St. Petersburg was the dream of Tsar Peter I (Peter the Great) and was built around 1700 in an incredibly short number of years. What caused it to be located so far west were the constant incursions by the Swedish navy along the vast Neva river which flows through the city’s heart today. Peter originally built a fortress on the shores and always envious of the cultural heritage of his western royal cousins in Europe (and, it has to be said, somewhat embarrassed by the peasant population of Russia), ordained that a new cultural capital be built on the spot to outshine all other cities that had gone before in Russian history. The result was a city that grew virtually overnight at incredible expense to the crown.
It’s location proved to be a major problem, with extreme cold temperatures in winter and scorching summers infested with mosquitoes. However, it continued as the capital well past the reign of Peter’s daughter Catherine the Great. After around two hundred years as the capital it was renamed Leningrad and relegated to the minor divisions after the Communist Revolution of 1917. The grandeur is now faded in many areas but the cultural heritage and remaining buildings still manage to take the breath away.
Walking along the main hustle and bustle street of Nevsky Prospekt led me to the Winter Palace that was home to ‘The Hermitage’ - reputed to be the largest art gallery and museum in the world. Apparently there are so many artworks in the museum that if you were to spend one minute in front of each artwork you couldn’t view everything in the entire collection in your lifetime! The attendants never get to see more than their own sections during their whole careers.
Artworks by all the well known suspects of the last century adorn the walls as you would expect and the attendants in these areas were completely bored and not the most pleasant. Understandable really, if you are asked the same, mundane questions day in, day out I suppose, as these areas are the most frequented.
I accidentally wandered into the section for the Indian and oriental arts and was surprised to find the place completely empty. Obviously no one visits there very often, save students and enthusiasts of these eras, and the attendant, an older lady, was delighted to have someone to talk to. She walked me around all the exhibits and explained in great detail about the history of each piece. I nodded enthusiastically as she elaborated but hadn’t the heart to tell her I didn’t speak Russian. She was so pleased that someone had called in to see her that she shook my hand warmly as I left.
Crossing the square and by-passing Madonna’s crew going through their routine in advance of her concert I headed for the canal and a trip around the city by water. This gives you the opportunity to view a city from a different vantage point, and also time to rest your weary feet.