Monday, 18 June 2012

St-Petersburg, Russia

No its not St-Petersburg, Florida, this is the city on the Neva River which is criss-crossed by canals and 60 other rivers, founded in May 1703 by Czar Peter the Great who was not a nice man, apparently. It was the capital of the Russian Empire until 1918 when Lenin and other assorted criminals and terrorists decided to return to Moscow, thank God they all are now on the thrash heap of history.

St-Petersburg is an important port on the eastern gulf of Finland, with a population of 5 million people.
We are taking a guided visit on recommendation from M.K. We are scheduled to visit the highlights of St-Petersburg over two days. Unfortunately there is so much on offer in this museum city and we will only have the opportunity to see a fraction of it, but we will make the most of it.

Our ship is docked on the English Embankment on the spot where the cruiser Aurora fired its guns to signal the uprising against the government of Russia in 1917. A very historical spot, from the deck I can see the Admiralty and the Winter Palace just 3 blocks away. The Palace of Grand Duke Vladimir and Kiril. There are many Grand Ducal Palaces near the Winter Palace. The Peter and Paul Fortress and the St-Isaac Cathedral, in the distance the cupola of the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ or also known as the Spilled blood in memory of assassinated Czar Alexander II, the church marks the spot of his murder by terrorists. The University Embankment is on the other side of the river with the Museum and Faculty of Fine Arts, the Palace of the first governor of St-Petersburg.

So you can say that we are truly in the centre of old St-Petersburg.
Alexander Palace in Tsarkoye Selo

We spent two days visiting the old Imperial Capital. On the first day our guide Julia came and got us. We drove to Tsarkoye Selo (Tsar Village) it is also known as Pushkin because it was in this village that the author Pushkin lived. Tsarkoye Selo is a village of grand imperial palaces and churches. Empress Catherine I wife of Peter the Great built her famous Catherine Palace, Empress Elizabeth later decided to change it and make it more splendid, the Great Catherine not liking the Russian baroque palace of her predecessor hired and Englishman, Cameron to build her a palace, very different and very English looking. In the meantime other palaces where built for other members of the Romanov Family. All set in beautiful immense parks with lakes and ponds, parks dotted with statues and pavilions and small hermitage, a word meaning a place of seclusion, where the ruler could be on his or her own away from the Court.
Catherine I Palace

Tsarkoye Selo is about 23 km from St-Petersburg and we took the old road or the only road set out by Peter the Great to get there. It is marked with marble stone markers at each kilometre. When you arrive at the village entrance a grand Egyptian portico greets you. The first palace is Alexander Palace which became the last home of the last Tsar Nicholas II and his family, it was also their prison for a few months until they were deported by Prime Minister Kerensky to Siberia before being murdered with their servants on the orders of Lenin.
All the gold you see in the Palaces is real gold.

The palace has been restored and so have the grounds, only 15 years ago it was a ruin. Tsarkoye Selo was occupied by the German and Spanish army during World War II and greatly damaged, the palaces were ruined. Alexander Palace is beautiful and full of sadness because of the events of 1917.
Gold trimmings with chinese silk embroidered on the walls, picture of Tsar Alexander I

We then proceeded down the street to the Catherine Palace, it is a marvel of gold and blue and white confection. It looks more like a marzipan fantasy cake than a palace. Photos show you what happened once the Nazi occupied the palace and the destruction they brought upon it. Including the disappearance of the famous Amber room, totally recreated today, it is a gem, a marvel to see. We spent several minutes looking at it and examining the room. It is forbidden to take any photos inside the Amber room.

We then went on to visit the small chapel of the Imperial Lyceum which was a school for boys of the Aristocracy, Pushkin was a student at that school.
Palace of the great Catherine II in English style.

Catherine II the Great, who was a German Princess from Stettin near Berlin, had very different taste and knew what she wanted, you could say she was imperious. We visited her office in a pavilion in the park of the palace. A group of Russian singers were there and performed a beautiful song for us, called Evening bells.
Vladimir Putin favorite restaurant, excellent food.

After all this walking we had lunch near by at the favourite restaurant of President V. Putin, they feature many dishes he likes and also complete menus of his birthday party. The cuisine is Russian and the food was wonderful. They also have a Russian orchestra with singers to entertain diners.

We returned to St-Petersburg and went to visit the St-Isaac Cathedral but on the way there we made a little detour to see a very special church in the garden of another palace of Catherine the Great, much ruined today however the small church of St-John the Forerunner survives intact.
This church stands on the exact spot, while she walked in her English garden, of the news of the defeat of the Ottoman Turkish fleet at the naval battle of Chesmen or Chesmenskaya. Again this building is pure fantasy all pink and white, looks very much like a big cake.
Chesmen Church 

Then on we went to St-Isaac Cathedral with its pure gold dome some 100 kg of it. The church is fronted by the bronze horseman figure of Peter the Great and at the plaza at the back the mounted statue of Tsar Nicholas I facing the city hall of St-Petersburg which is housed in the former palace of Princess Maria daughter of Tsar Nicholas I. On the side of the cathedral we saw the preparation of the opening of a new luxury hotel of the Four Seasons group which will is in the former grand palace of a noble family.
Tsar gate in St-Isaac Cathedral with lapis lazuli columns

The cathedral commemorates the victory and peace in Europe after the defeat of Napoleon. The huge red granite columns of the entrance of the church weigh 200 tons each. The church itself is all faced inside with intricate coloured marble and the Tsar gate in front of the Altar is aligned with malachite and lapis lazuli columns, the contrast of green and blue stone is striking. The architect a Frenchmen Auguste Montferrand. In fact this is one feature of St-Petersburg, the number of foreign architects, mostly Italians.
Malachite and lapis lazuli columns inside St-Isaac Cathedral

We also visited on the other side of the Neva river the Peter Paul Fortress and church where all the Romanov Tsars and family members are buried. This church also has a side chapel for the tombs of all the grand dukes. Recent burials have been those of the remains of Nicholas II and his wife Empress Alexandra, their children and servants, the Dowager Empress Maria, who died in Denmark, she was the mother of Tsar Nicholas and had escaped with several other family members with the help of the British Navy. The church is the history of the last 400 years of Russia. Peter the Great is buried there and so his Alexander II the Tsar Liberator who has a beautiful jasper coffin and his wife who has a rhodonite stone coffin. People bring flowers and many of the tombs had flowers including a 7 foot royal palm tree. At the back of the church several small tombs, those of the various governors of the Fortress who as a special honour are buried close to the Tsars they served. All recent funerals of the last 19 years of Romanov family members, have been Russian State Funerals. St-Petersburg is celebrating 400 years of the Romanov dynasty in 2013.

Peter and Paul Fortress Church where all the Romanov Imperial Family are buried

Jasper and rhodonite stone coffins of Tsar Alexander II and his wife
Burial chamber of the entire family of Tsar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra and their children

It was a beautiful first day but also a tiring one, this city is full of treasures and our two day stop is simply not long enough, so we have to pace ourselves.


  1. wonderful pictures and one of the places I've always wanted to go to ...Tell Putin I said howdy.

  2. My partner so much wants to see this city; I hope to take him there when he reaches 60.

    1. you have to visit it is well worth it. More to come on this city in my next post.

  3. Wow, I'd say you did very well already! All this in one day? Wonderful photos! Thanks! Look forward to the follow up post!

    1. I am happy you enjoyed the photos and my descriptions of the city. Thank you