In the northwest of Russia, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland lies Saint Petersburg, the city on the Neva River, the second largest city in the country.
Sometimes it is compared to Venice because of the abundance of bridges, canals and islands. However, the architecture of the northern capital is distinct from any other city. Saint Petersburg is rightfully considered to be the cultural capital of Russia. Not every native can say they have seen all the attractions of Saint Petersburg. But there are also a number of suburbs, which are no less valuable - the cities of Pushkin, Peterhof, Pavlovsk and others. Peter I, who founded Saint Petersburg in 1703 gave the world an amazing open-air museum-city. The place is an absolute must-visit.
Saint Isaac's Cathedral
Majestic and monumental - this is what Isaac's Cathedral looks like when it appears before us. It is one of the symbols of Saint Petersburg, located in Saint Isaac's Square. The cathedral stands out due to its rich interior, and in addition, it is one of few places where you can see the city from above.
The Cathedral has the status of a museum, but beyond that, liturgical services are held here almost every day. Saint Isaac's Cathedral is the fourth largest in the world among similar religious buildings. It occupies an area of four thousand square meters, and up to twelve thousand people can come together under its painted cupola.
The cathedral was built according to the design of the architect Auguste de Montferrand, and it took 40 years to construct! This is due to the use of some innovative engineering solutions, among other things. For example, one-piece, 114-ton, over 40-meter-tall columns were erected here. Also, the craftsmen had to work painstakingly to create the incredible beauty of the interior, which include paintings, mosaics, and walls covered in marble, malachite, and gilded bronze. The variety of the interior decoration of the Cathedral is breathtaking!
Once you are in Saint Isaac's Cathedral it is necessary to go up to its colonnade. After climbing up a narrow spiral staircase to a height of over 40 meters you will discover a wonderful view of the central part of the city.
The Hermitage is the heart of the cultural capital of Russia. One of the world's largest palaces and museums, it holds more than three million masterpieces of art and cultural monuments inside its walls, some of which date back to the Stone Age! It is impossible to see everything that is displayed in this amazing place in a couple of days. Actually, some scientists have calculated that if it takes you ten seconds to study every single piece, it would take you 8 years to see all the museum’s displays! Quite the excuse to return to the northern capital again and again, isn’t it?
The Hermitage is a single museum complex, which emerged in the mid-18th century. The main part of the complex consists of five buildings located in the city center lining the Neva. The main building among them is the Winter Palace, the jewel of Saint Petersburg. The palace was constructed according to the design of the Italian architect Rastrelli as the residence of the Russian emperors. After the February Revolution the Interim Government made it its headquarters, and afterwards the building was completely turned into a museum. The Winter Palace is built in an opulent baroque manner, and the interior design couldn’t avoid having some elements of the French Rococo.
The facades of the palace with numerous sculptures and vases create a ceremonial and festive impression. This is what the Winter Palace is about. It is magnificent, majestic, and elegant. There are more than a thousand rooms inside; statues, columns, mirrors, and elegant gilded moldings are everywhere.
Don’t forget to see the Great Throne Hall. Its grandeur is breathtaking. There are painted ceilings and massive columns decorated with gilded bronze.
If we talk about the Hermitage itself, it began with a collection of paintings that belonged to Catherine II. Subsequently, the collection began to expand and require a new building to store all those masterpieces. Among the most famous displays of the Hermitage, "Benois Madonna" by Leonardo da Vinci, "The Return of the Prodigal Son" by Rembrandt, and many others stand out. Moreover, there are exhibits dating back to the Stone Age: some samples of ceramics, stone plates with petroglyphs, and bronze casting.
Church of the Savior on Blood
Strolling along Nevsky Prospekt, you will surely notice an unusual temple built in the Russian style that is called the Church of the Savior on Blood. Officially its name is the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ on Blood. Those who have visited Moscow already will certainly see the similarities between the temple in Saint Petersburg and the capital’s Saint Basil's Cathedral. This is because of the colorful domes, some of which have an enamel coating, and some of which are gilded.
The museum-cathedral captivates with richly decorated interior and large mosaics on the walls. The temple is like a box of glittering jewels, everything glitters and sparkles. When decorating the temple the craftsmen used rare gems, enamel, tiles and many other precious materials.
The temple in Saint Petersburg was built in the early twentieth century, exactly on the site where Russian Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in 1881. First, a chapel was built on the site of the murder, and then the cathedral. This architectural marvel took over twenty years to construct.
Reserved, majestic, concise. This is how you can briefly describe Kazan Cathedral. It is distinct from traditional Orthodox temples, with its main feature and difference being the monumental colonnade, which is admired for its grandeur. There are over a hundred columns in total!
Initially, the site of the present cathedral held another temple, but by the end of the 18th century it fell into disrepair, and the decision was made to replace it. The incumbent Emperor Paul I ordered the construction of a new temple similar in appearance to Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome.
That is why the design has nothing to do with Russian Orthodox temples. The only thing is, while in Rome the Basilica surrounds the adjacent square, the colonnade of the Petersburg cathedral opens towards Nevsky Avenue.
Masons, smiths and stoneworkers toiled over the creation of this massive building for ten years. Upon completion the cathedral became the largest temple in Saint Petersburg. It was over seventy meters tall.
Kazan Cathedral can rightfully be called a place of Russian military glory. Before leaving for the War of 1812 the famous Russian commander Mikhail Kutuzov visited the cathedral. The field marshal was killed in a foreign campaign, and his remains were buried in Kazan Cathedral.
Peter and Paul Fortress
The place where the history of Saint Petersburg began is the Peter and Paul Fortress. Immediately after his victory in the Northern War Peter I ordered the construction of the fortress, personally working on the project.
In the early 18th century brick structures and a church were built on Zayachy Island. The church later became The Peter and Paul Cathedral. Today the remains of the Russian tsar dynasty rest here. The first of them was Peter I, and Nikolas II became the last. The fortress was built following the shape of the island. On its every corner there is a bastion with multiple cannons. The walls were up to 12 meters high and up to 20 meters wide. The bastions were interconnected with walls that had secret passages inside.
It is worth noting that the fortress has never participated in any military campaigns. However, it was actively used as a political prison for dangerous state prisoners.
The Admiralty building
Next to Palace Square lining the Neva there is a very interesting building, the Admiralty. So, what is it known for? At various times it housed different functions related to the Navy: the Navy museum, Naval Ministry, shipbuilding academy, and others. In addition, various streets run from the Admiralty building, including Gorohovaya street, as well as Vosnesensky and Nevsky avenues. The building stretches for 400 meters, lining the river. But the most important thing is the ship on the spire of the Admiralty. It is considered a symbol of Saint Petersburg and it can be seen from any point on Nevsky avenue.
Spit of Vasilyevsky Island
Spit of Vasilyevsky Island is the name of the eastern corner of the island. The business and cultural life of the city was supposed to be lively here, according to the decree of Peter the Great. The Stock Exchange building and the Kunstkamera are located there, and the architectural complex is crowned with two rostral columns. They were created as a beacon for ships. From the river banks you can enjoy a wonderful view of the Winter Palace and the Peter and Paul Fortress. On Vasilyevsky Island there are a number of interesting museums – the Zoological, the Literary, the Kunstkamera, and the Central Naval Museum.
Strolling along Petrogradskaya Embankment, it is impossible to overlook the proud profile of Aurora cruiser. This is a legendary ship with a rich history, the business card of Saint Petersburg, and now it is a small museum as well. If you visit the cruiser with a guided tour, you will learn about numerous military campaigns in which the cruiser has participated. The ship survived the Russian-Japanese War, and despite being heavily damaged managed to reach the Philippines! Aurora played her part in the October Revolution. This ship fired the shot that initiated the Bolsheviks’ dictatorship in Russia.
During the Great Patriotic War the ship sustained heavy damage due to bombings, and required serious and lasting repairs. Finally, she was permanently anchored at the Petrogradskaya Embankment. Today she is a ship-museum, where you can see different documents, photographs, and items that tell the history of Aurora.
Alexander Nevsky Lavra
Saint Trinity Alexander Nevsky Lavra is the largest monastery in the city. It is an architectural complex with several temples. The most important among them is the Trinity Cathedral. The impressive size and the huge gilded dome elevate the temple above other buildings. In the Trinity Cathedral the relics of Alexander Nevsky, the great Russian Duke and military leader, are kept.
The territory of the monastery extends over three cemeteries: Lazarevskoye, Tikhvinskoe, and Nikolskoye. Famous Russian political, and cultural leaders, as well as other famous Russians are laid to rest here. Theses are not ordinary graveyards, they are the centuries-old histories of the country, with monuments and sculptures that are interesting architectural masterpieces.
Seeing Saint Petersburg once is better than hearing about it twice. And this is true. Once you find yourself in the Northern Capital, you will be entirely captivated. Its architecture, palaces, museums, and interesting history are amazing and have a magnetic attraction. That is why when leaving Saint Petersburg you will already be thinking about returning someday.