Today I invite you to discover the old Leningrad , the name by which St. Petersburg was known in the Soviet era. A beautiful city like few in the world . Located at the mouth of the Neva River , its streets are full of stories and palaces , which at this time, when the magical white nights are celebrated (only two hours of darkness), shine like never before.
Panoramic of Saint Petersburg St. Petersburg was born at the desire of Tsar Peter the Great , who wanted to create his private Paris by the sea (in the Gulf of Finland). A city with its name ( Pretrograde in Russian ) worthy of the splendor of the Russian kings . For this he hired the best architects , the most outstanding landscape painters, the most virtuous sculptors and the most prominent urban planners of the 17th century I. The result is a superlative city , a living museum brimming with palaces of stone and marble.
The first proof of this overwhelming greatness appears upon reaching the Winter Palace Square . Inevitably, during our stay in St. Petersburg we will pass once and a thousand times through this great square delimited by two large buildings. To the north, the Palace, former residence of the Tsars (where nowadays the Hermitage Museum is housed).
Facade of the Hermitage Museum To the south the imposing headquarters of the General Staff with the double arch that joins the wings of the building. And in the center is the column of Czar Alexander I, which commemorates the victory of the Russians over Napoleon’s army. The Winter Palace Square is also the starting point of the most important street in St. Petersburg: Nevski Prospekt (Nevski Perspective). “With what splendor shines this street, ornate of our capital! … I know that not even the most miserable of its inhabitants would exchange for all the world’s goods the Nevsky prospect” writes on this great avenue the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol. No wonder he talks about the Nevsky like that. Throughout the almost five kilometers that the street measures there are so many palaces and monuments that overwhelm.
Detail of the Nevski Perspective Seeing her, it is easy to understand Gogol’s feelings. Especially because the Nevski has not changed that much. The ornate facades are preserved as they were born there in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but the passage of time has bathed them with a touch of decadence that some spell, and others frightened. There is not a single design building, made of steel and glass , that breaks the harmony of the whole. The only symbols of modernity visible are the thousands of electric cables that cross from side to side and that always appear, wherever you look. And the intense traffic, chaotic! where cars and trams coexist.
Tram cables in St. Petersburg08 100 Another proof of the wealth of this city is the Hermitage , one of the largest museums in the world . It occupies hundreds of rooms in the ornate Winter Palace, where the Tsars lived until the revolution of 1917 triumphed, and some annex building that had to be incorporated into the museum to shelter the growing collection.
One of the many halls of the Hermitage Museum It hosts more than three million works of art of which only about six hundred thousand are exhibited, organized in a labyrinth of excessively ornamented rooms . There is so much to see that the visit saturates. The sensation is of being before something immeasurable . That’s why there are several options. The best thing to do is take the short trip, three hours long, enough to get an idea of the richness of the collection and the beauty of the palace but without getting drunk before so much artistic waste. Living room detail in the Hermitage It was all this excessive refinement that aroused the hatred of the Bolsheviks towards the tsars. And towards St. Petersburg. The leaders of the Revolution always saw this city as the example of human selfishness. For that reason, they chose it as the starting point of their mobilization. It was from the Aurora , a historic ship that is still anchored in the Neva River, from where Lenin made that mythical shot that announced the start of the Winter Palace attack : the beginning of the Romanov’s end, the outcome of the Russia of the tsars, the beginning a new power in the Kremlin. Almost a century later, the visit to Aurora is key for those who want to delve into the history of the city.
Tomb of the Romanovs Another must-see is the Peter and Paul Basilica , where the last Romanov lie, Tsar Nicholas II and his family killed by the Bolsheviks months after the attack on the palace. Peter and Paul Fortress Nowadays things have changed. Nevsky no longer walk the members of the aristocracy and nobility, which spoke Gogol. Nor are there uniformed Bolsheviks. Today by the always crowded avenue parade hundreds of tourists , thousands in summer !, along with hundreds of blondes with heels, bag that suitcase with the mark in well legible letters, giant sunglasses and with the signature clearly visible on the side, cowboys of those who cut the circulation … and few manners. The Russians are not famous for their hospitality, nor for their impeccable education. Do not expect forgiveness if someone crashes against you, but rather a face of anger and an incomprehensible cry in Russian. These gestures are part of the personality of the city. But with the light of white nights even the bad behaviors are softened.
The Nevsky with the Orthodox Cathedral of San Salvador on the Blood Shed in the background