Belâie Noci, so Russians call the spectacular White Nights; they start in May, when the northern city of Sankt Petersburg wakes up and everything flourishes and comes to life, and end in July. The Mid of June is the most incredible, because the sun never descends below the horizon.
White Nights are in fact long evenings; the phenomenon occurs because Sankt Petersburg is located near the Arctic Circle. It is the only place in the world where the night turns into an early evening, so that at 23:00 pm you can read your newspaper in the street without needing any source of light. It gets dark only at 01:00 am but it brightens immediately after 2 hours. The White Nights are a gift from the Sun and both locals and tourists take full advantage of this. The few weeks of White Nights and long sunny days are perfect for a memorable vacation. By day you can visit the city and enjoy the beautiful Russian architecture and by night (at twilight) enjoy open-air festivals, parties and concerts. During this period the northern city of Sankt Petersburg truly shines.
Sankt Petersburg is located in the Northwest of the Russian Federation at the Eastern part of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. It is the second largest (after Moscow) city in Russia and the most important harbor on the Baltic Sea shores. Through the seaports of the Baltic and the Arctic Ocean, St. Petersburg provides the connection of the Russian Federation with the outer world. Peter the Great laid the foundation stones for St. Petersburg in 1703, after he re-conquered Ingria from Swedish. It was designed like a “Window to Europe” and the city has blossomed ever since. Its grand palaces, elegant cathedrals, stately townhouses and the unrivaled Hermitage Museum combine to make it a city of culture and grace. Till 1918 it was the capital of Russian Empire, but always was the cultural capital of Russia. Called in honor of its founder, Sankt Petersburg was called Petrograd during 1018-1934 and Leningrad between the years 1924-1991; in 1991 through a referendum, the city regains its original name.
Places to Visit
Sankt Petersburg is famous for its castles, not in vain it was called the City of Castles. Most castles were built during XVIII – XIX centuries by Russian aristocracy; all the castles have survived until our days and look to us encouraging. Other Russian era architecture elements refer to long and straight boulevards, decorative wrought iron fences, monuments, decorative sculptures, large markets, gardens, parks, churches and monasteries. Another thing that makes it stand apart is Neva River with its numerous bridges, due to which it was called the Northern Venice. More than 300 bridges, including 9 tilting bridges attract thousands of tourists worldwide every year!
Palaces and Castles
- Summer Palace – was the summer residence of Peter I and was raised in the Summer Garden between the years 1710-1714. The residence was built only for summer use (May - October), that is why its walls are very thin and windows frames – simple. The castle was built in baroque style according to Dominico Trezini’s project. Summer Palace is one the oldest buildings in the city. It has only 2 levels and is very modest having only 14 rooms and 2 kitchens. The façade is decorated with 20 bas-reliefs which describe allegorically events from Northern War. The bas-reliefs were craved by the Dutch architecture and sculptor Andreas Schlüter.
- Winter Palace – was built between the years 1754-1762, nowadays it is part of Hermitage Museum Complex. The present building (the fifth one) was designed by the Italian architecture F. B. Rastrelli in luxuriant Elizabethan baroque style with rococo (French) interior design elements. The place is painted in white and green and has 1.084 rooms, 1.786 doors, 1.945 windows and 117 stairs (including the secret ones). It is a patrimony of national importance and it is part of UNESCO heritage. Untill 1904 it was the winter residence for Russian tsars. Between the years 1915-1942 the palace was turned into a hospital called in honor of Alexei tsar. Until 1920 the building hosted the Russian Provisional Government. Between the years 1929-1941 the palace hosted the National Museum of Revolution and State Hermitage Museum. Both Winter Palace and Palace Square are one of the most unique architectural ensembles in the city and are one of the most popular tourist attractions for locals and foreign.
- The Mikhailovsky (St Michael's) Castle – or the Angel’s Castle is most popular castle built in neoclassic style. It was built at the initiative of Peter I between the years 1797-1801, as a replacement for old Summer Palace. The project was elaborated by architecture V. I. Bajenov, but the tsar influenced it a lot; he also closely supervised the construction works. The palace is called after the Church St. Michael located in the castle's yard. The palace also bears the name of Engineers Palace, and this is due to the fact that from 1823 it hosts the Engineer College. In front of the castle is located the monument of Peter I launched in 1806; in the inner yard there is the monument of Paul I launched in 2009.
- Other Palaces and Castles – there are a number of neoclassical palaces of which Tauride, Marble, Michael, Yusupov, Razumovski, Shuvalov and Elaghin Palaces. We should also mention some palaces built in baroque style: Menshikov, Stroganov, Vorontov, Anichkov, Beloselski-Belozerskin Palaces and Seremetiev House.
Cathedrals and Churches
- Saint Isaac Cathedral – was built in the XIX century and represents a monumental construction with one huge and impressive dome of 101.5 meters which can be seen glistening from all over the city. St. Isaac's Cathedral was originally the city's main church and the largest cathedral in Russia. Peter named it after a Byzantine monk St. Isaac of Dalmatia, as he was born on St. Isaac's feast day according to the Orthodox calendar. Built by the French-born architect Auguste Montferrand to be the main church of the Russian Empire, the cathedral was under construction for 40 years (1818-1858), and was decorated in the most elaborate way possible. The severe neoclassical exterior of St. Isaac's expresses the traditional Russian-Byzantine formula of a Greek-cross plan with a large central dome and four subsidiary domes. The four cathedral's doors are covered in reliefs, corinthian columns and sculptures. The rotunda is encircled by a walkway accessible to tourists. 24 statues gaze down from the roof and another 24 from the top of the rotunda. The exterior, is faced with gray and pink stone, and features a total of 112 red granite columns with Corinthian capitals. The interior was decorated by the most skilled architects and artists of those times; they used the most expensive building materials and decorations.
- Church of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ – was built at the end of XIX century and designed in the style of 16th and 17th-century Russian churches. This church is known to Petersburgers as the Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood - or even just the Church on the Blood - as it marks the spot where Alexander II was fatally wounded in an assassination attempt on March 1, 1881. The church contains over 7,500 square meters of mosaics - according to its restorers, more than any other church in the world. The intricately detailed mosaics depict biblical scenes and figures, with fine patterned borders setting off each picture. The project was estimated to cost 3.6 million rubles, but ended up costing 4.6 million rubles, mainly from the extravagant collection of mosaics. The colored domes, of which the central one has 81 meters in high, are covered with shiny enamel. The interior was designed by some of the most celebrated Russian artists. An elaborate shrine was constructed on the exact place of Alexander's death, garnished with topaz, lazurite and other semi-precious stones.
- Kazan Cathedral – was built at the initiative of Peter the Great between 1801 and 1811, by the architect Andrei Voronikhin, to an enormous scale and boasts an impressive stone colonnade, encircling a small garden and central fountain. The cathedral was named after a "miracle-making" icon of Our Lady of Kazan, which the church housed till the early 1930s. After the war of 1812 the Cathedral became a memorial to the Russian victory against Napoleon. Captured enemy banners were put in the cathedral and the famous Russian field marshal Mikhail Kutuzov, who won the most important campaign of 1812, was buried inside the church. The Bolsheviks closed the cathedral for services in 1929, and from 1932 it housed the collections of the Museum of History of Religion and Atheism. The Cathedral fell into disrepair and all religious treasures were removed. After the fall of Communism, the Cathedral was restored. Religious services were resumed in 1991 and the famous icon of Our Lady of Kazan was returned to the Cathedral in 2002.
- Other Cathedrals and Churches – some baroque holy places are Smolny Cathedral, Church of Ss. Simeon and Anna, St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral, St. Sampson Cathedral, Church of St. Panteleimon and St. Andrew Church. Holy places built in neoclassical style are numerous, some of them are: St. Valadimir Cathedral, Transfiguration and Trinity Cathedrals.
- Peter and Paul Fortress – is located on the Rabbit Island and represents one of the most important tourist attractions in the city. It began to be built in 1703 – the year when Peter the Great laid the foundation stones for St. Petersburg. The fortress has the aim to protect the city against Swedish attacks. A long period of time it was used as a prison for political prisoners. Here was executed Alexis – Peter the Great's son, Maxim Gorki, Fiodor Dostoevski, Alexander Ulianov -Vladimir Lenin's brother. During the revolution from 1917 and the World War II, the fortress suffered a lot of damages; after that it was restored and transformed into a museum. Inside the Peter and Paul Fortress is located the Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral (1712-1724) with its spiral tower of 122 meters high and with a gold angel on top.
- Hermitage Museum – was founded in 1746 at the initiative of Empress Katherine the Great and is one of the greatest and oldest museums in the world. Hosted by the Winter Palace, Hermitage deserves to be visited at least for its impressive and luxuriant exterior and interior, without taking into consideration its huge and rich collection of art. The permanent collection of the museum includes approximately 3 million objects of art from Paleolithic until Contemporary Period. The museum is so big that is simply impossible to see all its galleries during one visit that is why there is the possibility to buy tickets available for several days.
- General Staff Building – was raised during the years 1820-1827 for the General Staff, Tsarist Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Finance. It is an edifice with a 580 m long bow-shaped facade, situated on Palace Square in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in front of the Winter Palace. Built in crescent-shaped neoclassical style, General Staff Building consists of two wings, which are separated by a tripartite triumphal arch commemorating the Russian victory over Napoleonic France in the Patriotic War of 1812. Since 1993, the Hermitage has had control of both wings of the building, and uses them to display a variety of permanent exhibitions of applied art connected to the history of the building, completed at the height of the Russian Empire, soon after Russia's victory against Napoleon. The West Wing of the building is occupied in part by an exhibition dedicated to the pre-Revolutionary Russian Foreign Ministry, which is most interesting for the collection of lavish diplomatic gifts presented to the Russian Imperial Court. The most appealing exhibition in the General Staff Building for most visitors, however, is the Hermitage's permanent collection of Art Nouveau masterpieces.
- Other Public Buildings – other popular public building is the St. Petersburg State University - one of the longest academic hallways in the world, Art Academy, National Library, Arch of Triumph and the Mariinski Theatre.
- Petergof – is situated on the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland, at only 29 km west of Sankt Petersburg. It represents a strong tourist, educational and scientific center for Russia. Petergof was founded in 1710 as a imperial residence; in 1762 becomes a town. The main tourist attractions are Ss. Peter and Paul Church built during XVI-XVII centuries in Moscow style; the Grand Cascade built between the 1715 and 1724 in Baroque style which represents an assemble of 64 water jets, 37 gold statues and 142 waterfalls. The cascade has no equal in the world and due to this fact Peterhof was named the Capital of Cascades; The Upper, Lower and Alexandria Parks all built in French style, these parks hide numerous wells disguised as flowers, trees and umbrellas; Grand Palace raised between the years 1714 and 1721 by a number of French, Italian, Dutch, Hollander and Russian architects. The palace is famous for both its spectacular architecture and luxuriant rooms.
- Pavlovsk – is located on Slaveanka River at only 25 km from Sankt Petersburg. Between the years 1918 and 1944 the town was called Slutk, name given in honor of revolutinaty Vera Slutk. The history of Pavlovsk begins with 1780 when Peter the Great ordered to be constructed a summer residence at 3 km from the Puskin town. The Pavlovsk Palace is built in classic style, nowadays can be admired the Egyptian and the central vestibule, the Italian, Greek, Chivalric and Dance Halls, Throne, War and Peace Halls, Picture Gallery and others. There is also a huge garden which covers 600 ha and is decorated with several pavilions and architectural monuments: Friendship Temple, Colonnade of Apollo, Aviary, Cold Bath, Italian Hall-Rotunda, Pink Pavilion, the bridge over the Slaveanka River, the Parents Monument and a great collection of marble and bronze sculptures. In 1836 is launched the first railroad between Tsarskoe Selo and Pavlovsk.
- Pushkin – is located at only 24 km of Sankt Petersburg and was built as summer residence for Catherine – the wife of Peter the Great. The complex of palaces, parks, lakes, monuments and pavilions was built during several centuries. Pushkin is a place with no equal in the world which has been inspired the most famous Russian painters, musicians and writers; due to this fact it was called the City of Muses. Initially it was called Tsarskoe Selo – Royal Village – because it was the summer residence of Russian Tsars; in 1918 it was named Detskoe Selo – The Children’s City – and only in 1937 its name was changed to Pushkin to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. Pushkin attended the primary school in this city between the years 1811-1817. The most popular attractions of the city are the Catherine’s Palace and Park.