Winter Palace was the official residence of the Russian monarchs between 1732 and 1917. The storming of the palace in 1917 as depicted by Soviet paintings became iconic representation of the Russian Revolution. Today, the restored palace forms a complex of buildings housing the Hermitage Museum.
Peterhof is a series of palaces and gardens which was the most lavish and popular of the summer residences of Russian tsars. Peterhof was laid out on the orders of Peter the Great who had visited and hugely admired Versailles in 1716. Peterhof was massively extended by his daughter, the Empress Elizabeth, and later redecorated and adapted by succeeding generations. Peterhof was not even complete when Peter’s second wife, Catherine, announced that she wanted a palace of her own (hence Catherine’s palace in Puskhin). At the Peterhof itself, the centerpieces of the entire ensemble are the Grand Palace and the Grand Cascade.
At the time of the Second World War, Peterhof ensemble was captured by Germans and left in ruins by the time it was liberated in 1944. It is said that Stalin ordered to bomb Peterhof in order to stop Hitler from having Christmas party there during the Siege of Leningrad which lasted 900 days. The restoration and reconstruction of the city’s palaces and parks began almost immediately after liberation of Leningrad. However, due to the scale of the damage, restoration efforts continued into the 21st century.
Catherine’s Palace was constructed by German architect for Catherine I pleasure. Empress Elizabeth found the structure to be outdated and incommodious. As such, the original structure was demolished and replaced with a much grander 325 – meter – long palace. Elizabeth loved her creations to exhibit wealth and perfection which is why the new palace has been pulled down six times to the foundation and then built again; more than 100 kg of gold were used to gild the sophisticated stucco facades and numerous statues. Catherine the Great censured Elizabeth’s reckless extravagance and considered Elizabeth’s creation old- fashioned. Palace itself and palace grounds were further modified over the years. Prior to World War II, Soviet archivists managed to document a fair amount of the interior which proved of great importance since only the hollow shell of the palace remained following the retreat of German forces after the Siege of Leningrad.
The main attraction of Catherine’s Palace is Amber Room which was dismantled and eventually disappeared during the World Was II. Before its loss, it was considered to be “Eighth Wonder of the World”. In 1979, efforts were undertaken to rebuild the Amber Room and today the reconstructed Amber Room is displayed in Catherine’s Palace.
Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood / Church on Spilled Blood
Built on the site where Emperor Alexander II was fatally wounded, the church serves as a memorial to the assassinated tsar and memorial services used take place here in the pre-Revolution period. Following the Revolution of 1917, the Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood was looted and badly damaged. During the time of the Siege of Leningrad, it served as a temporary morgue for those who died in combat or from starvation / illness. After the war is functioned as a warehouse for vegetables until it was finally passed to Saint Isaac’s Cathedral management in 1970. After 27 year restoration, the Church of Savior on Spilled Blood serves as museum of mosaics.
Kazan Cathedral / Our Lady of Kazan Cathedral
Kazan Cathedral is dedicated to Our Lady of Kazan and the home to the holy icon of the highest stature within the Russian Orthodox Church. Our Lady of Kazan is known as the Holy Protectress of Russia.
The architect of Our Lady of Kazan Cathedral modeled the building on St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Due to its unorthodox design, many people strongly disapproved of the construction plans. Upon completion of the construction, Our Lady of Kazan icon was brought into the cathedral. After Napoleon invaded Russia (1812) and the commander-in-chief General Mikhail Kutuzov asked Our Lady of Kazan for help, Russian people saw the cathedral primarily as a memorial to their victory over Napoleon. At the time of Soviet Union, Kazan Cathedral functioned as “Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism”. Religious services resumed in 1992 upon the downfall of the communist rule in Russia.
The story of the icon of Our Lady of Kazan is very interesting as well. According to the legend, the icon was originally acquired from Constantinople in the 13th century. It was lost in 1438 and miraculously recovered in pristine state over 140 years later. Russian military commanders Dmitry Pozharsky (17thcentury) and Mikhail Kutuzov (19th century) cited invocation of the Virgin Mary through the icon with helping the country to repel Polish invasion of 1612, the Swedish invasion of 1709, and Napoleon’s invasion of 1812. The Kazan icon achieved immense popularity which nine or ten separate miracle – attributed copies of the icon around Russia. Two major cathedrals, the Kazan Cathedral in Moscow and Kazan Cathedral in Saint Petersburg, are concentrated on Our Lady of Kazan and display copies of the icon (as do numerous churches throughout Russia). For centuries, the original icon of Our Lady of Kazan was kept in the Kazan Convent of the Theotokos, Saint Petersburg, until it was stolen in 1904. Numerous legends surround disappearance of the icon and its eventual return to Russia from Vatican.
Saint Petersburg was the capital of Russian Empire for almost 200 years. Typical visit to Saint Petersburg revolves around imperial heritage of Russia. That said, every landmark we visited and every tour we took included a story of cultural devastation brought by the communist rule and siege of Leningrad. History writes itself and to have a more complete perspective on it I think all contributing factors should be counted in. As such, I would say that the visit to Saint Petersburg is incomplete without attending tours or museums related to the communist rule and siege of Leningrad.
Generally speaking, Saint Petersburg is a beautiful and complicated city. I would not call Saint Petersburg a provincial city because its presence has scale; however, it is definitely not a metropolitan city either. Despite large inflow of tourists, Saint Petersburg operates with seemingly little regard for international standards and expectations, especially when it comes to customer service and hotel accommodations. Good experiences (hotels, tours, tour guides, restaurants, stores, etc.) have to be thoroughly researched in advance because typical visitor is understood to be impressed with the fact of being in Saint Petersburg.
Thanks for reading,