St Petersburg

Community Highlights Europe St Petersburg

When I pulled back the curtains wondering if the Russian shoreline was in view yet ahead of our 7.00am arrival to St Petersburg, I was surprised to be greeted with the bizarre sight of this enormous rocket like building standing starkly on the shoreline and dwarfing everything else in sight. It looked quite out of place and not the sort of building I expected to see in what I understood was an elegant and classical city.


We found out later that it is an 87 storey building still under construction which will be the tallest skyscraper in Europe and the 13th tallest in the world.

St Petersburg is a comparatively young city in European timeframes having being founded by Peter the Great in 1705. He selected St Petersburg as the site to provide Russia with a seaport to the Baltic Sea to enable Russia to expand as both a military and trading power. It was originally swampy land but canals were constructed to drain it and today it consists of 44 islands and is sometimes referred to as the Venice of the north for its many canals and rivers.

As a result of its young age St Petersburg does not have the old buildings one sees in cities such as Stockholm and many European cities. Peter and subsequent Tsars wanted the city to emulate or surpass other great cities of Europe, so they brought in architects from Italy and France to design and build many of the buildings. Hence there are many buildings of Gothic and Baroque style including lavish palaces. With its elegant buildings, priceless art and world class ballet, St Petersburg is regarded as the cultural capital of Russia.

We did a tour over the two days we were in st Petersburg and our introduction to the city was a visit to the waterfront followed by a boat ride on the Neva River and along some of the canals.

Ornate gold domed buildings dot the skyscape

The Hermitage from the Neva River.



Canals lined with elegant baroque and classical buildings and crossed by ornate bridges

During our boat ride along the canals, we were kept entertained by a jogger who kept appearing at the bridges as we approached them and waved enthusiastically at us. The first two times this happened we thought it was just coincidence, but on the third, then the fourth, fifth and so on occasions, we had got it and looked forward to seeing him and everyone waved and cheered. It was a bit of fun, but after we came out of the canal area and crossed the wide expanse of water to the far side of the Neva River, we thought we had seen the last of him. Surely there was no way he could catch us! But, guess what, there he was panting, but with outstretched hand as we disembarked the boat! We weren’t sure why this friendly, fit fifteen year old wasn’t in school, but with those entrepreneurial skills perhaps he doesn’t need a formal education.


Catherine the Great, the second wife of Peter the Great, ascended the throne after his death and decreed that no building could be higher than the Winter Palace hence there is a pleasing uniformity in both design and heights of buildings around the city. The Winter Palace was the official residence of the Russian Emperors from 1732 to 1917, but today the ornate palace is now the Hermitage Museum. It comprises 5 ornately decorated buildings filled with an amazing collection of priceless artworks.


The General Staff Building behind the Hermitage makes it a very photogenic area.

We also did a subway ride. Whilst this did not initially sound appealing, we soon appreciated the reason for the visit. The stations were 400 metres below ground and accessed by an escalator that takes 3 minutes 13 seconds to get you there. The stations were like art galleries - pristine clean and with decorative mosaic feature walls.

Next stop was the opulent summer estate of Catherine’s Palace, located about an hour’s drive from the city. It contains extravagant interiors, rooms lined with mirrors and gold carvings.






Peter the Great was also responsible for another of St Petersburg’s great buildings, Peterhof Palace, in fact so great that it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.


This building is The Church of the Saviour of Spilled Blood, so named for being the spot where Emporer Alexander was assassinated. It is not only notable for its ornate onion domed exterior but also for the intricate mosaic panels which are a feature of the interior.




While St Petersburg is well endowed with elegant and beautiful buildings from its former days, I was surprised at how tired and ordinairy much of the city looked with large areas of high rise housing (probably less than 8 storeys) and inner city areas where new, characterless development is interspersed amongst the old. Our last view of St Petersburg as we left port probably did not help to ameliorate my overall disappointment.


However, on reflection, since the days of Peter the Great and others who followed in his stead, the city has been through some turbulent times and should be appreciated for the extravagant, but opulent legacy left by the Tsarist regime.

This featured blog entry was written by themaggiej from the blog Travels by barge, bike & boat.
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By themaggiej

Posted Mon, Jun 03, 2019 | Russia | Comments