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The Mystery and Majesty of St. Petersburg, Russia
by Roy Witman © 2008

With its long and regal past, St. Petersburg, Russia has seen and survived many of the world's tragedies. Through it all, this majestic city has retained her elegant appearance as well as her vibrant spirit. Today, St. Petersburg offers some of the most dramatic architecture in the world. Here are just a few of the amazing sites you'll encounter upon visiting this stately city.

The Hermitage/The Palace Square/Winter Palace

All parts of the same complex, The Palace Square is the main gathering place for most official performance and city-sponsored festivals. Its primary architectural masterpiece is Winter Palace. Commissioned by Empress Elizabeth from 1754-1762 who wanted to show off her court. Grand in nature, this structure is graced with decorative columns, gold tracery and huge bronze figures that keep lookout from their positions on the roof. Unfortunately, the death of Elizabeth occurred before Winter Palace was completed.

The Palace has seen its share of discord through the years. It was used as a hospital during World War I. It has been occupied by the Provisional Government and the Bolsheviks and took damage courtesy of Nazis air strikes in World War II.

Several rooms within the complex were set aside to house unique and historical objects. These rooms have been titled as the Small Hermitage, Old Hermitage, Hermitage Theater, New Hermitage and other names over time. Today, the are collectively referred to as the State Hermitage.

The other “point” of interest in Palace Square is the Alexander Column. This bronze figure commemorates the victory of Russian over Napoleon in 1812. The angel atop the column is said to be Emperor Alexander and the snake trampled under his foot, Napoleon. At almost 156 feet tall, this is the biggest one-piece monolith in the world. It stands, amazingly, without support clamps.

Although tours are conducted year round, the Palace Square and its accompanying buildings are especially popular during warmer months.

The Admiralty

One of the first buildings built in St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad), The Admiralty was originally constructed to be a dockyard. Evolving through two renovations after its initial construction, this “H” shaped building was designed in Russian Empire style with rows of white columns and plenty of statues. The gilded spire and weather vane are St. Petersburg landmarks in their own rights. Today, The Admiralty houses the Higher Naval Engineering School.

Saint Isaac's Cathedral

Built in honor of the Romanov family in 1710, St. Isaac's Cathedral is an honorarium to their patron saint. Forty years in the making, massive solid marble monoliths each weighing 114 tons were used in the design of this structure. However, history has not been kind to this beauty.

Sustaining destruction by fire, floods and the incompetence of architects, sections of the Cathedral had to be rebuilt as many as four times. In the end, St. Isaac's is a luxurious accomplishment that is truly grand in nature. It is reported that nearly 88 pounds of pure gold and 1,000 tons of bronze were used in its construction as well as semi-precious stones, granite, marble and other exceptional materials.

There's little wonder as to why it took 16 years to decorate the interior. With reportedly over 380 works of art, sculptures, paintings and mosaics, this cathedral is a masterpiece all to itself.

St. Petersburg is home to dozens of cathedrals and palaces just waiting to be explored. When planning your next cruise vacation, consider an itinerary that includes a stop in this majestic city!

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