Saturday, July 16, 2016

St Isaac's Cathedral and The Hermitage.

6/11/10 (continued)
On Tuesday, we had another bus trip around the city, the highlights of which were a visit to St. Isaac Cathedral and an afternoon at the Hermitage Museum.
Columns and ceiling of St. Isaac's Cathedral

The inside of St Isaac’s Cathedral was amazing—huge, spacious, mosaic-encrusted iconostasis and real marble-veneer columns (as opposed to the faux-marble-painted columns of Peter and Paul Cathedral). The inside glittered with gold leaf on the mosaics and chandeliers and other ornaments. The outside was a dull-gray classical building surrounded by columns and topped with a gold dome. The rather dull exterior belied the sparkling interior.

We had lunch at a restaurant near the Cathedral of the Savior on the Blood, built on the site of the assassination of Alexander II, the czar who freed the serfs and was later assassinated by an anarchist. I left lunch early and went to the cathedral, where I took photos both outside and inside.
Interior of the Cathedral of the Savior on the Blood

The last time I was in St Petersburg, the apartment I stayed in was near that church, but it was under repair/reconstruction, and I wasn’t able to go inside. The inside of the sanctuary was marvelous—narrow but tall, with a main aisle and two side aisles. The walls are covered with paintings and mosaics, and the interior has a feeling of lightness and simple sanctity.

That afternoon, we went to the Hermitage Museum and spent two hours with a guide going through galleries and rooms of the palace lined by paintings ranging from medieval sacred art to Dutch interiors. Some of the more famous paintings were a couple by Leonardo da Vinci as well as some Titians and Rubens and Rembrandts. Not liking crowds, I tended to hang around the edges and look at pictures that others were not crowded around. We were allowed to take photos without flash, and I took photos of several of my favorites.
Huge vase of malachite in the Hermitage

Another thing I noticed, particularly this time, which I hadn’t before, except in the malachite room, was the stonework throughout. Many rooms had large, sometimes huge, vases of stone—jasper, onyx, basalt, granite. There were large columns of gray granite in one room. Another room had a bird-cage clock (behind glass) made of gilded paper-mache from the time of Catherine the Great.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Saint Petersburg

Fountains at Peterhof, with the canal to the Baltic Sea

[6/7/10 – 6/11/10 In St. Petersburg, as in Moscow, we slept on the boat and visited the city by bus. It was truly convenient to live in one place and not have to pack and carry luggage from hotel to hotel. St. Petersburg is the most glorious of all Russian cities—it was the dream of Peter the Great to create a magnificent Russian city facing Europe. And he did. The new Russian government has repaired and renovated those iconic structures built during the reigns of Peter, Elisabeth, and Catherine II. On this visit, the cupolas were gold plated, everything was shiny, and the fountains at Peterhof (meaning Peter’s Palace) spewed water exuberantly. Some of that water ran down into the Baltic Sea.]

Monday, June 7, journal entry. “On the evening of our first day in St. Petersburg, the ship is docked along the wharf on the Neva River, and I am sitting at a little corner table on deck 2 watching the river, a harp bridge spanning it and a cluster of high-rise apartment buildings beyond the bridge, some with odd, wavy profiles. It is nearly 11:00 pm and the sun has not yet set.”

That first day in St. Petersburg was a full day, with a city tour of St. Petersburg, stopping for a photo-ops along the way. One was the Smolny Cathedral and Convent complex—the Russians call it an “ensemble”—followed by the square across the river from the Admiralty and the Hermitage.

Peter and Paul Cathedral

Afterwards, we walked through part of the Peter and Paul Fortress, including most particularly, the amazing Peter and Paul Cathedral. Classical in external appearance but incredibly baroque inside, it houses the tombs of Romanov tsars in the side aisles.

Tomb of Elizabeth, daughter of Peter I

That afternoon, more than half of our group visited Peterhof, the palace complex begun by Peter the Great and completed by his daughter, Elisabeth. This was constructed on the Baltic shore, facing Europe, which was Peter’s symbolic strategy for turning away from the Asiatic backwardness of traditional Russian custom and thought, and turning toward the European Enlightenment. He was resisted mightily by both nobility and church, but the effect of his building efforts, including transferring the Russian capital to St. Petersburg, paid off in terms of commerce with Europe and control of the future direction of Russian culture.

Peter was a ship-builder, and he wanted to engage in trade with the rest of the world by sea. So he constructed his capital on the Baltic outlet of the Neva River, the bit of ocean he could find under Russian control that was nearest to Moscow, Russia’s traditional capital (after Kiev). During and following Peter’s forty-year reign at the turn of the eighteenth century--and until the Russian Revolution of the early twentieth century--Russian culture both absorbed from and contributed to the culture of Europe.

The palace grounds at Peterhof were enormous, with gazebos and waterworks along the walkways and hidden in small groves of trees. The fountains were spouting vigorously; the statues and figurines were freshly gilded and shone brilliantly in sunlight; the gardens and the wooded areas were a luscious green; and the sky was deep blue and dotted with clouds.

We didn’t go inside the palace, but we did go through the “cottage” at Catherine’s Block, as opulent as any ordinary palace. Eventually, that building became the royal family home for Nicholas I’s family of the later Romanov Dynasty. Elisabeth, the daughter of Peter, built most of the main palace at Peterhof. Peter, of simpler tastes, only constructed one long, flat building on the Baltic shore known as Monplaisir.

Terraced fountains at Peterhof, palace in the background
Peter also designed the fountains, which work by gravity flow, with its water source a few miles away, collected in a holding pond at the top level and from there, flowing into the fountains. The fountains stop at around 5:00 pm, and water in the holding pond becomes replenished at night. The entire water-works complex is drained at the end of September. A canal leads from the grand cascade of fountains out into the Baltic sea.

The fountains and the canal to the sea create a splendid panorama from the upper terrace across the lower gardens.