SIGHTS IN NORTHERN ST. PETERSBURG
On the north side of St. Petersburg there are three other areas of interest to tourists: 1) Vasilevsky Island, whose northern end has many excellent old buildings; 2) Petrograd Side, a group of delta islands whose main landmark is the SS Peter & Paul Cathedral; and 3) Vyborog Side, divided by a channel from the Petrograd Side, and extending along the north bank of the Neva.
Saint Petersburg also has attractions outside the city: Tsarskoye Selo in Pushkin, Pavlovsk and magnificent Peterhof. The city is particularly divine during the white nights, when the royal palaces and parks and drawbridges are lit by the midnight sun.
Saint Petersburg TV Tower (reached by bus from Petrogradskaya Metro Station) is a 50,000-watt broadcasting tower that stands 326 meters (1075 feet) high (about the same height as the Eiffel Tower) and has an observation deck and a small café that can be visited by tourists through arranged tours local tour agencies.
Vasilevsky Island is large triangular-shaped island with the Gulf of Finland on one side, and two channels of the Neva River — the Bolshaya Neva and the Malaya Neva — on the other two sides. The main places of interest to visitors are the eastern "nose," the Streika (Tongue of Land) and the embankment across the river from the Admiralty. The area today is known mainly for it's museums which can be reached on foot from the Admiralty-Hermitage area..
Petrograd Side refers a group of delta islands between Bolshaya Neva and the Malaya Neva. Most places of interest to tourist are around the Peter and Paul Fortress on Zayachy Island. It is worthwhile to stroll over to St. Petersburg State University which isn't too far away.
New Holland Island is a popular spot with young people and tourists. Once there were warehouses, a prison and a huge radio communication station here, In the 2000s it was turned into a modern cultural and entertainment center. Now there are popular restaurants and diners, a beautiful park, a concert venue and small shops here. In summer, there are concerts and open-air festivals held here, while in winter there is a large ice rink and a giant Christmas tree.
Kirovsky Islands is a cluster of outer delta islands that make a pleasant escape. Kamenny Ostrob (Tone Island) features pleasant walks past dachas, canals and lakes. Yelagin Island is the home of the lavish Yelagin Palace, built for the mother of tsar Alexander I. Near Yelagin Palace, you can rent rowboats and water bicycles
Finland Station (near Lenin Square, north of the Neva River) is where Lenin made his triumphant return from exile in 1917. Lenin actually entered the country twice here in 1917: the first time in a sealed railcar from Switzerland; the second from Finland disguised as a rail man. You can see the rail car he arrived in and the armored car on which he made a famous speech. The carriage on which Lenin arrived on October, 17 1917 is kept in a glass case here. The train was a gift of the Finnish people to the Russia.
Steve Dougherty wrote in the New York Times: Nikita and Anna, somewhat reluctantly, take me to visit the Finland Station. There, in April, 1917, Lenin arrived from exile in Switzerland aboard a sealed train provided by Russia's World War I enemy, the Germans, whose invading armies had by then accounted for the deaths of millions of Lenin's countrymen. [Source: Steve Dougherty, New York Times, December 31, 2006]
“It was his first act of betrayal against the Russian people,” Nikita says quietly as we stand in a park across the street from the bleak railway station — the original was replaced by a utilitarian boxlike structure in the 1950s. “He was the willing pawn in the kaiser's strategy to undermine the government and get Russia out of the war.”
“A statue of Lenin, the first of countless like it erected in the Soviet Union after his death in 1924, is the centerpiece of the treeless and charmless park. “He is portrayed as the great leader of the people,” Nikita says. “But he and Stalin, too, were terribly afraid of the masses they said they represented. The base of revolutionary power was the people, but they were deathly afraid of the crowd. The Stalinists followed the same psychology and methods of the Tsar. They took power and used it to suppress the people.”
Kresty Prison (near Finland Station) offers tours. For a few dollars visitors get a good look at the prison and get to visit a cell, but see very few prisoners. Visitors can buy sculptures made from hardened dough made from chewed black bread. In the prison museum you can realistic-looking guns made from the dough which the prisoners had hoped to use in escapes.
Kresty is located on a major boulevard and has windows that face the street. Some days family and friends on the outside communicate with prisoners on the inside in various ways. Some use rolled up newspaper like blow guns and blow waded up messages. Other use elaborate codes based on hand signals and gestures.
Kresty was vastly overcrowded and held around 8,000 prisoners in the early 2000s. It is not technically a prison but rather a detention center where suspects are held while they are awaiting trial. Many of the detainees are there on drug charges. Each cell measures 10 square meters. Crammed into that space are two three-tier bunk beds. As many as 10 prisoners are crammed into the space. They sleep in shifts and can move things back and forth between the different cells using black ropes that hang down along the walls outside the cells. Drug use is high. It is believed that many of the drugs are smuggled in by poorly-paid guards to supplement their income.
Lakhta Center (the outskirts of Lakhta, around 10 kilometers northwest of St. Petersburg’s historic cente) is an 87-story skyscraper that stands 462 meters (1,516 feet) tall,making it the tallest building in Russia, the tallest building in Europe, and the 16th-tallest building in the world.The Lakhta Center is also the second-tallest structure in Russia and Europe, behind Ostankino Tower in Moscow. [Source: Wikipedia]
Lakhta Center was designed by RMJM and largely built by GORPROJECT (2011-2017) based on the RMJM Concept (2011) under the main contractor, Rönesans Holding. The building is earmarked to become the new headquarters of Russian energy company Gazprom. Construction in October, 2012 and highest point was reached in January 2018 when the tower’s spire was lowered into place by crane.. The concrete pouring of the bottom slab of Lakhta Center's foundation was registered by Guinness World Records as the largest continuous concrete pour (19,624 cubic meters of concrete, about 3,000 cubic meters more than the previous record. The tower's curtain wall is the world’s largest cold-bent facade by area.
Lakhta Center cost US$1.77 billion. Dubbed the corncob because its appearance, it is owned by Gazprom Neft and has 40 elevators. The upper floors are wrapped in metal gauze, designed to prevent the buildup of ice, and the lower glass panels are heated to prevent fogging. Gazprom has long sought to move out Moscow, where its current headquarters is located, the company says overloaded infrastructure has become too tight for business expansion. The opening date of the complex will be determined after the completion of finishing and landscaping. The improvement of the embankments is planned to be completed at the end of 2020.
Amos Chapple of RFE/R wrote: “The tower was initially planned to rise up near the low-slung historic center of St. Petersburg, But an outcry from locals and a warning from UNESCO that the tower’s central placement would damage the image of St. Petersburg and Russia led to the original plan being scrapped. In 2011, the parcel of land Lakhta Center sits on, around 10 kilometers northwest of St. Petersburg’s historic center, was purchased. Opposition to the building — particularly to municipal funds for the project — still exists, but those behind the project say St. Petersburg will benefit from the innovation it represents, telling The Wall Street Journal they had treated the city "with the respect that a veteran deserves but also with the freedom that a teenager needs." [Source: Amos Chapple, RFE/RL, May 22, 2018]
Peter and Paul Fortress
Peter and Paul Fortress (on the Neva River opposite the Hermitage and Summer Garden) is were Peter the Great built the original wooden fort that established St. Petersburg in 1703. The first hexagonal fort took only five months to build. It was made of timber and earth and topped by cannons. Peter lived in a one-story log cabin just outside the walls. After the Swedes were defeated the fort was no longer vitally necessary as a means of defense and was turned into a prison. Among its inmates were Peter the Great's son as Alexey, Dostoevsky, Gorky, Trotsky and Lenin's brother.
Peter the Great reportedly chose the site for the fortress himself. Peter and Paul Fortress occupies almost every inch of Zayachy (Hare) Island. Laid out on a plan that looks like two star of David's joined together, it is covered with trees and seems more like a work of art than a means of defense. It features 60-foot, green-toped walls that encloses a group of buildings that look more like a quaint Baroque village than a prison. Mimes and street musicians often perform outside.
The dominant structure of the fortress’s architectural ensemble is the Peter and Paul Cathedral, the burial place of nearly all Russian tsars. (See Below). In southeast corner of the fort are reconstructions of the cells of Trubeyskloy where Peter the Great reportedly oversaw the torture and death of his own son. At Nevsky gate on the south wall, prisoners were taken by boat to the execution grounds. The water levels of major floods are marked on the wall here. Outside there are fine views of the waterfront. Russians often gather here to relax and party.
At Trubetskoy Bastion you can learn about the Bastion's history as told by its prisoners, as well as visit the real dungeons for yourself. The Fortress also houses the city's Museum of Cosmonautics and Rocket Technology, an active mint and St. Petersburg's main beach, with nice views on the embankment. You can enter the Fortress for free but you need a ticket to visit the tomb and the other museums of the complex.
History, Layout and Parts of Peter and Paul Fortress
The Peter and Paul Fortess in situated on the small Hare Island (Jänissaari in Finnish) located in the mouth of the Neva river. The citadel was built according to a design drafted by the French engineer Joseph-Gaspard Lambert together with the Peter the Great himself. Six strong bastions, each named after Peter's associates, are connected with six curtain walls.
Fr om the east and the west the defensive system has two ravelins: Ioannovsky (John's) and Alekseyevsky (Alex's). Two bridges — Ioannovsky and Kronverksky — connect Hare Island with the Petrograd Island. On October 1, 1703 the fortress was consecrated. St. Andrew's flag was raised on the Gosudarev (Tsar) bastion and 300 cannons were placed at the fortress's ramparts. On June 29, 1703 in the center of the fortress a small wooden church was founded in the name of the apostles Peter and Paul. In 1712–1732 a stone cathedral was built in its place. From 1731 until 1858 the Peter and Paul cathedral was the capital's cathedral. Later it was designated a court department. The cathedral was used as a burial place for the reigning House of Romanov. All Russian emperors and empresses from Peter the Great to Nicholas II are buried here except for Peter II and Ioann VI. A covered gallery connects the cathedral to the Grand Ducal Burial Chapel.
During the 18th–19th centuries many different buildings and structures were erected inside the fortress: the Boat house, the Arsenal, the Mint, the Commandant's and the Engineers” houses, the guardhouse, and many more. In as early as the 18th century the fortress became a prison for state criminals and in the 19th century it was the main political prison in Russia. For the first time the fortress was opened for visitors in the early 19th century during the reign of Alexander I. In the 1900s tours were arranged to the emperors” necropolis in the Peter and Paul cathedral. In 1924 the Trubetskoy bastion prison was converted into a museum. In 1954 the entire Peter and Paul fortress complex was given to the State Museum of the History of Leningrad (Saint-Petersburg).
Buildings and structures found in the fortress include the Botny house, Artillery building, Mint, Commandant's and Engineering house and a guardroom. In the Commandant's house inside the fortress there is a museum of the city's everyday life of the 18th–19th centuries and the Trubetskoy bastion prison, where political prisoners were kept. They included members of the “Narodnaya Volya” (“People's Freedom”) political party, the tsar's government ministers, Leon Trotsky, Fyodr Dostoevsky and Nikolai Chernyshevsky. The Boat House houses the first ship, from which the history of the Russian Navy began. The area inside the fortress and the beach are free to visit. There was a system of underground passages in the fortress. Some of them can be visited: the entrance to the underground gallery is in the Gosudarev (Tsar) bastion.
Peter and Paul Cathedral: Where th Tsars Ar Buried
Peter and Paul Cathedral (in the middle of Peter and Paul Fortress) is St. Petersburg's first church. Designed by a Swiss-Italian architect, it contains the tombs of most of the 18th and 19th century tsars and for a long time was the highest building Russia. Founded on May 27, 1703, the cathedral features the famous angel holding a cross at the top of its spire.
Peter and Paul Cathedral is a huge brick and stone structure that looks rather plain from the outside. The baroque interior is another story. The walls are adorned with tall windows, huge oak and linden carvings coated with gold, flags and trophies seized from Russian enemies. Crystal chandeliers hang from a ceiling with cherubs prancing among clouds. Golden icons line the iconostasis in front of the apse.
All of Russia's tsars from Peter the Great onward are buried in the sanctuary here except for Peter II and Ivan VI. Most of the tombs are simple white marble, red quartz and jasper sarcophaguses with the names and dates in brass letters. Peter the Great lies at the front right to of the sanctuary. Alexey, the son of Peter who was imprisoned on the fortress, is buried underneath the stairway in the rear of the church. The grave was placed here so that disgraced son would have to endure being trod upon by the feet of commoners.
Catherine the Great and the husband she loathed, Peter III, are buried side by side. After Catherine died, her son had Peter's exhumed and his body place in state next to Catherine's underneath a an inscription that read "Divided in Life, United in Death."
On July 17, 1998, Nicholas II and his family were buried here. Their remains had been discovered a few years earlier in the Ural city of Yekaterinburg where they were assassinated. Nicholas II had a side chapel built for himself at the fortress in 1913 but was buried in a new crypt. His tomb is major tourist attraction.
Museums and Sights in Around Peter and Paul Fortress
Sights around the Peter and Paul Fortress include the depressing St. Petersburg Zoo; an amusement park with a small roller coaster; Lenin Park; Planetarium/Baltiysky Dome, which sometimes hosts all night raves; a mosque modeled after a Samarkand mausoleum; and a botanical gardens. You can also see Peter's Cabin, St. Petersburg's first residence, where Peter the Great lived in 1703 while supervising the construction of a the fortress. The Cruiser Aurora, which fired blanks toward the Winter Palace during the October Revolution can be seen.
Artillery Museum contains a dazzling array of weaponry, one of Lenin’s armored cars and a stuffed dog with a backpack. They dog had been trained to climb under Nazi tanks and blow them up.
History of St. Petersburg Museum (in Peter and Paul Fortress) has documents that relate to the terrible hardships that took place during the Leningrad Blockade. Everyday at noon a booming cannon at the Naryshkin is fired off.
Museum of Political History (near the Peter and Paul Fortress) is the former Museum of the Great October Revolution. Housed in Kshesinkoi, the Art Nouveau palace of a ballerina who was a lover of Nicholas II, it has some interesting displays related to the Soviet period. The house itself is beautiful. Lenin' gave speeches from the balcony. Nearby are two pretty parks facing the Neva River.
Piskaryov Memorial Cemetery
Piskaryov Memorial Cemetery (outskirts of St. Petersburg) is where perhaps half a million victims of the World War II Nazi blockade are buried in mass graves. Commemorating them is an eternal flame and, etched on a granite memorial, "LET NO ONE FORGET; LET NOTHING BE FORGOTTEN."
The Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery was founded in 1939 and named after the nearby village of Piskaryovka. In 1941–1944 it became a place for mass graves. The victims of the Leningrad Siege and Leningrad front defenders are buried here in common graves. [Source: Russian Tourism Official Website]
The Piskaryovsky Memorial is a symbol of remembrance of the Leningrad residents and defenders who perished. The huge common graves cover an area of 28 hectares (70 acres). It is the world's largest cemetery created during wartime. The memorial designed by the architects Vasiliyev and Levinson was opened in May 1960 on the 15th anniversary of the Soviet people's victory in the Second World War. The eternal flame was lit from the fire located on the Mars Field. In the center of the architectural and sculptural ensemble there is a 6 meter high bronze monument “Mother Motherland” — a funeral stele with high reliefs depicting episodes of life and struggle in Leningrad.
In 2003 a new memorial plate was created. It is called “Blockade desk” and was made to commemorate school teachers who were working in Leningrad during the blockade and schoolchildren who kept on attending the classes despite the hunger and hardship. The idea of this memorial was suggested by pupils of Secondary School No. 144 and was acknowledged as the best children's social project of 2003.
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