Historic Center of St. Petersburg is an area on the south bank of the Neva that embraces the Winter-Palace-Hermitage complex, Palace Square, the Admiralty, Decembrist Square and St. Isaac's Cathedral. Much of the Neva River here is lined with granite embankments. There are no buildings higher than five stories in the historic center of the city because marshy ground beneath the city will not support buildings higher than that and because the State Inspectorate for the Preservation of Monuments prohibits them.

The Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments was inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990. According to UNESCO: “The 'Venice of the North', with its numerous canals and more than 400 bridges, is the result of a vast urban project begun in 1703 under Peter the Great. Later known as Leningrad (in the former USSR), the city is closely associated with the October Revolution. Its architectural heritage reconciles the very different Baroque and pure neoclassical styles, as can be seen in the Admiralty, the Winter Palace, the Marble Palace and the Hermitage. The unique urban landscape of the port and capital city of Saint Petersburg, rising out of the Neva estuary where it meets the Gulf of Finland, was the greatest urban creation of the 18th century. [Source: UNESCO]

“The greatness of Russia's northern capital, with its horizontal silhouette coupled with vertical landmarks and its ensembles of embankments and squares, lies in the heart of the city's “imperial” spirit, its genius loci. The main feature and attraction of Saint Petersburg's historical centre is characterized by a perfect harmony of architecture and waterscapes.

“The full-flowing Neva bequeathed the city an exceptional spatial scale and wealth of spectacle. It became its main square and chief thoroughfare. The Neva water spaces were natural extensions of the system of city squares. The regularly-spaced network of streets superimposed on this natural background endowed the city with an artistic contrast and perceptual richness. With its “view of stern and grace”, Saint Petersburg required a unified construction as an ensemble with Teutonic unity, qualities which emerged simultaneously with its birth.

“The city fabric is richly woven through with ensembles. These assemblages, linking one to another, create a complex multi-layered system where not one element exists alone or is isolated from its environment. The overarching value of all of the components in this system stems from their incorporation into a harmonious whole. It is precisely because of this that Saint Petersburg undoubtedly remains the only grand project in the history of urban planning to preserve its logical integrity despite rapid changes in architectural styles.

History of the Historic Center of St. Petersburg

According to UNESCO: “Saint Petersburg was built at the beginning of the 18th century in an astonishingly short period of time, according to an orderly plan based on many of Peter the Great's own ideas. The city was constructed under difficult conditions on lowlands unprotected from floodwaters, and in the face of severe shortages of materials and workers. Within the first decades of its history, Saint Petersburg became a grandiose agglomeration consisting of the historical city core surrounded by ceremonial country residences, an advanced fortification system, estates and dachas, settlements and small towns linked by radial routes. It occupied the shore on both sides of the Gulf of Finland as well as the Kronstadt fortress-town on Kotlin Island, while moving up the Neva towards its source in Sсhlisselburg. This Russian-European city, surrounded by suburban ensembles, became a socio-cultural phenomenon with an incomparable historic urban landscape, characterized by an absolute hierarchy of structures. [Source: UNESCO]

“A network of canals, streets and quays was built gradually, beginning in the reign of Peter the Great (1682-1725). The Nevski perspective did not become the city's major east-west axis until 1738. Similarly, under the Empresses Anna Ioannovna (1730-1740), Elisabeth Petrovna (1741-1762) and Catherine the Great the Great (1762- 1796), the urban landscape of Saint Petersburg took on the monumental splendour that assured the world-renowned of the "Venice of the North". An array of foreign architects (Rastrelli, Rinaldi, Quarenghi, Cameron and Vallin de la Mothe) rivaled one another with audaciousness and splendour in the capital's huge palaces and convents and in imperial and princely suburban residences, amongst which one numbers Peterhof (Petrodvorets), Lomonosov, Tsarskoуe Selo (Pushkin), Pavlovsk and Gatchina.

“In modern times, the city bore witness to and participated in the majestic and tragic events of the 1917 February and October Revolutions and the heroic blockade of 1941-1944, in which some million human lives were lost. Having survived the unprecedented trials of the 20th century, the city continues to be a symbol and base of Russian culture for new times and one of its centres of science, culture and education.”

Why the Historic Center of St. Petersburg is Special

According to UNESCO:, the Historic Center of St. Petersburg has Outstanding Universal Value because: 1) In the field of urban design, Saint Petersburg represents a unique artistic achievement in the ambition of the program, the coherency of the plan and the speed of execution. From 1703 to 1725, Peter the Great lifted from a landscape of marshes, peat bogs and rocks, architectural styles in stone and marble for a capital, Saint Petersburg, which he wished to be the most beautiful city in all of Europe.” [Source: UNESCO]

2) “The ensembles designed in Saint Petersburg and the surrounding area by Rastrelli, Vallin de la Mothe, Cameron, Rinaldi, Zakharov, Voronikhine, Rossi, Montferrand and others, exerted great influence on the development of architecture and monumental arts in Russia and Finland in the 18th and 19th centuries. The normative value of the capital was increased from the beginning by the establishment of the Academy of Sciences, followed by that of the Academy of Fine Arts. The urban model of Saint Petersburg, which was completed under Catherine II, Alexander I and Nicholas I, was used during the reconstruction of Moscow following the fire of 1812, and for new cities, such as Odessa or Sebastopol, in the southern part of the Empire.

3) “The nominated cultural property links outstanding examples of baroque imperial residences with the architectural ensemble of Saint Petersburg, which is the baroque and neoclassical capital par excellence. The palaces of Peterhof (Petrodvorets) and Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin), which were restored following destruction during the Second World War, are some of the most significant constructions.”

4) “Saint Petersburg was twice directly and tangibly associated with events of universal significance. From 1703 to 1725, the construction of Saint Petersburg (recalled by the equestrian statue of Peter the Great by Falconet, located in Senatskaya Square) symbolizes the opening of Russia to the western world and the emergence of the empire of the Tsars on the international scene. The Bolshevik Revolution triumphed in Petrograd in 1917 (the city had been renamed in 1914). The Aurora cruiser and the town house of Mathilde Kchesinskaia, later the museum of the Great Socialist Revolution of October, are, in the heart of Leningrad, symbols of the formation of the U.S.S.R.”

Palace Square

Palace Square (behind the Hermitage, Gostiny Dvor Metro Station) is St. Petersburg's equivalent of Red Square. Known in Russian as Dvortsovaya Ploshchad, it is an immense open square and a major gathering place with street musicians, tourists and buskers. The mammoth 10- story-high portraits of Lenin that once towered over the square are gone and some people complain the square seems empty without them.

Palace Square lies in the historic heart of St. Petersburg. In one corner is the Admiralty. In the middle is the Alexander Column. On the south side of the square are two blocky building — connected by an arch and topped the chariot of victory — once occupied by General staff of the Russia army.Sandwiched between the square and the Neva River is the Winter Palace-Hermitage complex which goes on and on as if it were a wall not a building.

Palace Square was the site of two important events that ushered in the period of Russian Communist rule: 1) Bloody Sunday (January 9, 1905, when tsarist troops opened fire on peaceful demonstrators, triggering the 1905 revolution; and 2) the storming of the Winter Palace during the October Revolution in 1917. Political rallies and official ceremonies still take place here, although today you're more likely to see a concert or festival here. Cobblestones in the square were replaced as of the sprucing up before St. Petersburg’s 200th anniversary in 1703.

Palace Square was laid out in 1819-1829 by Carlo Rossi, a neoclassicist architect of Italian descent who designed a large number of streets and squares in St. Petersburg. The picturesque Baroque Winter Palace (built in 1754-62) stands on the northern side of the square. Across the square, on the southern side, there is a classical yellow-and-white General Staff building (built in 1819-29 by Carlo Rossi). This building encircles the Southern side of the square and through its central arch, designed as a Triumphal Arch of the Classical World, you can reach Nevsky Prospect. On the eastern side the building of the former Royal Guards” General Staff tastefully closes the panorama of Palace Square, while on the West the square borders with the Admiralty and the Admiralty Garden. [Source: Russian Tourism Official Website]

On Palace Square in early January, Steve Dougherty wrote in the New York Times: “This morning, throngs of schoolchildren and tourists are gathered on Palace Square awaiting the opening of the Hermitage... Cobblestones sparkle and glisten from winking Christmas lights strung from lampposts, and the illuminated facades of the surrounding palaces and government buildings — one is adorned by an enormous painted canvas of Father Christmas — cast the enormous square in a warm light. The peaceful holiday scene makes it difficult to comprehend the carnage that occurred on Jan. 9, 1905, when Nicholas II's royal guards opened fire on peaceful citizens who had gathered here to respectfully ask the Tsar for democratic reform. The blood bath plunged Russia into a spiral of increasingly brutal suppression and violent rebellion that ended with the death of the Tsar and his family. The 101st anniversary of Bloody Sunday, as the massacre is remembered, will be observed three days after my visit.”[Source: Steve Dougherty, New York Times, December 31, 2006]

General Staff Building

General Staff Building (on Palace Square) designed by Carlo Rossi. The immense building created for the General Staff and for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs perfectly fits into the ensemble of the Palace square. The majestic monumental arch with a span measuring 17 meters incorporates the idea of the victory in the Patriotic War of 1812 against France. It is topped by a cart with six horses, warriors and a statue of Glory.

Under the coffering of the Arch of the General Staff one may see the clock with a lettering on its face saying “The main chamber. Right time”. The clock was set in 1905 on the initiative of D.Mendeleev. In 2013 a large-scale reconstruction of the Eastern wing of the General Staff building was completed. Today it houses the exhibits of the State Hermitage museum.

Clock in General Staff Building dates to 1905 and has with two two-meter long hands. The clock mechanism was made by Augustus Erickson while the architectural details, the suspension system, manhole device for amendments were developed by an architect of the Ministry of Finance, which said in the case of suspension of hours, the main chamber takes responsibility "for the time, but not at the architectural adaptation." The clokc in St. Petersburg’s first electric street clock

Hermitage Expositions in the General Staff Building

The main exposition areas of the Hermitage in General Staff Building are combined into three enfilade lines: 1) the Dvortsovaya line along the square, 2) the Pevcheskaya line along the Pevchesky proezd; and 3) the Rechnaya line along the embankment of the river Moika. They and are supplemented by the central Large enfilade of internal atriums. A grand sweeping staircase, which is placed in the largest of five inner courtyards, leads to exposition area from the front entrance hall.

The museum’s second floor houses a permanent display The Age of Art Nouveau and a thematic exhibition devoted to the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Empire, which was once accommodated in this building. Occupying the third floor are the exhibitions Under the Sign of the Eagle. The Art of Empire; French Painting and Sculpture of the 19th Century; Western European Art of the 19th Century (Germany. Holland, Belgium), 18th century Russian Guards Museum,

The second floor also contains as a permanent display tracing the history of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Empire, which also used to occupy this part of the General Staff Building. French painting of the second half of the 19th century, including the Impressionists, Post-Impressionists and the artists of the Nabis group, is on view in the fourth floor rooms of Sergey Shchukin and the Morozov Brothers Memorial Gallery. Several rooms present the works by Matisse, Picasso and other 20th century masters. Temporary exhibitions are regularly held in the rooms of the General Staff Building. It is the main venue for contemporary art display.

Alexander Column

Alexander Column (in Palace Square) is 57-meter-high pillar that lies at the center of the square. Located near the Russian army's headquarters, this 700-ton, cylindrical, granite monument is one of the largest columns in the world. Topped with an angel of victory, it was erected in 1832 under Nicholas I to honor Alexander I, his brother, and commemorate the Russian victory over Napoleon in 1812. If you want to see St. Petersburg as the tsars saw it catch a 20 ruble carriage ride at Alexander Column.

The Alexander Column (Russian: Aleksandrovskaya kolonna) also known as Alexandrian Column (Russian: Aleksandriyskaya kolonna), is the focal point of Palace Square. It is named for Emperor Alexander I of Russia, who reigned from 1801 to 1825. The pedestal of the Alexander Column is decorated with symbols of military glory, sculpted by Giovanni Battista Scotti.

The Alexander Column was designed by the French-born architect Auguste de Montferrand, built between 1830 and 1834 with the help of Swiss-born architect Antonio Adamini, and unveiled on 30 August 1834. The monument — the tallest of its kind in the world — is 47.5 meters (155 feet 8 inches) tall and is topped with a statue of an angel holding a cross. The statue of the angel was designed by the Russian sculptor Boris Orlovsky. The face of the angel bears great similarity to the face of Emperor Alexander I.


Admiralty (near Palace Square on the Neva River end of Nevsky Prospekt) is one of St. Petersburg's most famous landmarks. Know for its stunning golden spire and row of white columns, this massive building was built between 1806 and 1823 and used from 1711 to 1917 as the headquarters of the Russian navy. Today it is used by a naval college and has beautiful gardens and fountains. During the winter the parallel tree-lined walkways of the gardens are flooded with water and children gather to play hockey on the ice.

The edifice was re-built in the nineteenth century to support the Tsar's maritime ambitions. The original design was a fortified shipyard which was later surrounded by five bastions and further protected by a moat. Vladimir Nabokov, writer and native of St. Petersburg, wrote a short story in May 1933 entitled "The Admiralty Spire." [Source: Wikipedia]

The Empire Style edifice visible today lining the Admiralty Quay was constructed to Andreyan Zakharov's design between 1806 and 1823. Located at the western end of the Nevsky Prospekt, The Admiralty with its gilded spire topped by a golden weather-vane in the shape of a small sail warship (Korablik), is one of the city's most conspicuous landmarks and the focal point of old St. Petersburg's three main streets - Nevsky Prospect, Gorokhovaya Street, and Voznesensky Avenue — underscoring the importance Peter I placed on Russia's Navy.

Decembrist Square

Decembrist Square (west of the Admiralty) is large square with the Neva River to the north, the Admiralty to east and the Central State Historical Archives in the former Synod (now headquarters of the Constitutional Court of Russia). and Senate to the west. Originally called Peter’s Square and known in Russian as the Ploshchad Dekabristov, it is named the after the Decembrist uprising lead by radical proto-Socialists that took place in the square in December, hence their name. The Bronze Horseman monument adorns the square. On July 29, 2008, the square was renamed Senate Square.

The Decembrists were one of the earliest Russian revolutionary groups. They launched a day-long revolt on December, 14, 1825 with the goal of overthrowing tsar Nicholas I. Hastily launched after Alexander I's death, the revolt was put down by tsarist troops who first tried peaceful methods and then opened fire with artillery, leaving dozens of people dead and wounded in Peter’s Square, where the revolt took place.

Many of the participants in the revolt were idealistic young aristocrats, who called for an end to the monarchy, freedom for serfs and the establishment of a constitutional government. Stirred by ideas of freedom and equality put forth by the American and French Revolutions, the rebels also included noblemen, military officers, philosophers and poets. The average age of the ones arrested was 26.

Nicholas I, who had been in power less than a month before the Decembrist rebellion took place, and hadn't even been crowned yet, had been regarded as a potential reformer. He responded to the revolt as a threat on his leadership, however, setting the scene for a repressive 30-year reign with the establishment of a censorship system and establishing the Third Section, a secret police force that was a forerunner of the KGB. Nicholas I saw the Decembrist uprising as a personal betrayal. Many of the participants were his close friends. After the leaders of the rebellion were hung, Nicholas said, "It is my duty to give a lesson to Russia" Nicholas I also led a campaign a against what he considered to be corrupting Western ideas. Ideas that aimed to give people more power and rights were suppressed.

Over 100 Decembrist men that were captured were sent to Siberian camps, where they survived with the help of their wives and lovers, who made the 4,000-mile, three-month journey to join them. These women, many of whom gave up lives of luxury for winters in peasant shacks in -40 degree temperatures, were credited with saving the lives of their men and they were referred to as "guardian angels." In Siberia, the Decembrists attempted to establish an ideal society in the prisons with their own garden plots and schools that offered courses in chemistry, geology, literature, economics, military strategy and ten languages.

Today the square is official called Senate Square and official known as Decembrists' Square from 1925-2008. Many Russians and visitors still called Decembrist’s Square. Before 1925 it was called Peter's Square. It is situated on the left bank of the Bolshaya Neva, in front of Saint Isaac's Cathedral.

Peter the Great Statue

Peter the Great Statue (in Decembrist Square) is a famous equestrian statue of Peter the Great on a rearing horse. Commissioned by Catherine the Great and designed by Etienne Flaconet to symbolize the conquest of nature, it was the subject of a famous the Pushkin poem “The Bronze Horseman.” It has remained standing where it was placed since 1782, through the Tsarist era, the Soviet era and the after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Peter the Great Statue is also known as the Bronze Horseman. The horse rears over the snake of treason (critics have called the statue unbalances and say the snake is the only thing that keeps it from toppling over). An inscription on the 200-ton base reads: "To Peter the Great from Catherine III — 1782."

Many say “The Bronze Horseman” is one of Pushkin’s best poems. Part of it goes: "I love thee, masterpiece of Peter — I love thine aspect, graceful and severe, Be splendid Peter's city, and stand, like Russia, strong — for lo, the very conquered element has made her peace with thee at last." The statue It is a popular meeting place,

St. Isaac's Cathedral

St. Isaac's Cathedral (near the Peter the Great Statue, south of Decembrist Square) is a grand, heavy-set golden-domed church built by Alexander I to commemorate his victory over Napoleon. Somewhat reminiscent of St. Paul's cathedral in London, it is one of the world's largest churches and cost 10 times as much to build as the Winter Palace.

Supported by 24,000 wooden piles sunk into the marshy ground by serf laborers, St. Isaac's dominates the skyline of St. Petersburg's historic area and is large enough to accommodate 14,000 people. Like most churches in Russia it became a museum under the Communists and today holds services only on major religious holidays.

Designed by the French architect Ricard Montferrand and completed in 1858 after 40 years of work, it is mind-numbingly ornate. Almost every square inch of the cathedral's interiors are decorated with icons, gold, marble and frescoes. Chandeliers drop down from arches that seem as large as the Arc d' Triumph. Some of Russia's greatest artists painted the frescoes. And over 200 pounds of pure gold were used on the gilded dome, which can be seen from 40 kilometers (25 miles) away.

One of the most unusual features are the towering green columns, made from machalite hauled all the way to St. Petersburg from the Urals. The granite used for the pillars was brought from Finland in rail cars and ships with specialized designs to carry their massive weight. There are fantastic views of St. Petersburg from the colonnade around the drum.

St. Isaac's Cathedral is an outstanding example of late classicism in which some new trends such as Neo-Renaissance, Neo-Byzantine style, eclecticism are noticeable. Peter the Great was born on May 30, the feast day of St. Isaac of Dalmatia, a Byzantine monk. It was decided to build the cathedral to mark Peter’s birthday and honor of the saint near the Admiralty. The first church on the site was a small wooden building with ten mica windows, in which Peter the Great married Catherine. [Source: Russian Tourism Official Website]

The Cathedral is 101.5 meters high and approximately 100 meters long and wide. The outer diameter of the dome is 25.8 meters. The 112 solid granite columns are of various sizes. The walls are lined with light gray marble from Ruskeala. The columns were put in place with the use of wooden scaffolding designed by the engineer Agustín de Betancourt. The statues by the sculptor Vitali located on the corners and at the tops of the gables depict Twelve Holy Apostles, The frieze of one of the porticoes features a sculpture portraying Montferrand, the architect of the cathedral. The line in the northern frieze of the portico, “The king shall rejoice in Thy strength, O Lord,” can be regarded as a conceptual expression of the entire structure.

St. Isaac’s Colonnade offers magnificent views of the Neva River, Isaakiyevskaya and Palace Squares, the Admiralty, the Winter Palace, the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, and other famous St. Petersburg sights. You also get a close-up view of main dome and the golden domes of five belltowers. You have to climb a spiral staircase with 200 steps to reach the observation area. A separate ticket is needed. There are often long lines,

Yusupov Palace: Where Rasputin Was Killed

Yusupov Palace (Moika Embankment 94, on the Moika River about 500 meters from St. Isaac's Cathedral) is where Prince Felix Yusupov attempted to kill Grigory Rasputin, the Siberian peasant who became the spiritual mentor and friend of the family of Emperor Nicholas II at the beginning of the 20th century. Even after the monk was poisoned and shot he managed to make it outside the palace where his assassins chased him into a canal, where he finally drowned..The palace itself was built in the 18th century, and contains a private theater decorated with sumptuous fabrics, drawing rooms decorated with sculptures and bronzes. Wax figures in the museum recall the events involving Rasputin. Tel: (7-812) 314-8893.

Steve Dougherty wrote in the New York Times: , December 31, 2006] Yusupov Palace, More wealthy than the royal Romanovs, the Yusupov family lived in equal splendor in this colonnaded palace on the banks of the Moyka River. After you've toured the 180-seat rococo private theater and the tiled Moorish Room, visit the cellars where the scene of Rasputin's murder is preserved and mannequins in period dress are posed in a re-enactment.” [Source: Steve Dougherty, New York Times, December 31, 2006]

On the day Rasputin was killed an Prince Yusupov hosted a midnight party. Rasputin drank several glasses of poisoned wine and cakes filled with potassium cyanide. When Rasputin didn't keel over from the poison he was shot in the palace. When Yusupov kneeled over him, Rasputin grabbed him by the throat. At this point Yusupov ran off to get reinforcements. In the meantime Rasputin dragged himself outside. Yusupov's group found him and shot him a few more times and beat him with sticks. After Rasputin was stabbed several times he fell into in the Moyka Canal of the icy Neva River where he died of drowning at the age of 44. His death was mourned by peasants and women who loved him.

The history of the palace and surrounding estate dates back to the era of Peter the Great and the early days of the Northern Capital. From 1830 until 1917, the palace belonged to five generations of the elite aristocratic Yusupov dynasty.Today visitors can explore much of Yusupov Palace: the ceremonial suites, art galleries, a miniature private theatre and the luxurious private rooms of the Yusupov family, whose astonishingly beautiful interiors have been restored by some of St. Petersburg's most talented restoration artists. Among the tours are “The Murder of Grigory Rasputin” and “Through the Prince's Chambers.”

Maryinsky Theater

Maryinsky Theater (Teatralnaya ploshchad, near Yusupov Palace) is where the international-level Maryinsky Opera and Maryiinsky (Kirov) Ballet perform. Spelled various ways, such as Maryinsky and Marinsky, and known as the Kirov in the Soviet era, it is were many great ballerinas made a name for themselves, including Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky, Maria Danilova, Rudolf Nuryev, Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Marinsky Theater has a pistachio green facade and is the most famous theater in St. Petersburg. Like the Winter Palace and St. Isaacs Cathedral, the Maryinsky is one of the most sumptuously decorated building that you will ever see. Almost 400 kilograms of gold was used to guild the walls, fasçades and five tiers of balconies. The chairs are upholstered with sapphire velvet, the same material used for the curtain that hangs in front of stage. There is no such thing as a bad seat and the whole theater is softy light with chandeliers. The theater was badly damaged during World War II but has been completely restored.

The exterior of the Mariinsky II Theatre building is made of beige Jura limestone, interspersed with syncopated floor-to-ceiling windows of various sizes, and a metal roof. These windows will afford, from outside, a view of the theatre’s inner foyer and, from the inside, of the Kryukov canal. A glass and steel canopy extends over the main entrance to the theatre at the corner of Dekabristov St and the Kryukov Canal. While the auditorium is a contemporary hall, its principles are those of famous 18th and 19th century opera houses, with a horseshoe shape and three balcony levels. This configuration has proved to be ideal for intimacy, acoustics, sightlines, audience comfort and overall cohesion of the hall.

Today the Mariinsky Theater embraces the new building on the Decembrists, 34, the Concert Hall on Pisarev, 20, and the historic building of the Imperial Theater. The new addition to the Maryinsky Theater that extends over a canal behind the theater and performance arts center, built on New Holland, an island in the Neva River formally used the Russian navy, was built at a cost of US$120 million.

It is possible to buy tickets even for royal box, if there is no high-level delegation using it. Avid theater-goers and opera fans say the acoustics are best on the third tier. Watching ballet is best on the first floor because you can see the pattern of the dance. Tickets begin at about US$30. The box office is at 1 Teatralnaya Square. Tel: (7-812) 326-4141; Website: www.mariinsky.ru. When there are no performances visitors can enter the theater and have look around.

Maryinsky Opera and Kirov Ballet

The Maryinsky has the same number of employees as it did in the Soviet era: 2,000. It has more artistic personnel than it did back then and supports two full orchestras, ballerinas, singers, a youth orchestra and an academy for young singers. The Vaganova Academy is affiliated with the ballet company.

The Maryinsky is the home of the Kirov Ballet. Although less well known that the Bolshoi, the the Kirov Ballet has distinguished itself over the years as the better ballet. In the late 1800s its great director Marius Petipa choreographed the definitive interpretations of Sleeping Beauty, Raymonda, The Nutcracker and Swan Lake. Natalia Dudinskaya, Tamara Karsavina, Irina Kolpakova, Ninel Kurgapkina, Natalia Makarova all danced for the Kirov.

Named after a Bolshevik politician assassinated in 1934, the Kirov is a resurrection of the tsars Imperial Russian Ballet. The Kirov is famous for it's the pure classicism. "The technical supremacy of the Kirov is legendary," wrote Julie K.L. Dam in Time, "but it is the combination of athleticism and artistry that makes the company unique." After the collapse of Communism there were plans to change the Kirov’s name, but the ballet's directors decided to keep the name after learning that American astronomers had name a newly discovered planet Kirov.

Since 1988, the Maryinsky has been headed the internationally-known, superstar conductor and artistic director Valery Gergiev who in the opinion of many has elevated the Maryinsky to a position above the Bolshoi. The Maryinsky is also in better financial shape than the Bolshoi. Among its sponsors has been Philips, Siemens, Daimler-Chrysler, the Baltika brewery and Gazprom.

The Kirov is as famous as it has ever been. The opera company and orchestra are first rate, especially under Valery Gergiev’s direction. The ballet, opera and orchestras spend much of the year on tour. They are rarely in St. Petersburg during the summers. If you buy a tickets make sure it is the Maryinsky and Kirov companies that you are actually seeing. The Russian Ballet and visiting groups often perform at the Mariinsky Theater

Performances of the theater's world-class opera company attract crowds of young people who act as if they're at an American rock show, talking excitedly about the performance during intermission and thronging around concession kiosks buying cards and photos of their favorite opera and ballet stars. Orchestra seats, individual cushioned wooden armchairs with legroom galore, are 200 euros.

History of the Maryinsky Theater

The Maryinsky Theater is one of the first musical theaters in Russia. With it began a whole epoch in Russia. Musical performances appeared in Russia in 1730s thanks to the Italians and the French. In a 1783 Catherine the Great issued a decree in St. Petersburg callin for the establishment of a theater “ not only for comedies and tragedies, but also for the opera." At that time the Stone (Big) Theater was built and Russian companies shared the stage with Italian and French troupes.

The Mariinsky Theater designed by Albert Cavos opened in 1860. One of the major forces behind bringing it about was Empress Maria Alexandrovna, the wife of Emperor Alexander II. At the end of the 19th the theater was given a major upgrade. Rehearsal rooms, theater workshops and a special room under the stage and orchestra pit were added. The architect Victor Schroeter designed new lateral wings extending to front staircase and lobby. The dome was crowned by it famous cupola. Blue Velvet, silver brocade, stucco and sculptures were installed, making the theater one of the most luxurious in Europe. Even the chandelier was a work of art: a masterpiece of Enrico Frachioli with 23,000 crystal pendants. It is said the crystal pieces helped give the theater perfect acoustics.

The emblem of the Mariinsky Theater theater — a curtain with a repeating pattern of plume dresses of Empress Maria Alexandrovna — was created in 1914 based on sketches by Alexander Golovin. An "Honored Artist" of the Mariinsky Theater is the bell located behind the stage placed there in the 1930s. There is a secret door to the Grand-Lodge backstage that place there for imperial ladies to greet the performers after the show. Among those that were visited in this was the ballerina Mathilde Kshesinskaya.

Among the "best voice" to appear at the he Mariinsky Theater were Osip Petrov, Fedor Chaliapin, Medea and Nikolai Figner, Sofia Preobrazhenskaya and Leonid Sobinov. Top ballet stars have included Mathilde Kshesinskaya, Vaslav Nijinsky, Galina Ulanova, Rudolf Nureyev, and Mikhail Baryshnikov. "The Dying Swan" performed at the Mariinsky Theater by ballerina Anna Pavlova is one of the symbols of Russian ballet. The Kavos opera "Ivan Susanin", Glinka's "A Life for the Tsar", Dargomyzhsky’s "Mermaid" and Petipa and Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty" all had their debuts at the Naruunsky. For a quarter century, the theater has been run by the world-class musician, Valery Gergiev.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Federal Agency for Tourism of the Russian Federation (official Russia tourism website russiatourism.ru ), Russian government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in September 2020

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