St. Petersburg

Winter Palace

The Winter Palace (Russian: Зимний дворец) was, from 1732 to 1917, the official residence of the Russian Tsars. The present and fourth Winter Palace was built and altered almost continuously between the late 1730s and 1837, when it was severely damaged by fire and immediately rebuilt. The storming of the palace in 1917 became an iconic symbol of the Russian Revolution.

The palace was constructed on a monumental scale that was intended to reflect the might and power of Imperial Russia. The palace has been calculated to contain 1,786 doors, 1,945 windows, 1,500 rooms and 117 staircases. Its principal façade is 500 ft (150 m) long and 100 ft (30 m) high. The rebuilding of 1837 left the exterior unchanged, but large parts of the interior were redesigned in a variety of tastes and styles, leading the palace to be described as a "19th-century palace inspired by a model in Rococo style."

In 1905, the palace was the scene of the Bloody Sunday massacre, but by this time the Imperial Family had chosen to live in the more secure and secluded Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe Selo, and returned to the Winter Palace only for the most formal and rarest state occasions. Following the February Revolution of 1917, the palace was for a short time the seat of the Russian Provisional Government, led by Alexander Kerensky. Later that same year, the palace was stormed by a detachment of Red Army soldiers and sailors—a defining moment in the birth of the Soviet state. On a less glorious note, the month-long looting of the palace's wine cellars during this troubled period led to what has been described as "the greatest hangover in history". Today, the restored palace forms part of the complex of buildings housing the Hermitage Museum.

Winter Palace, St. Petersburg

Winter Palace, St. Petersburg

Winter Palace, interior of Hermitage Museum 

Winter Palace, interior of Hermitage Museum 

Winter Palace, interior of Hermitage Museum 

The Alexander Column, on the Palace Square in front of the former Army General Staff headquarters, 
is a monument to the Russian military victory in the war with Napoleon's France. Named after Emperor Alexander I, 
who ruled Russia between 1801 and 1825 (during the Napoleonic Wars). It was built between 1830 and 1834. 
The monument is 155 feet 8 inches tall and is topped with a statue of an angel holding a cross. The body of the column
 is made of a single monolith of red granite, which stands 83 feet 6 inches high and about 11 feet 5 inches in diameter. 
This enormous column, weighing an incredible 1,322,760 pounds (600 tons),
was erected in under 2 hours without the aid of modern cranes and engineering machines.

The Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood (Храм Спаса на Крови) 

This beautiful Russian-style church was built on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in March 1881. After assuming power in 1855 in the wake of Russia’s disastrous defeat in the Crimean war against Britain, France and Turkey, Alexander II initiated a number of reforms. In 1861 he freed the Russian serfs (peasants, who were almost enslaved to their owners) from their ties to their masters and undertook a rigorous program of military, judicial and urban reforms, never before attempted in Russia. However, during the second half of his reign Alexander II grew wary of the dangers of his system of reforms, having only barely survived a series of attempts on his life, including an explosion in the Winter Palace and the derailment of a train. Alexander II was finally assassinated in 1881 by a group of revolutionaries, who threw a bomb at his royal carriage.

The decision was taken to build a church on the spot where the Emperor was mortally wounded. The church was built between 1883 and 1907 and was officially called the Resurrection of Christ Church (a.k.a. The Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood ). The construction of the church was almost entirely funded by the Imperial family and thousands of private donors. 

The church was closed for services in the 1930s, when the Bolsheviks went on an offensive against religion and destroyed churches all over the country. It remained closed and under restoration for over 30 years (therefor at the time of our visit we could not visit it from the inside) and was finally re-opened in 1997 in all its dazzling former glory. 

Catherine Palace, Tsarskoe Selo (Pushkin)

The town of Pushkin (formerly Tsarskoye Selo) lies just outside St. Petersburg. It is particularly famous for its impressive baroque Catherine Palace, where Empress Catherine the Great lived and died. The palace was almost totally destroyed during World War II, but has risen like a phoenix from the ashes due to an extensive restoration program undertaken since the war.

The palace we see today was designed by the Italian architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli, the creator of the Winter Palace and Smolny Cathedral. Most of the restored interiors date back to the time of Empress Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great, though there are some early 19th century interiors too. 

Besides the enormous palace, one can also visit the park with its numerous pavilions, ponds and sculptures. 

The original Amber Room

Image Source: Wikipedia

After WWII

Reconstructed Amber Room 

Image Source: Wikipedia

The Ballroom - Catherina Palace

Outside Catherina Palace

Further down the road the Aleksandrovsky Palace can be found, the favored home of the last Russian Tsar Nicholas II. 
It is from here that the whole Imperial family left in 1917 to travel to Yekaterinburg, where they were brutally murdered by revolutionaries. 

Pavlovsk palace

The Pavlovsk Palace located a few miles away from the Catherine's Palace in Pushkin stands out from the other summer residences of the Russian monarchs. 

The history of the Pavlovsk Palace dates back to 1777 when Catherine the Great presented the area to her son Paul to mark the birth of his heir, future Emperor Alexander I. Using the money that came along that gift, Paul and his young wife Maria traveled to Europe to purchase works of art for the decoration of the new palace. German-born Maria was a woman of many talents and she masterfully designed a number of palace interiors herself.

Following the Revolution of 1917, the Pavlovsk Palace was turned into a museum. The Nazis who seized the area during World War II destroyed the palace and looted its many treasures. It took over 20 years to recreate the beauty of the Pavlovsk complex following a painstaking reconstruction using original designs and broken fragments of works of art.

The Pavlovsk Park scattered on the territory of over 600 hectares is the biggest man-made park in Europe. It is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful parks in the world. It was designed by Europe's most prominent architects of late 18th century in the English manner. The park is decorated by many statues, monuments, small bridges, and is home to several architectural pavilions all of which create an atmosphere of romanticism. During Winter days the visitors can enjoy authentic Troika rides around the park.

View of Pavlovsk Park

Pavlovsk Park

Back in St. Petersburg

Our colorful hotel room

The Aurora

The historical ship Aurora has been turned into a museum and is docked just a few hundred yards upstream from the 
Cabin of Peter the Great, opposite the "St Petersburg" Hotel. The cruiser, built in St. Petersburg between 1897 and 1900,
took an active part in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 and participated in the Tsusima battle, in which 
most of Russia's Pacific fleet was destroyed. After the war the ship was used for personnel training 
and during the October revolution of 1917 gave the signal (by firing a blank shot) to storm of the Winter Palace,
which was being used as a residence by the democratic, but largely ineffective Provisional Government.

During World War II and the 900-day Siege of Leningrad the guns of the ship were taken down and used on the front line of the city's defenses.
After the war the ship was carefully restored and used as a free museum and training ship for cadets from the nearby Nakhimov Navy School.

One of the two Rostral Columns in front of the Old Stock Exchange

Our friendly guide and chauffeur in St. Petersburg in front of the Old Stock Exchange

Our van got slightly kicked in the butt once .... and that on a not really busy road.

Two 3500-year-old sphinx monuments guard the entrance of the Academy of Arts Museum.
Russian government have bought a few sphinxes from Egypt in 1820 
and brought them to decorate shore banks of Neva river in St. Petersburg.

Some official must have paid a visit too ...