Although they now form part of St Petersburg State University, this 440-meter complex (originally comprising 12 individual buildings, hence the name Twelve Colleges, built by Domenico Trezzini, 1721–1744) housed the 12 ministries of Peter the Great’s government.
Each section is distinguished by a protrusion - a risalit, and a figured pediment. The main facade of this red and white building of tremendous length looks out over the Spit of Vasilievsky Island and its southern butt-end faces the University Embankment.
Now we pass the immense front of the massive building erected by Peter the First, comprising no less than twelve colleges, together with the extensive Custom-houses and their warehouses. Palace presses upon palace, including those appropriated to the Land-Cadet corps; — the Academy of Sciences; — the Mining-Cadet corps;— until the edifice of the Marine Cadets, adjoining the sea, closes the magnificent boundaries of the right shore.
St. Petersburgh.. in 1833 and 1834 Friedrich Tietz, 1835
Trezzini's idea was to underline the relative independence of each of the twelve collegia on other one hand, and their close interconnection in the system of state administration, on the other hand.
The first floor, done in rustic masonry, has large semicircular windows, the second and third floors are decorated with pilasters, simple panels and window platbands. Each of the twelve sections has a projecting central part with a balcony on the second floor, and a figured pediment.p>In those times there were no permanent bridges over the Neva and therefore the government institutions situated on the island were cut off from the main districts of the city by the high waters of the Neva and frequently found themselves in a difficult situation. For these and some other reasons a number of state institutions, including the collegiums, subsequently were moved to the left bank of the Neva.
In 1819, the building erected by Trezzini was taken over by Saint Petersburg University. Many Russian scholars have made this educational institution famous.
From 1866 to the 1890s, the outstanding Russian chemist, Dmitri Mendeleyev (1834-1907) lived and worked at the University. Mendeleyev is famous for having formulated the Periodic Law and invented the periodic table of elements.