Saint Petersburg Churches and Palaces

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Tsarist Saint Petersburg

Peter the Great founded Saint Petersburg in 1703 and made it the center of government under the Romanov dynasty. The city's name was changed to Petrograd in 1914, because it sounded too German. Then it changed again -- to Leningrad -- when Vladimir Lenin died in 1924. When the Soviet Union fell, the name was changed back to Saint Petersburg.

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Winter Palace
The Winter Palace sprawls across Palace Square and was the center of power for the Tsars. The daughter of Peter the Great, Empress Elizabeth, began its construction, but she died before it was finished. Catherine the Great was the first imperial resident. The building now houses Saint Petersburg's crown jewel, the Hermitage Museum.
General Staff Building
The huge General Staff Building balances out the colossal Winter Palace across Palace Square. It commemorates Russia's 1812 victory over Napoleon (as does the Alexander Column in the center of the square.) The bronze on the Triumphal Arch is about thirty feet (10 meters) high and that is also the length of the chariot.
Peter and Paul Cathedral
The first two buildings commissioned by Peter the Great when he founded the city were the Peter and Paul fortress and this cathedral. It houses the graves of all of the Romanov dynasty, beginning with Peter the Great himself, and including the recently-discovered remains of Nicholas II and his family.
Armorial Hall
This is Armorial Hall, one of the rooms in the Winter Palace, which now houses the Hermitage Museum. The Hermitage holds the world's largest art collection. With more than 1000 rooms, it's simply impossible to view the entire exhibits. Furthermore, at any time, only about one to five percent of the holdings are on display. But, as is evident from this representative room, the building itself sometimes makes it hard to focus on the art. During World War I, the Armorial Hall was used as an operating room. During World War II, it was shelled.
Petroglyph
Among its many holdings, the Hermitage Museum collection (begun by Peter the Great and significantly expanded by Catherine the Great) also includes Russian antiquities, such as this petroglyph. This carving on granite is dated between the fourth and third millennium BC, and shows people, deer, elk, boats, and birds. Or it could just be a drawing of Santa's sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.
Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
The name of this church is "the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood." The unusual name for this church derives from the 1881 assassination of Tsar Alexander II. It was originally intended as a place of contemplation for the Tsar, but the Bolsheviks opened it to the public. It was later used as a storage facility for potatoes and theater sets. The restoration of the church did begin in the Soviet era and continues today. So the church took 24 years to build and 27 years to restore.
Saint Isaacs
They needed 100 kilograms (about 220 pounds) of gold leaf to cover the 21.8 meter (70 foot) dome of Saint Isaacs when it was built in the nineteenth century. A series of design and construction problems meant that construction went on for forty years. Saint Isaacs cost ten times as much as the Winter Palace to build. When it was finally finished, the designer asked the Tsar, Nicholas I, if he could be buried there. The designer was French, and Roman Catholic. Furthermore, he was an artisan. The Tsar refused.
Smolny Cathedral
Here's yet another spectacular Russian Orthodox cathedral, the Smolny. The Smolny Cathedral is a fine example of the Russian interpretation of French Baroque architecture. The cathedral and the accompanying convent were built in the eighteenth century. The buildings were used by the Bolsheviks as their main headquarters, and Lenin wrote his revolutionary tracts in residence there.
Fountains at Peterhof
Peterhof was the summer palace of Peter the Great. He was one of the designers of the elaborate fountain system, the signature of the palace. It's particularly noteworthy that all of the fountains are gravity-fed. The grand statue in the center of the fountain is of Samson tearing open the jaws of a lion. This is highly symbolic of Russia's victory over Sweden in the Great Northern War. The lion figures in the Swedish coat-of-arms, and a major Russian victory occurred on Saint Samson's Day.
Peterhof staircase
Peterhof is often called the "Russian Versailles", and it's an apt description of its beauty and its imperial excesses. This two-story staircase is adorned with carved reliefs painted with gold and numerous statues, also gilded, in niches and on pedestals.