A wide staircase leads from the semi-circular square up to the main façade, which is adorned by the figure of Neptune, the god of the sea, in a chariot harnessed to sea horses. On either side are symbolic representations of the Neva and the Volkhov rivers.
On the opposite side (western pediment) are the goddess of seafaring, Marine Aphrodite, and the paron of trade, Mercury, surrounded by river nymphs.
This building was executed under the orders of his Excellency Count Romanzow, Minister of Commerce. His Imperial Majesty, Alexander, laid the first stone, the 23d of June, 1805.
George Green, An original journal from London to St. Petersburg, 1843
At the same time the Exchange was buing built, the granite embankment of the Spit was constructed on piles with two gentle slops descending to the Neva.
J. Kohl had left us the following impression of the Exchange building in his Panorama, having visited St Petersburg in 1840:
The Germans have corrupted a word of Latin origin into Borse; the Russians have adopted it from the Germans, and Russianized it into Birsha; but this name is bestowed upon every place where persons regularly meet for any object — among others, to the places where the isvoshtshiks stand while waiting for employment. In St. Petersburg, it is therefore not enough to direct your sledge- driver to the "Birsha" (Exchange); you must say the Dutch Exchange, for so the magnificent building on Vassili Ostrof, where the merchants assemble, is called by the lower class of Russians, probably from the circumstance of the Dutch merchants, who were invited to St. Petersburg by Peter the Great, having had the first settlement, where now the representatives of every maritime na tion are to be found. The Exchange of St. Petersburg is more favourably situated than many great public buildings. It stands on the extreme point of the Vassili Ostrof, with a noble open space before it, and is reared on elevated foundations. On either side the superb granite quays, that give solidity to the point of the island, divide the majestic river into two mighty arms, in which it flows in calm power to the right and left. Stately flights of granite steps lead down to the river. On the space before the building two massive "columns rostrate," above a hundred feet in height, and decorated with the prows of ships cast in metal, have been erected to the honour of Mercury. These columns are hollow; and on the summits, which are reached by a flight of iron steps, are gigantic vases that are filled with combustibles on all occasions of public illumination. The erection of the whole, including the quays, occupied nearly twelve years, from 1804 to 1816 : a most unheard-of period in St. Petersburg, where a copy of St. Peters at Rome was "got up" in two years, and a new imperial palace rose from its ashes in eleven months. The great hall, of colossal proportions, is lighted from above. At either end, and on both sides, are spaces in the form of arcades: in one of the first stands an altar, with lamps constantly burning, for the benefit of the pious Russian merchants, who always bow to the altar, and sometimes even prostrate themselves, on their entrance, to implore the favour of all the saints to their undertakings. The blue or green modern frock-coats of the worshippers form as curious a contrast with their long patriarchal beards as the altar itself, with its steps covered with an elegant Parisian carpet, and its hideous, age- blackened image of a saint, which none would venture to modernize any more than they would attempt to put the razor to the Russian mercantile chin