Tuesday, August 25, 2009

day 79, St.Petersburg,Russia

As we enter Day 79 of this journey, we are headed for Uzbekistan.

Marti looks very disappointed. What's wrong dear?
You wanted to go to Russia.
But we have been to Russia. Don't you remember the volcanoes of Kamchatka? That was in Russia.

Oh, you wanted to visit an island in Lake Onega, in Karelia ..aaaah, I see.
Hmmm, ok, let's see, bring me the map....

We will have to go to Petrazavodsk via train from St. Petersburg, and then take a ferry from the city to the island, which is located on Lake Onega.

Did I just see everybody's eyes just light up.....St.Petersburg!!!

Actually St Petersburg is a relatively young city, by both Russian and European standards, and was only founded in 1703 by Tsar Peter the Great. Despite its short life so far, Petersburg has a rich and exciting history, and is this "Venice of the North" has always bustled with life and intrigue, revolution and mystery...

I have just contacted my dear friend Valery ( www.postcrossing.com/user/hardsoft) and he is going to give us a short guided tour of St.Petersburg...thank goodness, Valery is really clued up on Russian history!

Let's go....

There is Smolny Cathedral. It was originally intended to be the central church of a monastery, built to house the daughter of Peter the Great, Elizabeth, after she w as disallowed to take the throne and opted instead to become a nun.

However, as soon as her Imperial predecessor was overthrown during a coup, carried out by the royal guards, Elizabeth decided to forget the whole idea of a stern monastic life and happily accepted the offer of the Russian throne.

Though the age in which she lived was rather harsh, Elizabeth (especially in her younger days) was an amazingly joyful woman, who later displayed a passion for entertaining.

As Empress she is notorious for never having worn the same ball dress twice, so today there is an enormous collection of mid-18th century dresses!! Lucky woman!!

Smolny Cathedral's stunning blue-and-white building is undoubtedly one of the architectural masterpieces of the Italian architect Rastrelli, who also created the Winter Palace, the Grand Catherine (Yekaterininsky) Palace in Pushkin, the Grand Palace in Peterhof and many other major St. Petersburg's landmarks.

The cathedral is the centerpiece of the convent, built by Rastrelli between 1748 and 1764.

When Elizabeth stepped down from the throne the funding that had supported the constructed of the convent rapidly ran out and Rastrelli was unable to build the huge bell-tower he had planned or finish the interior of the cathedral.

The building was only finished 1835 with the addition of a neo-classical interior to suit the changed architectural tastes of the day.

Today Smolny Cathedral is used primarily as a concert hall and the surrounding convent houses various offices and government institutions.

And there is the impressive Kazan Cathedral, constructed between 1801 and 1811 by the architect Andrei Voronikhin, was built to an enormous scale and boasts an impressive stone colonnade, encircling a small garden and central fountain.

The cathedral was inspired by the Basilica of St. Peter's in Rome and was intended to be the country's main Orthodox Church. After the war of 1812 (during which Napoleon was defeated) the church became a monument to Russian victory.

Captured enemy banners were put in the cathedral and the famous Russian Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov, who won the most important campaign of 1812, was buried inside the church.

The cathedral was named after the "miracle-making" icon of Our Lady of Kazan, which the church housed till the early 1930s.

The Bolsheviks closed the cathedral for services in 1929, and from 1932 it housed the collections of the Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism, which displayed numerous pieces of religious art and served anti-religious propaganda purposes.

A couple of years ago regular services were resumed in the cathedral, though it still shares the premises with the museum.

The dome of St. Isaac's Cathedral dominates the skyline of St. Petersburg and its gilded cupola can be seen glistening from all over the city.....let's go in.....

We climb up the 300 or so steps to the observation walkway to enjoy breathtaking views over the city.

This is a city so full of museums, churches, cathedrals.....simply awesome! Peter the Great would have been really proud to see that his vision has endured.....

The church itself is an architectural marvel. Built by the French-born architect Auguste Montferrand to be the main church of the Russian Empire, the cathedral was under construction for 40 years (1818-1858), and was decorated in the most elaborate way possible.

As we enter the cathedral we see the columns that are made of single pieces of red granite and weighed 80 tons (about 177,770 pounds) each.

Inside the church many of the icons were created using moaic techniques and the iconostasis (the icon wall that separates the altar from the rest of the church) is decorated with 8 malachite and 2 lapis lazuli columns.

The cathedral, which can accommodate 14,000 worshipers, now serves as a museum and services are held only on significant ecclesiastical holidays.

Nopi simply loves art and wants to see the State Hermitage Museum

The main architectural ensemble of the Hermitage situated in the centre of St Petersburg consists of the Winter Palace, the former state residence of the Russian emperors, the buildings of the Small, Old (Great) an
d New Hermitages, the Hermitage Theatre and the Auxiliary House. The museum complex also includes the Men shikov Palace and the Eastern Wing of the General Staff building, the Staraya Derevnya Restoration and Storage Centre and the Museum of the Imperial Porcelain Factory.

With the possible exception of the Louvre, there is no museum in the world that rivals the Hermitage in size and quality.

Valery says that if we were to spend a minute looking at each exhibit on display in the Hermitage, we would need 11 years before we would have seen them all!!

The Hermitage's collections include works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and Titian, a unique collection of Rembrandts and Rubens, many French Impressionist works by Renoir, Cezanne, Manet, Monet and Pissarro, numerous canvasses by Van Gogh, Matisse, Gaugin and several sculptures by Rodin.

Not least among the attractions of the Hermitage is the museum itself,with its fine interior decoration and architectural detail.

Nopi, I think that you will have to make a few trips here to appreciate this place....it simply cannot be done at a frenetic pace:-(

The origins of the Hermitage can be traced back to the private art collection of Peter the Great, who purchased numerous works during his travels abroad and later hung them in his residence.

Catherine the Great expanded the collection considerably, and she and her successors built the Hermitage collection in large part with purchases of the private collections of the Western European aristocracy and monarchy.

By the time Nicholas II ascended the throne in 1894, he was heir to the greatest collection of art in Europe.

After the Revolution of 1917, the museum was opened to the public, and its collection was further augmented by the addition of modern works taken from private collections.
Today, the Hermitage has embarked on a major renovation effort. Its collection is in the process of being reorganized, and many of its works have for the first time become available for travelling exhibits outside of the country.

It has also has an impressive collection of Greek and Roman antiquities; exhibits of Siberian and Central Asian art and imperial treasures from Russia's royal era, including objects made by Faberge.

Valery, what is that outstanding, tall structure glistening in the sun?

Aah, we are now going towards the Peter and Paul Fortress

When Peter the Great re-claimed the lands along the Neva River in 1703, he decided to build a fort to protect the area from possible attack by the Swedish army and navy.
The fortress was founded on a small island in the Neva delta on May 27, 1703 (May 16 according to the old calendar) and that day became the birthday of the city of St Petersburg. The Swedes were defeated before the fortress was even completed.

For that reason, from 1721 onwards the fortress housed part of the city's garrison and rather notoriously served as a high security political jail.

Among the first inmates was Peter's own rebellious son Alexei. Later, the list of famous residents included Dostoyevsky, Gorkiy, Trotsky and Lenin's older brother, Alexander. Parts of the former jail are now open to the public...

In the middle of the fortress stands the impressive Peter and Paul Cathedral, the burial place of all the Russian Emperors and Empresses from Peter the Great to Alexander III.

The Cathedral was the first church in the city to be built of stone (between 1712-33) and its design is curiously unusual for a Russian Orthodox church. In keeping with Peter's Eurocentric bias, its design follows the pattern of Dutch ecclesiatical architecture rather than Russian.

On top of the cathedrals' gilded spire stands a magnificent golden angel holding a cross.

So, this is what we could see glistening....

This weather vane is one of the most prominent symbols of St Petersburg, and at 404 feet tall, the cathedral is the highest building in the city.

Did you know that Peter the Great once outlawed the construction of any building higher than the spire on the Peter and Paul Fortress?

Other buildings in the fortress include the City History Museum and the Mint, one of only two places in Russia where coins and medals are minted.


And wow, there is the Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood

This marvelous 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 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 donations.

Both the interior and exterior of the church is decorated with incredibly detailed mosaics, designed and created by the most prominent Russian artists of the day (V.M. Vasnetsov, M.V. Nesterov and M.A. Vrubel).

One of the most impressive elements of the church is the extravagant shrine constructed on the spot where Alexander II was fatally wounded, which has maintained a special place within
the church's interior. It was constructed to Parland's design, and completed in July 1907.

Four columns of gray violet jasper serve as the base of the shrine. Rising up the shrine, small rectangular columns unite the carved stone awning and the decorated mosaic icons with images of the patron saint of the Romanov family. The columns are supported by a frieze and cornice and stone-carved pediment with vases of jasper along the corners.

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 After the Revolution, the church - despite becoming an official cathedral in 1923 - was looted. It was closed in 1932, and essentially turned into a garbage dump.

During the Second World War when many people were starving due to the Siege of Leningrad by hostile Nazi German military forces, the church was used as a temporary storage site for the corpses of those who died both in combat and of starvation and illness. It suffered significant damage.

After the war, it was used as a warehouse for vegetables, leading to the sardonic name of Savior on Potatoes!!

The valuable shrine was almost completely destroyed. The four jasper columns with mosaic mountings in them, and a part of the balustrade were all that remained!

On July 20, 1970 the church was made a branch of the St. Isaac's Cathedral museum, and eighty percent of the church's extraordinary restoration was funded by profits from St. Isaac's.

The decades of deterioration and then restoration culminated in the dramatic re-opening of the church in August 1997, when thousands of eager visitors swamped the church.

Absolutely breathtaking!! Thanks a million Valery, you are simply the best!!

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