10 Fantastic Reasons Why You Will Love St. Petersburg-My Russian Affair, Part I

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Dobro Poshalovat V Port Ul Peterburge

The big port of St. Petersburg which Tsar Peter The Great built is located at the floodplain of Neva River as it enters the Gulf of Finland. The Gulf of Finland is the easternmost corner of the Baltic Sea. Port of St. Petersburg then, is the most important maritime transport link between the East and West, here in Russia.

Peter The Great

I’ve been to St. Petersburg twice, the first was in 1996 (M/T Knock Dun) and the second one was in 2015 with the IVS Wentworth. In each of the anchoring, I had suffered Russian infatuation. St. Petersburg is for travelers, like a spiritual ideal – a mark on the globe before it became a city.

Tsar Peter The Great founded St. Petersburg in 1703 to open Russia to the west. It was to provide her a convenient port on the Baltic Sea. A major historical and cultural center, this is the second largest city of Russia, after Moscow. From 1712-1918, it has been the seat of the Russian Empire. In aesthetic sense, St. Petersburg is one of the most splendid cities of Europe. Let me explain to you why you will love St. Petersburg in 10 fantastic reasons.

Reason #1- The Main Street, Nevsky Prospekt Is A Cultural Mecca

One thing I’m sure of why you will love St. Petersburg. Its main artery, The Nevsky Prospekt is not only the center for shopping and dining but is adorned with Russian history as well. It is a walk of wonder for visitors. On this high street, you are surrounded by impressive buildings such as the Winter Palace (residence of the Tsars), Kazan Cathedral, National Russian Library, Gostiny Dvor (big shopping mall) and other iconic structures.

St. Petersburg‘s main avenue is only 10 years younger than the city’s founding. Based on the plan of Peter The Great, this road was to connect The Admiralty (shipyard for the Baltic Fleet) with the Alexander Nevsky Square. At this square is 19th century Tikhvin Cemetery. It contains the tombs of great Russian writers and composers such as Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Tomb of Tchaikovsky at Tikhvin Cemetery by the Nevsky Prospekt.

Reason #2- The Huge Art Collections of Catherine The Great Is Found at the Winter Palace

It’s so easy why you will love St. Petersburg. The magnificent mint green Winter Palace contains Catherine The Great‘s 3 million collections of art. This includes West-European (Rembrandt), ancient and primitive art, Oriental, Russian and a collection of coins and medals. With all of these huge collections, visitors need 11 years to appreciate fully each piece for 1 minute. Whoa!

West-European art collections of Catherine, The Great in the Winter Palace.

St. Petersburg‘s most notable building not only takes over Palace Square and the northern part of the Neva River but plays a political and cultural part in the history of the city. It has been the residence of Russia’s monarchs until the 1917 Revolution which ended the reign of Tsar Nicholas II. First built as a simple wooden Dutch-style house by Peter The Great for his family in 1708. In 1711, it was replaced by a stone building. After his reign, one of his descendants, Empress Anna rebuilt it into a palace. She even installed toilets made of silver and rubies. But she died in 1759 before Winter Palace was completed. In 1762, Catherine II (Catherine The Great) deposed her husband Peter and became Russia’s longest-reigning Empress. In her time, she collected pieces of art from all over Europe. Tsar Nicholas II was the last ruler to live at Winter Palace. A must-see structure in St. Petersburg as it reflect the power and greatness of the Russian Empire.

Catherine II a.k.a. Catherine The Great

Reason #3- Exact Spot Where Tsar Alexander II Was Assassinated Stands The Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood

The Cathedral of the Savior on Spilled Blood (or Church of the Resurrection) attracts visitors with its lavishly decorated onion-shaped domes covered with semi-precious stones. This eccentric multi-colored facade makes the Church a stand-out and you will love St. Petersburg for it.

Built in memory of Tsar Alexander II who was killed by a bomb thrown at his royal carriage in 1881. It took around 24 years to construct this Church. During the communist regime, there was an attempt to destroy The Cathedral on Spilled Blood. But anyway it was restored again in a period of another 27 years. Residents at that time even joked that as soon as the pieces of scaffolding were removed, Soviet rule will also end.It must have been a coincidence but when the Church’s restoration was done in 1991, so was Communist rule in Russia came to an end. The Cathedral of the Savior on Spilled Blood has been used as a location shooting of the American reality TV show, The Amazing Race during its 17th season.

Reason #4-Russia’s Answer to Versailles, the Peterhof Palace and Its Fountains

The Grand Cascade fountain of Peterhof Palace

Certainly the most spectacular sight why you will love St. Petersburg is Peterhof Palace (Peter’s Cottage) and its fountains. It is located just outside the city and on the shores of the Gulf of Finland. The most magical palace in all over Russia, Peterhof has been the summer residence of the Tsars and their families. Peter The Great was so inspired by France’s Versailles Palace and he built a grander one in St. Petersburg including its numerous fountains. This brings royal splendor into a different level where it seems that the place is likened to the time of the Greek gods.

The most notable of the fountains at Peterhof is the Grand Cascade. It runs from the northern facade of the palace to the Marine Canal by the Gulf of Finland. The breathtaking sight of the Grand Cascade with the palace behind it greets visitors who arrive at Peterhof from the sea. The fountains are operated without pumps. Water is supplied from natural springs.

Aerial view of the Grand Cascade fountain along the Marine Canal by the Gulf of Finland.

Reason #5- Impressive Dome of St. Isaak’s Cathedral Is Covered In Pure Gold

Visible from the ship along the Gulf of Finland, its dome covered in pure gold is St. Isaak’s Cathedral. One of the most famous attractions as well as reasons why you will love St. Petersburg. This is the largest Orthodox Church in Russia and a museum at the same time. It’s the 4th largest Cathedral in the world. The interior is decorated with malachite and lapiz lazulli, semi-precious stones.

Interior of St. Isaak’s Cathedral which is decorated with semi-precious stones.

St. Isaak’s Cathedral was designed by French architect Auguste de Montferrand. Its construction took for 40 years. Said Church used to be the center of the Orthodox religion in the Russian Empire. After the 1917 Revolution, the Bolsheviks turned the place of worship into an anti-religious museum. When Communism came to an end in Russia, St. Isaak’s Cathedral became once again a place of prayer in St. Petersburg.

Reason #6-The Final Resting Place of the Romanovs Can Be Found At Peter & Paul Fortress

Peter The Great built the fortress to defend his city from Swedish attacks. When the Bolshevik government took control on Russia in the early 1920s, Peter & Paul Fortress was a prison and an execution ground. After the end of Communist rule, it has been adapted as an important part of the State Museum of St. Petersburg History. The fortress has some notable buildings such as the Peter & Paul Cathedral. All the Russian Tsars were buried in this church except Peter II and Ivan VI. The remains of Nicholas II (last emperor of Russia) and his family were re-interred here at the side chapel (Chapel of St. Catherine) on July 17, 1998.

Tsar Nicholas II and family

If you are a history buff, you will love St. Petersburg because of Peter & Paul Fortress. And since the Cathedral at the area was used only for the funeral rites of deceased Russian emperors, a noteworthy point of it are the items associated with their burial ceremonies. Visitors are also allowed to climb the bell tower to see the bells and chimes instruments. They are connected to a clock mechanism and a Carillon (an instrument connected to a keyboard and 51 bells system) from which classical music is played in a unique sound.

Chapel of St. Catherine in the Peter & Paul Cathedral, final resting place of the Romanovs.

Reason #7-House of the Russian Ballet, Mariinsky Theatre

The home of the Russian ballet, Mariinsky Theatre was opened in 1860 and named after Tsaritsa Maria Aleksandrovna, wife of Tsar Alexander II. One of the most notable theatre in Russian art history, true legends have performed, acted and played here. You will love St. Petersburg because Mariinsky is definitely the highlight of your visit in the city. It is impossible to imagine it without its spectacular theatre. Famous Russian ballets such as The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty were premiered on its stage. Mariinsky Theatre gave to the world renowned opera singers in the 21st century like Anna Netrebko, a soprano. In the world of ballet, it presented outstanding dancers such as Rudolph Nureyev.

Rudolph Nureyev

Anna Netrebko

Reason#8-It’s a City of Bridges, Drawbridge Tour

The Palace Drawbridge

It is hard to stroll more than a few meters in St. Petersburg without crossing bridges and 12 of them can be raised. However, they are not raised to entertain visitors but to let cargo ships and oil carriers pass through the Neva River to the Gulf of Finland. But still you will love St. Petersburg for the drawbridges’ opening because it is a spectacular and captivating show.

Every night these bridges are opened to let ships sail through. The first one opens at 1:15 a.m. then they go up one after the other. It is more beautiful to see the drawbridges’ opening when you are on a boat and it usually lasts for 2 hours. The Palace Bridge for one is no doubt one of the most attractive sights of St. Petersburg. When raised, the view of Peter and Paul Cathedral can be seen. This is the most memorable images of the city.

Reason #9-The Most Beautiful and Deepest Train Line In the World, St. Petersburg Metro

Avtovo Station of the St. Petersburg Metro

You can’t really help but fall in love with St. Petersburg because it has the most beautiful and deepest underground train system in the world- the St. Petersburg Metro. Many locals and visitors even go on guided tours of the station to see the interiors which reflect the history and culture of Russia. The stations go down to 70 meters below the ground. They are not just means of transportation but famous for the aesthetic and architectural originality of its stations. Each train stop has a splendid interior that tells a story of Russia’s past. Opened in 1955 during the height of the Cold War, the St. Petersburg Metro was also built as bomb shelters to protect its citizens from an upcoming attack.

The Avtovo station is the highlight of St. Petersburg Metro. It looks like a room in a palace- with marble walls, chandeliers and subdued lighting.

Reason #10-You Can Have the Blini (Pancake) With Caviar On It

Da (yes), one of the reasons why you will love St. Petersburg is its heavenly pancake (blini) with caviar on it. It is actually a Russian breakfast food. Be it salmon or red caviar (the black one is served in hotels), it is a favorite topping for the crepe-like blini on the breakfast table. It goes fantastic with coffee or tea.

The city has been renamed 3 times in honor of Russia’s great leaders- Peter The Great and Vladimir Lenin. From its founding to 1914 is St. Petersburg. From 1914-1924, it’s Petrograd; then Leningrad from 1924-1992 and back again to St. Petersburg after the fall of Communism in 1991. It is also called the “City of White Nights.” Due to its proximity to the Arctic Circle, the phenomenon “white night” occur. In summer, between May-July, the nights in St. Petersburg don’t get dark.

If Moscow has the brains, St. Petersburg got the looks in Russia. Peter The Great has succeeded in creating a modern European city to rival Venice for beauty. This achievement has remained remarkable even after 3 centuries later. Travel may be far from reality at the moment but when the time is right, pack your bag and see for yourself the beauty of this amazing city. A seychas do svidaniya.

References: Wikipedia; St. Petersburg by Lonely Planet