St. Petersburg: Museum City

Город Музей

Город Музей, or «gorod muzei» for those who, like me, do not read Russian, museum city, is how some people refer to the city of St. Petersburg. With over 100 museums, one ought to stay there for at least a few months to see every one of them. With only one week and many other things to see, we barely had time to visit a handful.

Cabin of Peter the Great

Address: Petrovskaya Naberezhnaya 6

Saint Petersburg has a lot of palaces. Technically speaking, a palace is simply the residence of a monarch, and in St. Petersburg’s case, the construction of this monarch’s residence marked the foundation of the city.

We start our little museum tour by talking about the place where Tsar Peter I of Russia, also known as Peter the Great, lived from 1703 to 1708.

When I found out we were going to Peter the Great’s residence, I thought my legs were going to give up. We had just spent the entire day inside a museum at the Winter Palace and I just wanted to get something to eat. However, I didn’t say anything and forced myself to walk to the palace of the man who modernized Russia and whose big bronze statue I had seen the day before.

You might imagine my surprise when I saw it. The cabin of Peter the Great is a wooden 12 square meter rectangle that was built in three days and that still contains, to this day, belongings of the Tsar.

It’s small. It’s really small. But it’s amazing.

The Alexander Pushkin Museum and Memorial Apartment

Address: Naberezhnaya Reki Moyki 12

“Whom, then, to love? Whom to believe? Who is the only one that won’t betray us? Who measures all deeds, all speeches obligingly by our own foot rule?”

Alexander Pushkin

Walking down the Nevski Avenue and turning left on the Moika, we walked by the river until we saw house number 12. It was a yellow building with wooden doors and a special sign.

«In this house died on 29 January 1837 Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin»

Alexander Pushkin lived in this house between 1836 and 1837 with his wife and four children, and here he died on February 10, 1837.

But the sign says January 29!

Yes, dear reader, it does. Alexander Pushkin died on January 29, 1837, according to the Julian Calendar, and on February 10, according to the Gregorian Calendar.

The museum is only the apartment where Pushkin spent his last year and it is not very big. There are but a few rooms with furniture, books, toys, and other belongings of the Pushkin family.

You need an audio-guide to make the tour. I’m not usually a big fan of audio-guides, but this one’s rather good. It tells you of his life, it has excerpts from his letters and poems, and it describes the events that led to the duel that ended his life.

To better take care of the apartment, you need to cover your shoes. Don’t forget to put the protectors before you enter and to take them off before you leave. Especially because it might be slippery outside with the snow and all.

Russian Museum

Address: 4 Inzhenernaya Ulitsa

It’s a big museum and you won’t definitely have enough time if you enter an hour before they close, but if you walk fast enough, you might see some of the works of the many Russian artists displayed there.

It is also interesting to see the overtly political paintings. They are fully displayed in big rooms with bright red walls, and they present something we don’t get in many Western museums. There they are, Lenin and Stalin, in all of their glory, surrounded by majesty and applause, memories of a Russia that was not called Russia, and serve to remind us that things never really change.

Hermitage Museum

Address: 2, Dvortsovaya Ploschad

With its 233 345 square meters and their more than 3 million pieces, the Hermitage is the largest museum in Russia and the second largest museum in the world.

It started out as the art collection of Catherine the Great, back in 1764, and most of the displays are found inside her Winter Palace, in the heart of Saint Petersburg.

It is one of those museums that require years in order to be fully appreciated. Miriam and I went twice.

The first day, we spent a little over seven hours inside the museum. We rushed through the rooms and took as many pictures as we could. It wasn’t enough, obviously, but we got to have a quick look at pretty much everything.

With its big fancy rooms with paintings by some of the world’s greatest artists, its Egyptian, Greek and Roman artefacts and statues, its murals and its royal furniture, with all its colors and all its splendor, one can forget to stop and look at the small things, the odd things, the funny things.

As a rule, whenever I go to an art museum with someone, I like to comment on the paintings, to imitate the statues, and to take a picture in a mirror. Without being loud or rude or disrespectful, I like a not-too-serious approach to it all.

Miriam, me, and random Russian.

The second time we visited the Hermitage, we went into the building on the other side of the square.

This is the newer area, the one with the Impressionists’ collections and the modern rooms.

It isn’t nearly as full as the Winter Palace, which made our visit more enjoyable. It is also smaller, which allowed us to spend more time looking at the paintings instead of running through the exhibitions.

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood

Address: 2, Naberezhnaya Kanala Griboedova

Naming this part of the post was fun, as this famous church is also called Church on Spilled Blood, Temple of the Savior on Spilled Blood, and Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ.

Whatever you want to call it, know that it was built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated on March 13, 1881 (Gregorian Calendar).

It was his son, Alexander II, who ordered its construction in memory of his father. Alexander II, being very anti-European in a heavily European influenced Russia, demanded that the Church be built in a traditional Russian style.

I’ve always loved Churches. Catholic churches are usually the colorful ones, though. Protestant churches are rather minimalistic. Since I’m a Protestant, no matter how pretty the building itself is, I usually end up looking at virtually empty churches. I mean, a church doesn’t need so much imagery, but more colors would be nice.

Yet I had never in my life seen a church like this one. With its 7500 square meters of mosaics that cover each and every wall, its colorful domes, its murals and its stained glasses, with its atria and the Griboedov Canal flowing right by it, it is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in.

The way out is prettier than the way in. You can stop and take a picture of the canal, and then buy souvenirs in the street-stands that are right next to it. I bought a wooden Christmas tree for my home. Since it was January when I returned, I didn’t put it up, but I’m excited to do it this Christmas.

Cruiser Aurora

We walked by the Cruiser Aurora, a 1900 Russian cruiser that first served during the Russian-Japanese War of 1904-1905. Then, during World War I, it sailed in the Baltic Sea. However, on November 7, 1917 (Gregorian Calendar), a blank shot was shot from the Aurora, signalling the assault on the Winter Palace, thus signalling the start of the October Revolution.

It is now a museum that you can visit, and although we didn’t because of the time, we were able to take some pretty pictures of the ship and to see the harbor. It is still a symbol of the October Revolution, like many other places in Saint Petersburg, full of history and memories.

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