A tour of Saint-Petersburg

The architectural ensemble
on the Spit of Vasilyevsky Island

Saint-Petersburg Guide
One of the most remarkable places in the city is the Spit of Vasilyevsky Island. It is interesting in itself, but also for the superb panoramic view it affords and for the host of museums and architectural monuments in the vicinity.
Let's take a tour of this remarkable architectural creation!

The Exchange
Architect Thomas de Thomon

Architect Thomas de Thomon placed the Exchange strictly along the axis of the Spit. From a distance you can see the building’s organising role in the ensemble as a whole. The Exchange was erected on a mighty granite foundation and reminds one of an antique temple. Columns rhythmically gird the building, forming a spacious open terrace. On the attic of the main and the opposite facades stand allegorical sculptures. One of them depicts the Sea God Neptune rising out of the waves on his chariot, escorted by the Neva and Volkhov rivers; another represents the Goddess of Navigation, and Mercury, the God of Trade, surrounded by the two rivers.
Almost the whole interior of the building is taken up by the Central Hall, which is faced in marble and decorated with sculptures. Near the entrance are allegorical figures representing Time, Abundance and Justice, and on the opposite side, Commerce and Navigation.
There are two main staircases and ramps, one on each side, leading up to the Exchange’s terrace. The staircases are so wide that in the Soviet period they had twice served as a stage for theatrical performances in which over two thousand persons took part.

From the history of Saint-Petersburg:

- St. Petersburg was officially founded on 16th May 1703 when the foundation stone was laid of a fortress which was to bear the names of the Apostles Peter and Paul.

- It appeared almost overnight at Tsar Peter’s command on the marshy shore of the Gulf of Finland, by the mouth of the river Neva, which offers no natural protection or proper conditions for mooring ships. So passionately did the impatient Peter want the town to be like his beloved Amsterdam.

- Saint Petersburg looked to the future from the start. Its precise, geometrical, or as they said in those days, regular plan requires little change even today.

- In the twenty years of her reign, the pleasure-loving Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great, fond of luxury and entertainment, did a great deal to embellish the city. In her reign the Italian architect Francesco Rastrelli established the rich and exultant Baroque style which is sometimes referred to as Elizabethan. Rastrelli built many palaces in this style, as well as the Smolny Convebt, the present Winter Palace, and the famous out-of-town residences at Peterhof and Tsarskoe Selo..

- Saint-Petersburg was the capital of the Russian Empire until 1918.

The Rostral Columns
Monuments to Russia’s naval glory

When the plans for the Exchange had been approved by the Academy of Arts and the ceremony of laying the building’s foundation took place, a gold medal with an engraved representation of then non-existent Exchange, embankment and Rostral Columns was placed under the first stone laid.
The Columns owe their name to the Latin word ‘rostrum’ — the prow of a ship. It was the custom in ancient Rome to decorate triumphal columns with war trophies, consisting of the sawed-off prows of defeated ships, in honour of victories at sea.
The Columns on the Spit, conceived as imposing monuments to Russia’s naval glory, are decorated with sculptured copper prows. These were badly damaged during the blocade, and the rostra you see today are new ones which were cast after the war. The Columns are made of stone blocks and have a platform on top with metal brackets for lights. Inside the Columns are spiral staircases which were climbed to light the giant torches, since the Rostral Columns also served as beacons for ships.

Visitor Tips

- Day and nights impressions are vastly different. Both are

- If you happen to be in Saint-Petersburg on a major Russian holiday, be sure to come see the Rostral Columns at night - the torches will be lit up at night for the festivity.

- Some of these major holidays are the Day of the City (May 23), White Nights Crimson Sails Festival (June 20), Navy Day (July 27), and Russian Orthodox Christmas (January 7)

- When the Rostral Columns are lit up at night, the Hermitage Museum Embankment across the Neva river is a perfect vantage point to take in the panoramic sight.

- Remember that you right by the water, and the wind can be rather strong at times - pack an extra layer of clothing, just in case.

- It is also a perfect spot to watch the raising of the Palace Bridge (connecting the Palace Square to the Vassilievsky Island).
Saint Petersburg in three days

- The Mariinsky Theater is home to the Mariinsky Ballet, Mariinsky Opera and Mariinsky Orchestra. Attending the Saint Petersburg ballet is a truly magical event.

- St Isaac's Cathedral one the finest cathedrals built in Europe in the 19th century, is a unique phenomenon in Russian architecture. Its golden dome, like the spires of the Peter and Paul Fortress and the Admiralty, is seen from afar.

- No visit to Saint-Petersburg is complete without visiting its royal environs. A hydrofoil will take you to Peterhof - a complex of palaces and gardens laid out on the orders of Peter the Great. These palaces and gardens are sometimes referred as the "Russian Versailles".

- Saint-Petersburg Metro is not just a fast transportation system - it is a work of art in and of itself.

The Customs House
Built 1829-1832. Architect — I. Luchini.

The Customs House is situated not far from the Northern Warehouse to the right of the Exchange. (One can see it from the Spit Embankment). The building’s main facade looks out on the Little Neva. It is the last link in the history of the formation of the Spit’s architectural ensemble. The building is adorned with an eight-columned portico topped by a pediment on which are mounted statues of Mercury, Neptune and Ceres cast in copper. The Customs House’s cupola served as an observation point from which the arrival in port of trading ships was signalled.
The former Customs House now holds the Museum of Literature, the impulse for whose founding was the acquisition of Alexander Pushkin’s personal library and manuscripts after the exhibition of 1899 which was dedicated to the hundredth anniversary of the great poet’s birth.
On display here are memorial items linked with the work of Pushkin, Lermontov, Gogol, Turgenev, Lev Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and other Russian writers, their manuscripts, first editions and portraits.

When to visit Saint-Petersburg?

- One of the largest northern cities in the world, Saint Petersburg lies near the Arctic Circle, on the same latitude as the southern part of Alaska and the southern tip of Greenland..

- However, despite its northern location, St Petersburg has a fairly mild climate; on the average, the temperature is above the freezing point 222 days a year.

- The famous White Nights occur from late May to early July - the sun never sets, and the dusk and dawn overlap. White Nights is a symbol of St. Petersburg, many travelers are trying to get into the city, it is the time to see this interesting phenomenon. In addition, during the white nights the city holds various festivals, exhibitions, and cultural events.

- Winter is a rather fitful season in Saint Petersburg. Cold days often alternate with warmer temperatures bringing heavy snowfalls. But how truly beautiful the winter-time city looks with its gardens and parks blanketed in snow, and the granite embankments of the Neva and the palaces glittering with hoarfrost. All this creates an undefinable, fantastic impression.

- Autumn really takes over in the middle of September, which is usually a mild month in St Petersburg. Only toward the end of the month does the temperature fall below 10 degrees Celcius. In October, however, freezing weather becomes more common, though there may still be unexpectedly warm and sunny days. On such days Saint Petersburg is particularly impressive.

We hope you enjoyed your virtual tour of the Spit of Vasilyevsky Island!

Of course, this is just a tip of the iceberg. There is so much to see in our beautiful city - justly known as the cultural capital of Russia.