TRIP TO ST. PETERSBURG
PLACES TO VISIT IN ST. PETERSBURG
The oldest parts of Vasilevsky Island are its eastern 'nose', the Strelka (Tongue of Land), where Peter the Great first wanted his new city's administrative and intellectual
center, and the embankment facing the Admiralty. In fact, the Strelka became the focus of St Petersburg's maritime trade,
symbolized by the white colonnaded Stock Exchange. The two Rostral Columns on the point,
studded with ships' prows, were oil-fired navigation beacons in the 1800s (on some holidays gas torches are still lit on them). The area remains an intellectual
center, with the St Petersburg State
University, the Academy of Arts and a veritable 'museum ghetto'.
The Strelka also has one of the best views in the city: you look left to the Peter & Paul Fortress and right to the Hermitage, the Admiralty and St Isaac's Cathedral.
- Museums near the Strelka.
The Stock Exchange is now the Central Naval Museum ( full of maps, excellent model ships, flags and photos relating to the Russian navy right
up to the present. Also on display is the Botik, Peter's first boat (the granddaddy of them all); a pre-20th century submarine (it's a two-seater); and some big oars.
To the north of the Exchange is a former maritime warehouse and former Museum of Agriculture. Beyond this the old Customs House, topped with statues and a dome, is now called Pushkin House
(Pushkinsky dom), and is home to the Institute of Russian Literature, and a Literary Museum with exhibits on Tolstoy,
Gogol, Lermontov, Turgenev, Gorky and others.
To the south of the Exchange in another ex-warehouse is the Museum of Zoology (Zoologichesky
Muzey), reputed to be one of the biggest and best in the world, with
incredibly life-like stuffed animals from all around the world. Among the dioramas and the tens of thousands off mounted beasties is a complete woolly mammoth thawed out of the Siberian ice in 1902.
- Museum of Anthropology & Ethnography.
- Menshikov Palace.
- Academy of Arts Museum. At Universitetskaya naberezhnaya 17, is the Russian Academy of Arts' Research Museum
(Muzey Akademii Khudozhestv), guarded by two imported Egyptian sphinxes said to be about 3500 years old. When the academy opened in 1764, boys would live in this building
from the age of five until they graduated at age 15 - it was an experiment to create a new species of human: the artist. Inside are works done by Academy students and faculty since its founding,
including many studies, plus temporary exhibitions. Make sure you visit the third floor, where the models for the original versions
of Smolny, St Isaac's, and the Alexander Nevsky monastery are kept,
and take a peek into the fabulous old library - you'd think you were in Oxford.
Built in 1902, the gorgeous interiors will blow away your notion of a drugstore; pharmaceutical tools, jars
and porcelain from the 17th and 18th centuries are on display.
- Twelve Colleges. West of the Anthropology Museum and marked by a statue of the scientist-poet Mikhail Lomonosov is Mendeleevskaya linia and the skinny, 400m-long Twelve Colleges building. Meant originally for
Peter's government ministries, it's now part of the university, which stretches out behind it.
- Churches. Vasilevsky Island has its share of churches which have odd present-day functions. The Church of St Catherine
(Tserkov Yekat-eriny, 1771).
More intriguing, at the far west end of Bolshoy prospekt, on the grounds of what has always been a military training school is the Church of Mother of God the Merciful
(Miluyoushchi Bozhe Materi; 1889-98), designed by V Kosyakov who also did the Naval Cathedral in
Kronstadt. The Soviets converted it into a surreal training base for future submariners and for life-saving exercises. The Russian Byzantine exterior is more or less intact, but the interior has been
completely gutted, and there is now a 26m-high tube filled with 333 tons of water, in which young divers
practice their craft. As an ironic (blasphemous?) reference to the religious purpose the space
used to serve, the students have suspended an old diving suit in mid-air, looking somewhat like Christ on the cross. The church is located on a closed military base and is not open to the public;
don't even hope for access.
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