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The Silk Route - World Travel: Church on the Spilled Blood, St Petersburg, Russia
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Russia: St Petersburg
December 2011

Nevsky Prospekt Church of our Saviour on the Spilled BloodPeter and Paul Fortress Yusupov Palace St. Isaac's Cathedral The Hermitage
St Petersburg: Church of our Saviour on the Spilled Blood

 

A beautiful city crossed by canals and the Neva river with so much to see. The Hermitage, of course, but the Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood is an absolute stunner and not to be missed.

Nevsky Prospekt

Nevsky Prospekt
A beautifully decorated cake shop window.
Nevsky Prospekt
Matryoshka dolls, Christmas toys and decorations in a shop window.

 

WInter in St Petersburg and it was very cold. The city was strung with lights for Christmas, though there was no sign of Christmas markets except for a small one which opened the day we left. It was really weird to be setting out for a day in the dark, sunrise was around 11 am and the sun never got very high in the sky, setting around 5 pm.

We were staying in the Corinthia Nevsky Palace Hotel on Nevsky Prospekt. It was beautifully decorated for Christmas. The food there was good - the breakfast buffet one of the most extensive I've seen - but the restaurant was closed on both Sunday and Monday evenings.

art nouveau bookshop
An Art Nouveau door in the Singer Building leading to Dom Knigi, the bookshop.

Nevsky Prospekt is the well-known main street of the city, running from the Admiralty in the west to Moscow Train Station in the east, then turns south east to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, a distance of over 4km.

Nevsky Prospekt
The Singer Building with Kazan Cathedral in the background.
Kazan Cathedral
Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan on Nevsky Prospekt.
Nevsky Prospekt
Griboyedov Canal and the Church of our Saviour on the Spilled Blood.
Horse Tamer Anichkov Bridge Nevsky Prospekt
The Horse Tamer, Anichkov Bridge.

The large neo-classical Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan stands on the south side towards the Admiralty, opposite the Singer Building which is on the corner with the Griboyedov Canal which leads up to the magnificent Church of our Saviour on the Spilled Blood.

The Singer Building is a fine example of Art Nouveau and is now home to Dom Knigi - the biggest bookshop in St Petersburg.1

Nevsky Prospekt
Horse Tamer Anichkov Bridge Nevsky Prospekt
The Horse Tamer, Anichkov Bridge.

Further east the Anichkov Bridge crosses the Fontanka River. At each corner is a wonderful statue, called The Horse Tamers, created by P.K. Klodt.2

Nevsky Prospekt
The lovely 18th century Wedgewood blue and white Armenian Church of St Catherine on Nevsky Prospekt.3
Nevsky Prospekt
Griboedov Gastronomic Bar
Nevsky Prospekt
The 18th century Roman Catholic Church of St Catherine on Nevsky Prospekt. The figures on the high parapet are of the evangelists.4

St. Petersburg was founded in 1703 by Peter the Great and many impressive buildings date from the eighteenth century. Peter was attempting to gain sea access via the Neva River to the Baltic, which entailed war against Sweden. He built the Peter and Paul fortress on an island in the Neva and it was from this small beginning that St Petersburg developed.5

We had an excellent lunch at the Griboedov Gastronomic Bar on Nevsky Prospekt. It specalises in Georgian food and the lamb and pork shashlik were excellent.

Nevsky Prospekt
The City Duma Tower decorated for Christmas.

Church of our Saviour on the Spilled Blood

Church of our Saviour on the Spilled Blood

This is the common name for the Holy Resurrection Cathedral built 1883-1907 on the site where Emperor Alexander II was mortally wounded.6 This beautiful nine-domed building stands on the Griboyedov Canal north of Nevsky Prospekt and is one of the jewels of the city.

Church of our Saviour on the Spilled Blood

 

Church of our Saviour on the Spilled Blood
Church of our Saviour on the Spilled Blood
Church of our Saviour on the Spilled Blood
Church of our Saviour on the Spilled Blood
Church of our Saviour on the Spilled Blood


Church of our Saviour on the Spilled Blood


Church of our Saviour on the Spilled Blood

 

 

Church of our Saviour on the Spilled Blood
Church of our Saviour on the Spilled Blood
Church of our Saviour on the Spilled Blood

We were unprepared for the stunning interior, completely covered with brilliant mosaics.

Church of our Saviour on the Spilled Blood
Church of our Saviour on the Spilled Blood
Church of our Saviour on the Spilled Blood

Peter and Paul Fortress

Peter and Paul Fortress

We crossed the Neva River to the fortress where Peter the Great founded St Petersburg on Zayachy (Hare) Island in 1703. To begin with it had only earth and wood defences but between 1706 and 1740 these were replaced with more substantial brick constructions and later the southern walls were faced with granite.

Peter and Paul Fortress
Petrovsky (Peter's) Gate

Though a garrison was stationed here in the 18th century, parts of it were also rented to merchants to store goods and the fortress never actually saw any action. From 1718 to 1921 it was used as a political prison.

Peter and Paul Fortress
Peter and Paul Fortress from Ioannovsky Bridge leading to St John's Gate.
Peter and Paul Fortress
Imperial Coat of Arms
Peter and Paul Fortress
Peter and Paul Cathedral
Peter and Paul Fortress
Peter and Paul Cathedral

The entrance through St John's Gate leads to Peter's Gate which bears the Imperial Coat of Arms: a crowned double-headed eagle bearing a shield showing St. George killing the dragon.

We spent a couple of hours wandering around the buildings which now share the island. The noonday gun was fired while we were there - it was extremely loud!

The Peter and Paul Cathedral was built between 1712 and 1733 and within its walls, from 1708, members of the Imperial Romanov family were laid to rest including Peter the Great (1672-1725) and Catherine the Great (1729-1796). Most of the tombs are free-standing caskets within the body of the cathedral. The remains of Emperor Nicholas II and his family: Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna, Grand Duchesses Tatiana, Olga and Anastasia, however, were interred in the small Chapel of St. Catherine in 1998, eighty years after they were all executed in Yekaterinburg in 1918.

Peter and Paul Fortress
Monks preparing to sing.
Peter and Paul Fortress
An impressive dolls' house in the Commandant's House exhibition.
Peter and Paul Fortress
St Catherine's Chapel in the Peter and Paul Cathedral

Just as we were about to leave the cathedral a monk ushered us, along with others, into a side room illuminated by a tall stained glass window of Christ. Five monks then sang a short piece, I don't know what it was, but it was very affecting.

Near the cathedral is the 18th century boat house used for the boat in which Peter the Great learned to sail as a young man.

Peter and Paul Fortress
Peter the Great's sailboat.
Peter and Paul Fortress
Prison clothes in a cell in Trubetskoy Bastion Prison.
Peter and Paul Fortress
Naryshkin Bastion and Flagstaff Tower

We went into the Commandant's House to see the permanent display on "The History of St. Petersburg - Petrograd, 1703-1918" which includes many everyday domestic items to show what life was like for ordinary people.

Peter and Paul Fortress
Soyuz capsule.

The Trubetskoy Bastion Prison was the main remand prison in the country until 1918. The cells were extremely spartan, little more than an iron bed with thin mattress and a table fixed to the wall. The prison clothes looked extremely heavy and itchy. It is probably more interesting if you are more familiar with the stories of people who were imprisoned here; these included Lenin's brother and Maxim Gorky. There is a lot of information about the prisoners, including many political prisoners - signs of the coming revolutions in the early 20th century.

Our final stop was at the Space Museum, probably of most interest to me, but where, unfortunately, all the information was in Russian.

Peter and Paul Fortress
Part of the information board on the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first person to go into space, orbiting the earth in 1961 in his Vostok spacecraft.

The museum charts the history of the engines and rockets with models. At the end is a real Soyuz capsule looking extremely cramped for two people.

 

Yusupov Palace

Yusupov Palace
Yusupov Palace

 

Yusupov Palace

Yusupov Palace is famous as the place where Rasputin was murdered! We purchased a photo permit for 150Rb, donned overshoes to protect the floors, and set off with our audio guides.

This isn't as grand nor as extensive as the Winter Palace or fabulous Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo, but it belonged to an immensely rich noble family who stuffed it with artworks and treasures.

Yusupov Palace

Yusupov Palace

Much of the decoration is very fussy in a baroque style but it has an impressive little theatre, a nice book-lined study, and a beautiful Moorish room, which unfortunately was half closed for renovations, which they anticipate will take three years.

Yusupov Palace
Yusupov Palace
Yusupov Palace
Yusupov Palace

Rasputin was poisoned, shot and beaten in the basement here before being dumped in the river across the road. To see where this happened you have to take a separate tour but wax figure recreations don't really appeal!

Yusupov Palace
A fine malachite fireplace.

 

St Isaac's Cathedral

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As we passed through Palace Square we came upon some filming - very joyful!

St Isaac's Cathedral
Senate and Synod building seen from the colonnade.

A 19th century building completed on the site of numerous previous attempts to build a cathedral.7 It is in the form of a Greek cross i.e. on a square base rather than rectangular, with a tall central dome encircled by a colonnaded balcony.

St Isaac's Cathedral
St. Isaac's Cathedral

 

St Isaac's Cathedral
View of St. Isaac's Square and the Mariinsky Palace from the colonnade.



St Isaac's Cathedral
St Isaac's Cathedral

We visited late afternoon and it was really the wrong time, too gloomy to see much from the colonnade on the outside of the dome! We will definitely have to come back in summer - hopefully during "white nights" when darkness never falls! Still, the illuminated 19th century Mariinsky Palace, built by Tsar Nicholas I for his daughter,8 and Senate and Synod building were pretty impressive.

It was far too cold to linger on the colonnade so we descended to take a look inside.

St Isaac's Cathedral
Beautiful green (malachite?) and blue (lapis lazuli?) columns.
St Isaac's Cathedral
Adam and Eve and the animals.

The interior is richly decorated with mosaics, lots of gilding and marble-faced neoclassical architecture.

The blue and green columns are rather nice but ultimately, for us, neither the exterior nor interior cannot compare to the Church on the Spilled Blood.

 

The Hermitage

Hermitage
Winged Deity
Relief from the Place of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud, 9th century BC.
Hermitage
Mosaic of a Boy as the Month of June
Rome, 3rd century AD9


Hermitage
The Three Graces
Antonio Canova, 1813-1816


Hermitage
Pygmalion and Galatea
Francois-Camille Duru
1763-176611
Hermitage

We assigned a day to the Hermitage, one of the world's great museums. Much of the information is in Russian, though at least most of the exhibits also have an English translation of the title, age and origin.

Hermitage
Statue of a Lion
Asia Minor (?), 1st-2nd century AD
The lion's paw is resting on the head of (I think) an ox. This was found in a burial mound.

We headed first for the Assyrian galleries - a favourite topic for me - but I would have to say that they are not as impressive as the British Museum's. There were one or two nice reliefs but no colossal winged human-headed lion or bull, massive gates or long carved friezes of battles and hunts.

On to the rather larger Egyptian Gallery which has some nice things but, again, the British Museum, with more extensive, varied and impressive exhibits, and the wonderfully decorated sarcophagi in the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna, are better.

However, from here on in we found some lovely things. Unfortunately others we wanted to see were unavailable: the Caravaggio Lute Player must have been on loan, and we couldn't get to see the Scythian Gold because the gold room was closed and the attendants couldn't say when it would be open again - this is one for next time.

Hermitage
A magnificent sculpture gallery.
Hermitage
Crouching Boy
Michelangelo Buonarroti
1530-1534
Hermitage
Hermitage
Portrait of Baertje Martens
Rembrandt van Rijn
1640

 

 

The Michelangelo Crouching Boy10 is beautiful, though unfinished, and the Rembrandt room is fantastic - especially the portrait of Baertje Martens.

 

 

 

 

Hermitage
Leonardo's "Madonna and the Child" is on the left.
Hermitage
An Iron Forge viewed from Without
Joseph Wright of Derby, England, 1773.

There were two Joseph Wright of Derby paintings; I particularly liked the glowing An Iron Forge viewed from Without12 but intrigued to know what is going on as a rather scantily clad young woman and a gentleman observe a blacksmith at work at night. This was purchased by Catherine the Great in 1774, only a year after it was painted; she was obviously a woman of very good taste and judgement!

Hermitage

The lower paintings are by the 17th century Flemish artist Frans Snyders.13 They are wonderfully detailed and rich with character and deserving of far more than the short time we were able to spend looking at them.
From left to right: Game Stall, Fruit Stall, Fish Market and Greengrocery Stall.

This was also, of course, the Winter Palace of the tsars and some of the rooms, such as the European sculpture gallery and Raphael Loggias, are very beautifully decorated.

Hermitage
Raphael Loggias
A perfect copy of the Gallery in the Papal Palace of the Vatican City. Commissioned by Empress Catherine II in the late 1780s.14

 

Hermitage
Sculpture group in the Armorial Hall.


Hermitage
Ship (Table Decoration)
Silver; cast, forged, chased, gilded.
Nuremberg, Germany, 1620s. Mark of Esaias zur Linden.

 

Others, like the Armorial Hall, with its gilded fluted columns, and the white and gold Grand Staircase, are just stunning in their scale and opulence.

 

Hermitage
The Grand Staircase.
Hermitage
The Grand Staircase.
Hermitage
The museum has a huge coin collection, not something we'd normally investigate, but on passing through we spotted this coin with a portrait of Elizabeth I of England.
Hermitage
King Edward VI between 1547 and 1550 (detail)
Unknown Artist
Edward was the longed-for son of King Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour. He ascended the throne on his father's death in 1547 at the age of nine, but died only six years later from tuberculosis.15
Hermitage
We came across a room with these amazingly expressive iron block figures by Antony Gormley.

Hermitage
The Malachite Room.
Hermitage
The Gold Drawing Room.
Hermitage
The Boudoir.
This and the Gold Drawing Room were two of the private rooms of Empress Maria Alexandrovna, the consort of Emperor Alexander II.16

 

The Gold Drawing Room is another dazzling space with a white ceiling generously picked out in gold and gold walls.

Hermitage
The Gold Drawing Room.

Then there's the Malachite Room, with a similar white and gold ceiling and fabulous green malachite columns.

Hermitage
The Throne Room.
Hermitage
Fabulous gilded sleigh with St. George slaying the dragon.
Hermitage
A fine St George and the Dragon above the imperial throne.
Hermitage
Art Deco sculpture on the Baltika Brew building.

As the patron saint of the Romanovs there are many representations of Saint George and the Dragon.

We'd had a meagre lunch in the museum café but there wasn't much to choose from so when we finally left we were starving.

Hermitage
Triumphal Arch on Palace Square.

 

Out in Palace Square we went through the Triumphal Arch opposite the Hermitage  and stumbled upon a brilliant bar, the Baltika Brew, in an Art Deco building.

A vast place it has a small stage in one corner, comfortable sofas, good service and great beer. With its own brewery we were onto a winner: Monastic for me and Palace for Andrew and a dish of chicken wings hit the spot! Later in the holiday we went back and had equally excellent Cabinet and chocolate stout!

References

  1. St Petersburg Encyclopedia: Singer (Zinger) Building and the Art Nouveau Bookshop (Dom Knigi)
  2. St Petersburg Encyclopedia: Anichkov Bridge
  3. St Petersburg Encyclopedia: Armenian Church of St. Catherine
  4. St Petersburg Encyclopedia: Roman Catholic Church of St. Catherine
  5. St. Petersburg: 18th century
  6. St Petersburg Encyclopedia: Holy Resurrection Cathedral
  7. St Petersburg Encyclopedia: St Isaac's Cathedral
  8. St Petersburg Encyclopedia: Mariinsky Palace
  9. The State Hermitage Museum: Mosaic June
  10. The State Hermitage Museum: Michelangelo Buonarroti Crouching Boy
  11. The State Hermitage Museum:Sculptural Group Pygmalion and Galatea
  12. The State Hermitage Museum: Joseph Wright of Derby An Iron Forge viewed from Without
  13. The State Hermitage Museum: Frans Snyders
  14. The State Hermitage Museum: The Raphael Loggias
  15. The Official Website of the British Monarchy: Edward VI
  16. The State Hermitage Museum: The Private Rooms of Empress Maria Alexandrovna in the Winter Palace