The Mining Institute (Gorny Institut) was built by Andrei Voronikhin in 1806-1811 on what is now known as the Lt. Schmidt Embankment. This massive building with a heavy front portico, adorned with twelve thick columns and two sturdy sculptural groups, catches the eye from far away.
Voronikhin, a serf of Count Stroganov, did not receive his freedom until he was twenty-six years old. His far from easy life was dedicated to tireless creative work, and some of his inspired achievements are ranked among the masterpieces of world architecture. One of these is the Mining Institute. Everything is massive, solid and monumental here: the walls, the portico, the columns and the sculptural groups. The squat, two-storied façade stretches along the embankment, but it does not seem too drawn-out because Voronikhin took advantage of a small bend in the river to place the portico here. The portico looks all the more imposing against the absolutely flat walls of the two wings. Twelve well-spaced Doric columns support a huge pediment; a broad open stairway leads up to the portico which dominates over its surroundings.
The sculptural groups, set on each side of the stairway, symbolize the earth, its power and its wealth. Hercules and Antaeus is the work of S. Pimenov. Antaeus’s strength lay in his contact with Mother Earth, and Hercules only defeated him by raising him aloof. Pimenov depicts that moment in the struggle of the two titans. For his group, Demut-Malinovsky also turned to mythology and chose the story of Persephone’s abduction by Pluto. Once again the figures are shown in desperate struggle, and their dynamism makes a sharp contrast to the stolid stillness of the massive portico and the long, plain walls. These sculptures and the building as a whole are meant to be viewed from across the Neva.
The College of Mines contains a splendid collection of minerals, among which is one piece of malachite (oxyde of copper) said to weigh three thousand four hundred and fifty-six pounds, English. There is one large room appropriated to models of every description, connected with mining ; as, a beautiful representation of the section of a mine, steam-engines on various plans, etc. Under the garden, behind the college, an artificial mine has been constructed, which has the parts, windings, and different passages, that a real mine is supposed to possess, with different stratifications of rock, earth, veins of metal, etc. The whole is most ingeniously executed, so that you might almost imagine yourself in a real mine.
James Holman, Travels Through Russia