St. Petersburg, the most northern million city in the world, is a meeting point between east and west, Russia and Europe. If you consider the latitude, it is just as far north as the southern end of Oslo, Alaska and Greenland. The tsarist city offers not only cultural experiences, but also inspiring nature.
From 11th June to 2nd July, the sky that watches over the city doesn’t go dark. Even in the middle of the night, the sky is so bright that it seems as if the city is eternally waiting for the evening to come. Street lighting remains off and riverside promenades are full of people walking around.
Peter I used western architects, sculptors and artists to create the city. This is also reflected in the appearance of his Summer Palace, which was completed around 1711–12 under the direction of Domenico Trezzini, a Swiss-Italian architect.
The facade and the layout of the palace have remained unchanged until now. Since Peter’s death, they have never been supplemented or changed. The unique wind movement gadget in the Tsar’s office still shows the direction and strength of the wind, and shows the time too. On the second floor of the palace, there is the Danzig wardrobe, where the Russian ruler kept his clothes and boots according to the legend.
The Tsar chose the location of his Baroque summer residence to be the easily accessible headland between the Rivers Neva and Fontanka. Already a year after it was finished, Peter was welcoming guests from overseas in his new home – Dutch and British vessels landed directly in front of his mansion.
After the death of the ruler, the palace lost its importance to the tsarist family, and the servants of the court settled in its premises. However, since 2004, the Summer Palace of Peter I has been a part of the Russian State Museum, and two years ago a thorough renovation of the palace was completed, resulting in the restoration of the historic atmosphere throughout the building.
In the Green Cabinet, where the Tsar kept his rarities, visitors can see a unique wall mural, the restored oak doors and shutters, and parquet floors and wall tapestries, which have been restored using materials true to the original period. It’s as if it’s still the beginning of the 18th century in the palace.
Centuries of the White Guard
There are less than two centuries between the death of Peter I in 1725 and the execution of the last tsarist family. In these two hundred years, Russia gave the world Tchaikovsky and Pushkin, Chekhov and Diaghilev, and other great cultural figures, whose creations open the Russian soul to the west more than ever.
Ballet and opera performances take place in the Mariinsky and Mikhailovsky theatres. The first is located in Teatralnaya Square and opened its doors in 1860. Mikhailovsky is even older – the theatre, which was founded in 1833, operates at the Arts Square. Tickets for events can be booked online, and about two weeks before the start of the trimester they are also sold in ticket offices. The programme is constantly updated throughout the year.
As Dostoevsky said, holiness can only be seen against foolishness. The embodiment of this is the statue of Grigori Rasputin. The last home and the place of doom for the “mad monk” is open as a museum today.
Gorokhovaya 64 is the last address where Rasputin resided, where he went after drinking, where he welcomed numerous admirers from the emperor’s own court. Here he was killed on a cold December’s night in 1916, never to return again.
Two rooms in the apartment have been completely renovated. Only some details, such as shutters, have survived in their original form. The owner of the house, Dmitry Filatov, organises excursions in the house. Filatov has been able to essentially create a time machine based on memories, history books, personal conversations and letters, which takes you back in time to personally and authentically discover the life of one of the most enigmatic people in history. What did Rasputin’s everyday life looked like? What was his relationship with Tsarina Alexandra? What has become of Rasputin’s children today? The answers to these questions can be found at Gorokhovaya 64.
Guests are also welcome to visit Yusupov Palace, in the basement of which Grigori was wrapped in a carpet after being poisoned, beaten, and shot four times, before he was thrown in the icy Neva. The mad monk finally found his end by drowning.
Today, the Rasputin Museum is open in the basement of Yusupov Palace, where wax figures play out the night of his murder. On the upper floors, guests can enjoy a Rococo-style theatre and aristocratic rooms.
You can travel to St. Petersburg with Lux Express. See the routes.
Author: Lennart Käämer
Photo: Andrew Shiva