Rostral Columns are located in Pushkin Square by the Exchange building on the Spit of Vasilievsky Island.
The columns are 32 meters high and decorated with metal rostrums – the beaks of ships designed for damaging the sides of enemy vessels.
Back in the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C. the Romans erected rostral columns decorated with the beaks (or rostra) of Carthaginian ships, the symbols of Rome’s sea victory over Carthage.
Here, on the Rostral Columns of the Spit the visitor can see the decorative prows of ships, reminders of the victories of the Russian fleet. At the foot of the columns stand large figures personifying the Russian trade waterways: the Dnieper, the Volga, the Volkhov, and the Neva (as seen from the Exchange).
On the opposite side of the Great Neva stands the exchange; and west from it, fronting the Little Neva, the customhouse-—both large and impo sing structures. Immediately adjoining are two high and slender towers, adorned like the Columna Rostrata of ancient Rome, from which the ap proach of shipping may be observed. These columns are hollow, and on their 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.
Robert Sears, An Illustrated Description of Russia, 1852
The Spit of Vasilievsky Island was chosen as the site for the Exchange and these columns because Saint Petersburg trade port was located here from 1733 to 1885. When twilight fell, the hemp oil in the bronze bowls on the Rostral Columns was lit, and the columns became huge torches acting as lighthouses, pointing out the way for ships to approach the port’s jetties.
Today seven meter high gas torches are lit above these columns during festivals held in the city.