fac­ing the Neva River, it now houses part of the State Her­mitage Museum. This great build­ing has suf­fered many mis­for­tunes since con­struc­tion be­gan around 1754. In the mid­dle of the 19th cen­tury, a spe­cial law was en­acted by the gov­ern­ment that all build­ings in Saint Peters­burg ex­cept churches must be lower than the Win­ter Palace. Un­for­tu­nately, how­ever, the palace burned down in a fire in 1837 and was then re­built from 1838 to 1839. Dur­ing World War II (1939–1945), it was badly dam­aged again and then re­stored after the war. On Novem­ber 7, 1917, it was stormed and cap­tured by the masses dur­ing the Oc­to­ber Rev­o­lu­tion up­ris­ing, who ar­rested min­is­ters of the bour­geois pro­vi­sional gov­ern­ment, mark­ing the for­mer im­pe­rial palace’s trans­fer to the hands of the peo­ple. After the Oc­to­ber Rev­o­lu­tion, the Her­mitage Museum was es­tab­lished in 1922 and in­cor­po­rated into part of the palace. To­gether with the Lou­vre in Paris, the Bri­tish Museum in Lon­don and the Metropoli­tan Museum of Art in New York, the Her­mitage Museum is one of the four big­gest mu­se­ums in the world.

The Win­ter Palace is a three-story green-and-white build­ing, and the largest and most char­ac­ter­is­tic Baroque-style build­ing in Saint Peters­burg. In the shape of an elon­gated rec­tan­gle, the Win­ter Palace’s four sides each have dis­tinc­tive fea­tures, although the in­te­rior de­sign and dec­o­ra­tions are strictly uni­form. With an in­ner court­yard, the palace faces the Palace Square, the Navy Head­quar­ters and the Neva River in three di­rec­tions, and con­nects to the Small Her­mitage Palace on the fourth side. On the side fac­ing the Palace Square, the palace pro­trudes slightly in the cen­tre, and fea­tures an open­ing with three arches and iron gates, and atop the build­ing stand a group of stat­ues of At­las.

Rooms in the Win­ter Palace are sumptuousl­y dec­o­rated, many with pre­cious Rus­sian stones such as mala­chite, jasper and agate. For ex­am­ple, the Mala­chite Room con­tains two tons of mala­chite, as well as a par­quet floor made of nine types of hard­wood. The palace also houses a col­lec­tion of nearly three mil­lion an­tiques and arte­facts from around the world, mak­ing it one of the largest col­lec­tions in the world, in­clud­ing works by such masters as Da Vinci (1452– 1519), Raphael (1483–1520), Rem­brandt (1606–1669) and Rubens (1577–1640). Among them, the four most worth see­ing are the Egyp­tian mummy, the Pea­cock Clock, Da Vinci’s “Madonna and Child” and Rem­brandt’s “Re­turn of the Prodi­gal Son.” It’s said that if you spent one minute ad­mir­ing ev­ery ex­hibit for eight hours a day, it would take you 11 years to see the whole col­lec­tion.

The ‘Rus­sian Ver­sailles’

The Peter­hof Palace, also known as Peter the Great’s Sum­mer Palace, is lo­cated 29 kilo­me­tres west of Saint Peters­burg on the Gulf of Fin­land. Built in 1714, it was for­merly a re­treat for the tsars on the out­skirts of the city. The palace’s Sum­mer Gar­dens are di­vided into up­per and lower sec­tions. The large palace sits in the up­per gar­den, from which one can look down a cas­cade of foun­tains in the cen­tre of the lower gar­den head­ing to­wards the river.

The Peter­hof Palace was built by Peter the Great along the Baltic Sea as his sum­mer res­i­dence. Dur­ing the reign

(1762–1796) of Cather­ine the Great, the palace was ex­panded. Mod­elled on the Ver­sailles Palace in France, it is some­times also known as the “Rus­sian Ver­sailles.” Its mag­nif­i­cently dec­o­rated in­te­rior in­cludes a re­cep­tion hall, ball­room, portrait hall and the China room. The most pop­u­lar sites with visi­tors are Peter the Great’s oak study and the oak stair­case lead­ing to it, the China room dec­o­rated with an 18th cen­tury Chi­nese lac­quer screen and fur­ni­ture, and the mir­rored ball­room mod­elled on the Hall of Mir­rors in the Palace of Ver­sailles.

The Peter­hof Palace is fa­mous for its cas­cade of foun­tains, with wa­ter be­ing supplied di­rectly from nat­u­ral springs. Known as the “Cap­i­tal of Foun­tains” and “King­dom of Foun­tains,” the Grand Cas­cade in­cludes over a hun­dred sculp­tures, 150 foun­tains, more than 2,000 spray col­umns and two trape­zoidal wa­ter­falls, and clev­erly utililises the nat­u­ral drop in height from the palace to the river below.

Di­verse Styles of Churches

In ad­di­tion to the grand and gor­geous royal palaces, Saint Peters­burg is also dot­ted with many re­li­gious struc­tures, such as the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, Saint Isaac’s Cathe­dral, the Catholic Church of St. Cather­ine and the Alexan­der Nevsky Monastery. These ed­i­fices are not only rep­re­sen­ta­tives of re­li­gious be­lief, but are also his­tor­i­cal and ar­chi­tec­tural mar­vels.

Au­then­tic Rus­sian-style

The colour­ful Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood with its large dec­o­rated onion domes is a land­mark build­ing and one of the few tra­di­tional ortho­dox churches in Saint Peters­burg. Its of­fi­cial name is the “Cathe­dral of the Res­ur­rec­tion of Christ,” it stands around 81 me­tres (m) in height, built in both Baroque and neo­clas­si­cal styles, and was par­tially mod­elled on St. Basil’s Cathe­dral in Moscow. In stark con­trast to the clas­si­cal ar­chi­tec­ture nearby, its coloured ce­ramic tiles and enam­elled cop­per pan­els make it one of only a few purely Rus­sian-style build­ings in Saint Peters­burg.

The cathe­dral was built be­tween 1883 and 1907 to hon­our Em­peror Alexan­der II (1855–1881), who was as­sas­si­nated in 1881 by the “Peo­ple’s Will,” a rad­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion­ary group which ad­vo­cated the over­throw of the monar­chy and the es­tab­lish­ment of ru­ral com­munes. As such, it ac­quired the nick­name “Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood.” After the Oc­to­ber Rev­o­lu­tion in 1917, the church was ransacked and so se­verely de­stroyed in­side that the Soviet gov­ern­ment closed it down. The cathe­dral un­der­went a long restora­tion project be­gin­ning in July 1970 and end­ing with its re­open­ing in Au­gust 1997. The ex­quis­ite mo­saics and mu­rals on dis­play in the present- day Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood are tes­ta­ment to the thor­ough­ness of the 27-year-long restora­tion.

Per­fect Clas­si­cal Work

Saint Isaac’s Cathe­dral stands on Saint Isaac’s Square and is both the main cathe­dral of the Rus­sian Em­pire and the largest of its kind in Saint Peters­burg. Along with St. Peter’s Basil­ica in the Vat­i­can, St. Paul’s Cathe­dral in Lon­don and the Basil­ica of Saint Mary of the Flower in Florence, Saint Isaac’s Cathe­dral is one of the world’s four great churches. De­signed and con­structed by French ar­chi­tect Au­guste de Mont­fer­rand (1786–1858) from 1818 to 1858, the build­ing was called the “last per­fect clas­si­cal work.” About 440,000 work­ers spent 40 years to com­plete the build­ing, spend­ing more man-hours than for any other church in Saint Peters­burg. Its large cen­tral dome af­fords com­mand­ing views over the old city to tourists who can ac­cess a walk­way that en­cir­cles it.

The cathe­dral is ap­prox­i­mately 102 m high and has three large oak doors on one side, each weigh­ing ap­prox­i­mately 20 tons and cov­er­ing an area of 42 square me­tres, and above each of which is a re­lief de­pict­ing sto­ries from the Gospels. The cathe­dral’s spa­cious in­te­rior al­lows it to hold nearly ten thou­sand peo­ple at the same time; and var­i­ous kinds of pre­cious stone used in its con­struc­tion re­flect its glory and dig­nity. The main al­tar’s wall is carved with icons, each framed in white mar­ble and sep­a­rated by six mala­chite pi­lasters from the Urals. It is said that the cost of this wall alone ac­counted for 10 per­cent of the to­tal costs of the project. The dome at the cen­tre of the cathe­dral is equally im­pres­sive, mea­sur­ing over 100 m high and 25 m in di­am­e­ter. The dome’s fres­coes are painted to the sub­ject of the “Vir­gin in Glory” by the fa­mous Rus­sian painter, Karl Bryullov (1799–1852).

The Win­ter Palace, sit­u­ated on the bank of the Neva River

Saint Peters­burg

The Sum­mer Palace, known for its in­ge­niously-de­signed foun­tains

Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood

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