Monday, September 14, 2015

St. Petersburg - Day 4

Saturday, September 12, 2015
Return to Russia. I was here in 2005 on a river cruise to Moscow. The only major difference I notice is an increase in both the native population and tourists. The population today is around 6 million.
Today we embarked on a city tour to some of the highlights.
The city was founded by Peter the Great in 1703 to provide Russia with a port on the Baltic Sea to access trade routes to northwestern Europe. Russia was currently fighting the Great Northern War with the Swedes, who controlled the land. But Peter was so confident he would win that he started construction 7 years before he actually won.
Peter became Czar at a very young age and wanted to modernize Russia. A man of insatiable curiosity, he was the first czar to travel abroad, which he did at age 26, and he studied astronomy, science, mathematics and geography. It is said he traveled incognito, and spent 6 months working in a shipbuilding yard in Holland to learn all he could. Interestingly, shipbuilding is still one of the biggest industries in the city.
The part about incognito may be legend because he was a hard man to hide. He was 6 ft. 8 in. tall and was rather boorish as a young man, drinking and carousing with his grooms.
The land was not really suitable for a city -- it was mostly marshland, but Peter had learned in Holland how to drain the land and create canals. Originally there were 101 islands but now there are 47 which are connected by 800 bridges.
The city is an interesting mixture of architecture.  When Peter founded the city, he wanted it to rival other European domains, so he hired architects from France, Germany and Italy. Consequently, the inner city resembles its European counterparts with neoclassical architecture, wide open spaces and  palaces.  
Further from the city are the austere but sturdy apartment buildings built during the Stalinist era. Third, there are the cheaply constructed apartments from the 60's when a housing shortage required some quick construction. (Below)
Finally, there are modern high rises with porches and balconies to accommodate today's demand and new economy.
We began our tour to St. Isaacs Cathedral, a major landmark and once the largest cathedral in Russia (one in Moscow is larger now).
It was built from 1818-1858 by a French architect, which explains its more European look.

It can accommodate 14,000 people standing. (FYI -  Russian Orthodox Churches have no pews -- everybody stands, including royalty.)
Then we drove by the "Bronze Horseman," the statue erected by Catherine the Great for Peter the Great in the late 1700's. 
Next was the Church of the Resurrection or Our Savior on the Spilled Blood. It was built on the site where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in 1881 by revolutionaries. (Front and back views)

In 1861 he had freed the serfs from their ties to the nobles, but he soon realized he made enemies in the process, since there were several attempts on his life. A decision was made to build the church where he was killed and it was accomplished from 1883-1907. It was funded by the imperial family and private donors. Not only is the exterior worthy of contemplation, but the interior is decorated with incredibly detailed mosaics.

It was closed in 1930 by the Bolsheviks and not reopened until 1997.
Then we traveled to Peter and Paul Fortress, which was the original citadel (fort and prison) built from 1706-1740 on an island. The central focus is the Peter and Paul Cathedral, which was built to resemble western European cathedrals, not Russian Orthodox.
This is where the Czars are buried, including Peter and Catherine. It is now used as a museum.  
These columns are actually limestone painted to look like marble.
Afterwards we returned to the boat where we had a late lunch. Then we took a nap and had an early dinner (isn't this life on a cruise ship?), a Russian buffet before we went out.
Tonight we went to a theater in a building owned by the Ministry of Defense. It was a beautiful theater

and the performance was excellent. We were treated to a series of folk dances from different regions of the country. The troupe was very professional and it was obvious the women had classical ballet training. Many of the dances used props, like handkerchiefs and pillows. One dance involved 7 women with shawls who twirled them around in different patterns. There were two sets of duets, male and female, and both were extremely pleasant to hear even though they were singing in Russian.
We had an intermission with champagne (served up by one of our hostesses)
and back to the ship about 10:30.

No comments:

Post a Comment