Russia History Romanov History of St Petersburg

History of St Petersburg

The history of St Petersburg begins in the spring of 1703, during the Great Northern War between Russia and Sweden. “On the twenty-third day of April, Fieldmarshal Boris Sheremetev led an infantry corps, which had been with the tsar at Oreshek the previous year, to Nyenskans.” This was a Swedish fortress lying at the mouth of the River Neva.

On 25 April 1703, the Russian forces took up their positions and prepared to storm the fortress. Peter the Great observed that the town was “much larger than they said” and “quite well fortified, only not covered in turf.” The Swedish garrison resisted fiercely, beating back two Russian attacks, but were eventually overcome by the Russian superiority in numbers. After an artillery bombardment lasting almost twenty-four hours, “the enemy began to beat surrender” at five o’clock in the morning of 1 May. “At ten in the evening, the Preobrazhensky Regiment entered the town, while the Semyonovsky Regiment went into the counterscarp … the garrison was given a period of several days to leave.” On 2 May, a service of thanksgiving was held and the town was renamed Slotburg (“Lock Town”).

That same day, a Swedish squadron of nine ships approached the nearby island of Kotlin in the Gulf of Finland. Three days later, the ships entered the shallow waters at the mouth of the River Neva. Unaware of the fall of Nyenskans, the Swedes announced their arrival by firing two cannon shots, before anchoring and calmly awaiting the arrival of a pilot from the fortress. Boris Sheremetev fooled the Swedish forces by firing reciprocal shots and repeating the signals in the morning and evening. While the rest of the squadron remained at the mouth of the Neva, two warships – the Astrild and the admiral’s flagship Gedan – entered the river and anchored opposite the Fontanka on 6 May.

Under the cover of the rain on the night of 6/7 May, Russian forces led by Peter I and Prince Alexander Menshikov attacked the Astrild and the Gedan from rowing boats. They overcame the crews and seized the two vessels. The next morning, the captured Swedish ships were led with their flags down to Slotburg. “For this unprecedented naval victory, thanksgiving was uttered unto God with three salutes from cannons and guns. The commander of the party that brought victory, bombardier captain and lieutenant Alexander Menshikov, was made a knight of the Order of St Andrew … Other officers were given gold medals with chains; the soldiers were awarded smaller ones without chains.”

The tsar’s first victory on water served as a reminder of the dangerous reality of the nearby Swedish navy. The Russians had to either quickly strengthen Nyenskans or build a new fortress. Between 7 and 10 May, Peter embarked on a voyage to find the most suitable spot in the delta of the River Neva. “After a few days, a befitting place was found – an island … where, on the sixteenth day of May … a fortress was laid and called Sankt-Piterburkh.”

The new fortress was designed in the form of an irregular hexagon and built “in great haste.” By autumn 1703, three hundred cannons stood in a commanding position on its six bastions. The construction of the bastions was supervised by Peter I and such trusted confidantes as Alexander Menshikov, Yury Troubetzkoy and Kirill Naryshkin. Two years later, the fortress was rebuilt from brick and stone under the guidance of Swiss architect Domenico Trezzini. The entire reconstruction process lasted until the mid-1730s.

A small wooden church was built on the bank of the canal in the inner courtyard and named in honour of the tsar’s patron saints – St Peter and St Paul. In 1712, Domenico Trezzini designed a new stone church in its place. This new place of worship was completed in 1733. The three-tier St Peter and St Paul Cathedral was crowned with a high steeple, adding a note of dynamic energy to the surrounding town – a device often repeated by other architects when designing and planning buildings in St Petersburg.

In late May 1703, Swedish prisoners-of-war built a small wooden house near the new fortress. This simple cabin had a tiny porch and three small rooms – a bedroom, study and dining room. Before the construction of the Summer Palace on the opposite bank of the River Neva in 1704, this was the first official residence of Peter the Great in St Petersburg.

Other wooden houses for Peter’s retinue began to appear around the tsar’s cabin, forming a select district known as the “Nobleman’s Sloboda.” In the 1710s, on the site of the original wooden structures, brick houses were built for the tsar’s closest associates – Gavriil Golovkin, Nikita Zotov and Pyotr Shafirov. The first settlements of artisans also appeared, housing the craftsmen sent from other parts of the country to build the new city. Their memory still lives on in the names of the streets on the Petrograd Side – Ruzheinaya (Firearms) Street, Monetnaya (Coins) Street, Pushkarskaya (Cannons) Street and Tatar Lane.

The administrative and commercial centre of the new town began to develop around Trinity Square on Birch Island. Lying to the east of the fortress, Trinity Square was named after a small wooden church built there in 1709. Landing wharves were built on the south of the square, welcoming its first foreign visitor in autumn 1703.

In 1705, a wooden shopping arcade (Gostiny Dvor) and stock exchange were built near the landing wharves, to the north of the square. Commercial contracts were signed and merchandise was stored there. In 1710, following a fire, they were replaced by new structures constructed from wooden carcasses filled with clay. The two-storey buildings of the Senate and the Colleges were also located on Trinity Square.

After establishing control over the whole of the River Neva, Peter the Great needed to build a Russian navy capable of opposing the Swedes on the Baltic Sea. The first warships were constructed in shipyards opened on the River Svir in 1702 and 1703. Creating a shipyard literally from scratch, the Russians managed to build ten vessels in only five months, including the Standard – the flagman of the tsar’s new Baltic Fleet.

After the foundation of St Petersburg, Peter transferred the centre of shipbuilding to the new town. The foundations of the Admiralty Shipyard were laid in autumn 1704. Peter the Great wrote in his travel log: “On the fifth day of October … upon my arrival in St Petersburg, I inspected a place on the banks of the River Neva. I laid the foundation of the Admiralty Shipyard for the construction of ships and ordered the fortifications to be consolidated.”

Peter himself designed the layout of the shipyard, which included a slip, docks, workshops for the construction and repair of ships and warehouses for the storage of building materials, armaments and rigging. The first Admiralty building consisted of a ?-shaped one-floor block with a work yard opening onto the River Neva. A stone structure called the Admiralty College was later built over the main entrance to the shipyard, with a tower and steeple crowned with a small ship.

The area between the Neva and the River Moika became known as the Admiralty Side or Admiralty Island. The first inhabitants of this district were the officers and sailors of the new Baltic Fleet, shipbuilders and pilots. Like any other citizen, the tsar was awarded a plot of land on the bank of the River Neva for the construction of a home as “master Peter Alexeyev.” In 1708, he built a small wooden house there for “winter habitation.”

In 1711, Peter decided to replace the wooden house with a two-storey stone building of “Dutch architecture” – with a steep tiled roof, high porch and modest decor in the form of pilasters. In order to drain the plot of land, a canal was dug along the western border from the Neva to the Moika. This channel became known as the Winter Canal. On 19 February 1712, Peter celebrated his marriage to his second wife Catherine in his “Winter House.” The building is depicted on a small engraving from the series of “minor views” of St Petersburg.

This modest building did not reflect its official status as a royal residence. In 1716, work began on the construction of a new “Winter Palace,” designed by Jean-Baptiste-Alexandre Le Blond and Georg Johann Mattarnovi. After the architect’s death in 1719, the project passed to Domenico Trezzini. On the courtyard side, both floors of the southern facade were decorated with arcades. The northern side facing the River Neva was particularly solemn. Employing the motif of a Roman triumphal arch, Trezzini decorated the walls with pilasters.

In autumn 1723, Peter the Great threw a house-warming party with a banquet in the Throne Room and a firework show. The emperor died in the Winter Palace in January 1725. After his death, it was rebuilt and expanded. In 1726–27, Domenico Trezzini turned the original building into the western risalto of a new palace.

In 1704, Peter the Great planned a summer residence with a large garden further up the River Neva, on the banks of a tributary called the Anonymous Creek. Russian masters Ivan Matveyev (Ugryumov) and Fyodor Vasilyev laid out the garden, following the tsar’s own sketches. The Summer Garden included fountains spouting water pumped from the Anonymous Creek, which led to its new name – the River Fontanka.

Between 1710 and 1714, Domenico Trezzini built a small two-floor palace in the Summer Garden. Between the windows of the ground and first floors, the facades were decorated with twenty-nine bas-reliefs describing the events of the Great Northern War in an allegorical form. The reliefs were created by Andreas Schlüter, a leading German architect and sculptor. The simple and restrained facades of the Summer Palace were set off by the magnificent interior decor and fittings. Depicted by Alexei Zubov in one of the “minor views,” this is the only surviving building from the reign of Peter the Great still retaining its original appearance.

Another centre of urban construction was Vasilyevsky Island, which included the estate of Prince Alexander Menshikov – the first governor of St Petersburg and governor general of Ingria. The central building on the prince’s lands was a stone palace, designed in the Petrine Baroque style by Francesco Fontana and Johann Gottfried Schädel between 1710 and 1727.

The names of Peter the Great and his closest confidantes are indelibly linked to a series of suburban residences in the environs of St Petersburg. Over time, these country estates were transformed into magnificent palace-park ensembles. The most important ones lay along the south shore of the Gulf of Finland. On both sides of the road leading to St Petersburg, Peter sold plots of land of equal size to the aristocracy for the construction of country estates. The resulting chain of imperial palaces, gardens, parks and private residences was intended to form a continuous architectural ensemble, eclipsing the road from Paris to Versailles. The most outstanding examples were the imperial resort of Peterhof and Prince Alexander Menshikov’s estate of Oranienbaum.

Peter the Great decided to create a summer residence on the coast after winning the Battle of Poltava: “On 26 May 1710, His Tsarist Majesty deigned to inspect the site of the garden and requested the appointment of a dam, grotto and fountains for Peterhof.” The general plan for the central and eastern sections of the Lower Park and the entire ensemble of the palace, grotto, cascade and canal were designed by the tsar himself. Construction of Peterhof was originally headed by Johann Friedrich Braunstein. In February 1717, Jean-Baptiste-Alexandre Le Blond – a French architect famous in Europe for his parks and suburban palaces – submitted his plans for the sculptural decorations and the fountains. Construction of the “upper chambers” and Monplaisir began at the same time.

In 1719, Nicola Michetti from Italy was appointed the head architect of Peterhof. He submitted a new plan to rebuild and extend the palace. Construction and decoration of the Grand Cascade was completed under Michetti. Peterhof was officially opened on 15 August 1723, when the fountains were switched on. The magical combination of flowers, lawns, sparkling water, summerhouses and sculptures made Peterhof famous all over Europe.

Prince Alexander Menshikov’s nearby estate of Oranienbaum competed in wealth and opulence with Peterhof. The Grand Palace was built by Francesco Fontana and Johann Gottfried Schädel between 1710 and 1725. The layout of the estate was defined by the buff on which the palace stood facing the sea. The two-storey main wing was adjoined by two galleries with high pavilions – the Church Pavilion and the Japanese Pavilion. Two rows of terraces with sheer vertical walls, ramps and staircases joined the palace to the front courtyard, imparting a majestic and imposing air.

The Lower Garden – one of the first regular parks in Russia – was laid out between the palace and the sea in 1712. The palace and the garden were joined to the sea by a long channel – a popular feature in palace ensembles during the reign of Peter the Great. Boats could pass from the Gulf of Finland right up to the palace. Besides the Grand Palace and the Lower Garden, the ensemble also included a Card House, Conservatory and five Lower Houses for the estate personnel.

Unlike such official residences as Peterhof and Oranienbaum, the Ekaterinhof estate – presented by Peter to his second wife Catherine in 1711 – was distinguished for its simplicity and modesty. Lying on the bank of the River Ekaterinhofka, it consisted of a small two-floor wooden palace. The palace had a landing wharf in front of the main entrance and was approached from the river by a canal. A regular park was laid out around the palace. This cosy ensemble was one of the emperor’s favourite places of relaxation, where he went to escape affairs of state in the company of family and friends. In the late 1710s, Peter built two nearby estates for his daughters – Annenhof and Elisavethof – which were later merged with Ekaterinhof.

Although Peter the Great never issued any official decree transferring his capital from Moscow to St Petersburg, his letters of 1704 already refer to the town as the new Russian capital. St Petersburg became the de facto capital in 1712, when the tsar published his first decrees transferring the main state institutions to the city. This was followed by a series of orders requiring masters, merchants, craftsmen, coachmen and young people “for future appointment to various crafts” to move from different provinces, districts and boroughs to the new capital “for all eternity.” The government also drew up lists of noblemen and courtiers obliged to live in St Petersburg.

In the early years, the proximity of the Swedish Empire and military action close to the town hampered the growth of St Petersburg. But after Peter’s victory over the Swedes at the Battle of Poltava (1709) and the transfer of state institutions to the banks of the Neva (1712), the city began to develop rapidly.

By the time Peter the Great returned from his foreign travels in 1717, the capital had changed beyond recognition. The Liteiny Side was no longer one of the main districts in the young capital. The centre had moved down the River Neva, closer to the Admiralty, where large new palaces were built for Peter and the members of his suite. These included the large stone mansions of Prince Antioch Cantemir, General Pavel Yaguzhinsky, Count Savva Raguzinsky, Admiral Cornelius Cruys and the palace of Admiral Fyodor Apraxin.

The growth of trade soon revealed the limitations of the small harbour on the narrow strip of land on the Petersburg Side between the Peter and Paul Fortress and the Large Nevka. The port and the associated commercial institutions – storerooms, warehouses, customs house, stock exchange and shopping arcade – were transferred to the spit of Vasilyevsky Island and the Tuchkov Embankment.

Peter planned to make Vasilyevsky Island the administrative headquarters of his capital. Lying in the delta of the River Neva, the island was in an ideal location and could be easily defended. Domenico Trezzini, who headed the St Petersburg Construction Office, created a project with a rectangular grid of canals in place of streets. An added advantage was that canals would help to prevent flooding. At the points of intersection, the architect envisaged wide pools of water in which boats could turn around.

In the north-west of Vasilyevsky Island, Domenico Trezzini planned to create an enormous garden or “public terrace.” The eastern side would have a small park and two squares housing government and public institutions. The entire perimeter of the island was to be defended by a system of fortifications, with bastions guarding the shoreline. The Petersburg and Admiralty Sides would be the outskirts of the city. Vestiges of this plan can be seen in the layout of Vasilyevsky Island in Plan of the Capital City of St Petersburg, printed in the studio of Johann Baptist Homann in the second half of the 1710s.

Domenico Trezzini was not the only foreign architect working in St Petersburg. In 1716, Peter the Great invited Jean-Baptiste-Alexandre Le Blond to Russia, where he was awarded the unprecedented rank of “general architect” – head of all construction work in the capital. In 1717, the Frenchman devised a new plan for the city called A General Blueprint for St Petersburg. Le Blond suggested a strictly symmetrical layout for the town, surrounded by fortress ramparts with bastions. Besides devising a system of fortifications, the architect also planned the urban infrastructure.

Jean-Baptiste-Alexandre Le Blond’s project was accompanied by a whole series of regulations governing fire safety and street lighting. Rules for the removal of rubbish, the protection of citizens and the upkeep of pavements were also suggested. Le Blond accompanied his General Blueprint for St Petersburg with a written introduction and a detailed explanation of the project. Both were sent to Peter I in Holland for his personal approval.

Jean-Baptiste-Alexandre Le Blond envisaged urban construction on a large part of Vasilyevsky and Admiralty Islands and the Petersburg Side. He planned to surround these districts with a double line of earthen fortifications and a network of canals. If attacked by enemy forces, the first line of fortifications would be flooded. The town was to be covered in a network of canals instead of streets. Palaces, churches, markets, academies, gardens and other public buildings and institutions would stand on squares. Fountains would be installed on each square and at crossroads, to clean the air and help fight fires.

Le Blond placed the imperial palace in the centre of the city. The surrounding blocks were assigned to the apartments of court officials. Slightly further away, the French architect planned a square housing state institutions, surrounded by the living quarters of civil servants, merchants, craftsmen and foreigners. The “common people” – the peasants and the middle class – would live on the outskirts of the town, beyond the system of fortifications.

Jean-Baptiste-Alexandre Le Blond’s death in 1719 prevented the architect from implementing the ideas contained in his general blueprint for St Petersburg. The death of Peter himself, six years later, finally put an end to these proposed schemes for ideal construction and urban planning.

All that remained from the grandiose plans of Domenico Trezzini and Jean-Baptiste-Alexandre Le Blond were their designs of “specimen houses” for citizens of different classes and incomes. Peter hoped that the introduction of standard models would contribute to the orderly construction of the city streets. Houses were to be built along a special line of alignment, without spaces, forming a single terrace. Individual projects were permitted, but had to be approved by the St Petersburg Construction Office.

On 28 January 1725, the age of Peter the Great came to an end, when the first Russian emperor died in the Winter Palace. His body was taken across the frozen Neva and buried in the still unfinished St Peter and St Paul Cathedral. One of his greatest achievements was the sudden appearance, in a hitherto deserted place, of a modern city. As Friedrich Christian Weber, the envoy of the Elector of Hanover, wrote: “Considering the few years spent on its construction, St Petersburg can now be regarded as one of the wonders of the world.”

The death of Peter the Great was treated by contemporaries as an irreplaceable loss. But there is no such thing as eternal grief. After winter, spring comes around – and so did the spring of 1725, the first one without Peter. Nature came back to life and the ice disappeared from the River Neva and the Gulf of Finland. After her election as Catherine I, the tsar’s widow let it be known that she “wishes, with God’s help, to complete all the deeds conceived by the labours of the emperor.”

Catherine only reigned for two years, dying on 6 May 1727. On the eve of her death, she signed a will in favour of the son of the late Tsarevich Alexis Petrovich, Peter II. The Spanish ambassador, James Fitz-James Stuart, wrote at the end of 1727: “The young monarch is not like Peter and Catherine. He hates the sea and is surrounded by Russians who, anguished at their forced separation from the land of their birth, constantly urge him to move back to Moscow, where his ancestors lived. They praise the Moscow climate and the abundance of game in the surrounding countryside, unlike here, where the climate is unhealthy and gloomy, and there is nowhere to hunt.”

When the court moved to Moscow in spring 1728, it was originally claimed that this was only for the coronation of Peter II. But after the coronation, the new emperor announced that he would spend the summer in Moscow. In autumn, the hunting season began, so the return to St Petersburg was postponed until the first snowfalls. But what hunter could possibly leave when the newly-fallen winter snow was lying on the fields? Gradually, the court grew accustomed to living in Moscow all year round. This seemed to uphold the long-standing predictions of foreign observers, who had always said that, as soon as Peter the Great died, the boyars would attempt to return Russia to its previous “barbarian and primordial state” and abandon St Petersburg – built at such a high human cost in such an uninhabitable place.

In another highly symbolical move, when the tsar’s sister Natalia died in autumn 1728, she was buried in the Archangel Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin – the burial vault of all the Romanovs before Peter the Great. When Peter II himself died in 1730, he was laid to rest in the Archangel Cathedral.

St Petersburg fell into a state of decay, with grass growing on once bustling streets and wolves running fearlessly about the deserted town in winter. The city was abandoned by the guard regiments, the government offices, and all the artisans and merchants forced to move there by Peter the Great. In July 1729, a special law had to be passed, ordering all craftsmen who had left the town to return, under threat of hard labour, “and henceforth not to leave St Petersburg without special permission.”

The nobility were free to leave the new capital of their own accord – and many did so with pleasure. As Sergei Solovyov notes, they were unaccustomed “to the inconveniences of the still unfinished town set in the dreary, swampy countryside, far from their villages, where it was extremely difficult and expensive to deliver supplies... Moscow was a much warmer place and was surrounded by their estates, from where it was so easy to deliver everything needed to keep a manorhouse and an army of servants going.”

Moscow was more convenient for all other classes of Russian society – peasants, tradesmen and merchants. Lying at the very edge of the empire, at the end of an uncompleted road, St Petersburg was expensive to live in. Despite the efforts of Peter the Great, the city had still not established itself as a port, which might have brought income to merchants.

Peter had attempted to develop foreign commerce in St Petersburg by forbidding international marine trade via Archangelsk. This was a bitter blow for the merchants who had always operated through the northern port. The same applied to foreign traders, who petitioned Peter and his successors to reopen Archangelsk.

In spring 1727, a law was passed reopening the northern town to foreign trade. Despite the attempts of the government to encourage commerce in St Petersburg by setting lower customs, the city continued to decline. In 1729, the local merchants complained to the Commission for Commerce that “over the past year, because of the departure of many residents from St Petersburg, there has been a great reduction among the merchantry.”

The merchants were not the only ones to protest against life in St Petersburg. Everyone disliked the constant flooding and the miserable climate, the discomfort and disorderliness of a town that was run more like a military camp, ruled over by the chief of police. St Petersburg was “paradise” only for its creator – who still lay beneath a canopy inside the unfinished cathedral.

The tsar’s coffin was soon joined by those of his wife Catherine and his daughter Anna. They lay alongside the tomb of his young daughter Natalia, who had died in 1725. The second family of Peter I stood together in the uncompleted building, waiting for the new rulers to decide on their final resting place.

But, contrary to expectations, the city of Peter the Great did not die. St Petersburg was not abandoned, left to the sea, razed to the ground or handed over to the Swedes. The life of the town continued, albeit by sheer inertia. The foreign experts hired by Peter did not leave. Domenico Trezzini, Bartolomeo Carlo Rastrelli and Burkhard Christoph von Münnich completed their contracts, building palaces, gardens, parks and bridges.

Lieutenant Colonel de Coulomb, a military engineer hired in 1727, finished constructing Kronstadt. Work at the fortress was supervised by Burkhard Christoph von Münnich, the leading builder of fortifications in the eighteenth century. In 1728, Münnich completed the Ladoga Canal, improving navigation. He also completed the Peter and Paul Fortress, building stone bastions coloured with red paint made from crushed brick.

Peter’s shipbuilders – Gavrila Menshikov and the “three Richards” (Richard Cousins, Richard Brown and Richard Ramsey) – continued without him. In 1727, the Peter the Great was launched with 110 cannons. Three ships were launched in 1728 and two more in 1729. Between 1728 and 1729, twenty-four galleys were built.

Military parades and firework shows were still held to celebrate official holidays. But, just like in Soviet times, an air of provinciality hung around the banks of the Neva. Had Peter II continued to reign, the town would never have been transformed into the magnificent city of St Petersburg. The only thing stopping it from falling into decay was its official status as the capital of the empire.

On 19 January 1730, Peter II died and the Supreme Privy Council offered the throne to Anna Ioannovna. She was the fourth daughter of Tsar Ivan V (Peter the Great’s half-brother and co-ruler) and Praskovia Saltykova. For most of her reign, Anna left the running of the state to her German lovers, while she indulged in hunting and other idle pleasures. She died on 5 October 1740 and was buried in the St Peter and St Paul Cathedral.

In 1731, Anna Ioannovna returned the court to St Petersburg, after almost four years in Moscow. This signalled a revival of construction work in the capital, which had ground to a halt under the previous two rulers. St Petersburg once again became the unchallenged political capital of the Russian state. The layout of the town was finally established, based around the Admiralty, Winter Palace, Nevsky Prospekt and Sadovaya Street.

On 17 January 1732, the St Petersburg News reported that “on the third day of the month, in the evening, Her Imperial Majesty, to the unutterable delight of the local residents, so desired to arrive here from Moscow.” Anna Ioannovna was greeted with all the pomp of a capital city. The imperial carriage passed through five triumphal arches designed by Domenico Trezzini, Mikhail Zemtsov and Ivan Korobov. Troops and citizens lined the entire Nevsky Perspective, cheering the empress to the sound of bells ringing and cannons firing.

After a service of thanksgiving in St Isaac’s Church, Anna proceeded to her residence at the Admiral’s House, the former palace of Fyodor Apraxin, which had passed to the crown following Apraxin’s death in 1728. As early as December 1730, the empress had commissioned Domenico Trezzini to considerably expand the building, which stood on the site of the future Winter Palace.

In 1732, work began on the reconstruction of the Admiralty. The existing spire was dismantled and replaced with a new “tower set all in stone for sturdiness,” designed by Ivan Korobov. Rising to a height of over two hundred feet, the new Admiralty tower retained the simple, yet dynamic structure of the original Petrine construction. The faceted steeple decorated with a small boat became one of the most visible landmarks in the capital. The tower remained when the Admiralty was reconstructed by Adrian Zakharov in the early nineteenth century.

The reign of Anna Ioannovna coincides with the early career of Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli, an Italian architect and son of the sculptor Carlo Bartolomeo Rastrelli. He began working in St Petersburg in the early 1720s, when he designed a palace for Dimitrie Cantemir, prince of Moldavia, on Millionnaya Street. In 1736, Rastrelli was officially appointed court architect.

Between 1732 and 1735, Rastrelli reconstructed and expanded the former palace of Admiral Fyodor Apraxin as the winter residence of Anna Ioannovna. The result was an entire complex of new buildings, now collectively known as the third Winter Palace. The main facade had a wide courtyard and was bordered on the south by the court chapel. The wing with the Throne Room lay to the north, on the area adjoining the River Neva and the Apraxin Palace. The third Winter Palace combined clear-cut structures with complex vertical partitioning and the rich plastic decor so typiracal of Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli.

The existing three-street system radiating from the Admiralty spire emerged in the 1730s and 1740s. In August 1736, Admiralty Island was ravaged by a fierce fire, necessitating urgent urban renewals. In July 1737, Anna Ioannovna founded the St Petersburg Construction Commission to plan and oversee this work. The commission was headed by her favourite, Count Burkhard Christoph von Münnich, and existed until 1746. The principal architect was Pyotr Yeropkin. The other members of the commission were Mikhail Zemtsov, Ivan Korobov, Giuseppe Trezzini and Johann Jakob Schumacher.

The St Petersburg Construction Commission developed a distinctive and logical plan for the layout of the left bank of the River Neva. This plan consisted of three radial perspectives (Nevsky Prospekt, Voznesensky Prospekt and Gorokhovaya Street) intersected by three natural waterways – the River Moika, the River Krivusha (later renamed the Catherine Canal) and the River Fontanka – and Sadovaya Street. The commission also regulated the plans for new buildings on Vasilyevsky and Petersburg Islands, the Vyborg Side and the Okhta district.

Although the territory beyond the River Fontanka was not officially part of the city in the first quarter of the eighteenth century – with the exception of the Liteiny Side – it did not escape the attention of the commission. Liteiny Prospekt was continued as far as the Zagorodnaya Road running along the left bank of the River Fontanka. The camps of the Preobrazhensky, Semyonovsky and Izmailovsky Life Guards Regiments lay along this semi-circle.

The reigns of the immediate successors to Peter the Great – his wife Catherine I (1725–27) and grandson Peter II (1727–30) – did not leave any visible trace in the architectural history of St Petersburg. In this sense, the rule of Anna Ioannovna (1730–40) was far more important. Although her ten-year reign did not add any significant new architectural monuments, this decade still made a crucial contribution to the development of the town. Much work was done on the administrative division of the city and the regulation of the construction process. The tendencies initiated by Peter the Great were continued under Anna Ioannovna, helping to form the historical face of St Petersburg in the following decades.

After Anna Ioannovna died in October 1740, the throne passed to her two-month-old grandnephew, Ivan VI, with his mother, Anna Leopoldovna, as regent. Anna Leopoldovna soon proved to be an inexperienced and unpopular ruler. On the night of 24/25 November 1741, she was overthrown by the daughter of Peter I and Catherine I, who ascended the throne as Empress Elizabeth Petrovna.

The reign of Elizabeth Petrovna is synonymous with the Baroque architecture of Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli. In the capital and its suburbs, the Italian architect designed and rebuilt a series of breathtaking imperial residences and aristocratic palaces, now constituting the pride and glory of Russian architecture.

Rastrelli began his career under Anna Ioannovna, who awarded him the title of court architect for reconstructing the former palace of Admiral Fyodor Apraxin as the third Winter Palace. The reign of the new empress, however, began inauspiciously for the master. In the first two months, he was completely forgotten. He was then asked to explain why he held the title of court architect. There was even an unwritten rule not to award any commissions to the Italian.

The lack of any Russian architect comparable in mastery or wealth of fantasy and Elizabeth’s desire for magnificent palaces in her capital soon forced the empress to do a volte-face and request the services of Rastrelli. In spring 1744, she asked him to complete the construction and interior decor of the Summer Palace. A few months later, he was invited to take over work on the Anichkov Palace following the death of Mikhail Zemtsov.

Rastrelli was commissioned to reconstruct the Grand Palace in Peterhof. After visiting Peterhof and studying the state of the palace, he submitted his project, which was approved by Elizabeth on 7 April 1747. The architect retained the basic composition of the original palace, expanding the middle section and adding a chapel and “coat-of-arms wing.” The new palace was distinguished for its elegant proportions, expressive silhouette and magnificent decor.

Rastrelli took three years to reconstruct the Grand Palace at Peterhof. Another five years were spent on the interior decor. Rastrelli’s interiors were bright, colourful and lavishly decorated. The abundance of mirrors, gilt carvings, parquet floors, plafonds, cartouches and volutes provided the perfect setting for magnificent palace ceremonies. Elizabeth Petrovna held her first reception in the new palace on 15 June 1752. The courtiers and guests were left speechless at the extravagant luxury and opulent decor.

While work was still underway at Peterhof, the impatient empress asked Rastrelli to take on a new project. This was the reconstruction of her favourite suburban residence – the palace at Tsarskoe Selo – which she had inherited from her mother, Catherine I. The architect began work at Tsarskoe Selo in 1748. Although originally only asked to renovate the old building, the architect came up with a new project and started reconstructing the whole palace in 1752.

Rastrelli built a flamboyant residence stretching for eight hundred yards, next to a formal garden dotted with elegant pavilions – the Hermitage, Grotto, Skating Hill and Mon Bijou. The entire ensemble is rightfully regarded as one of the greatest achievements of Russian Baroque. Tsarskoe Selo is without parallel in the scale, breadth and unity of the facade motifs and interior decor and the remarkable wealth of sculpture and colour in the architectural forms.

Rastrelli designed a palace for Elizabeth Petrovna in Strelna and built a small roadside palace at Srednyaya Rogatka. He devised a project and began work on the Novodevichy Convent of the Resurrection – better known as the Smolny Convent, after the nearby Pitch Yard (Smolyanoi dvor). The foundation stone of the complex was laid in the presence of the empress and the court on 30 October 1748.

Rastrelli created a proportional and magnificently decorated two-tier cathedral crowned with five cupolas. The central building was surrounded by the cell wings, repeating the cross-shaped configuration of the central church. The silhouettes and decor of the four turreted churches at the corners of the square complex also echoed the cathedral.

The convent was surrounded by a stone partition built in the 1750s and 1760s, repeating the general layout (part of the northern wall and the whole western wall were later dismantled). The entrance to the convent was supposed to be crowned by a tall, multi-tiered steeple, like the Ivan the Great Bell-Tower in the Kremlin. The height of the planned structure – 460 feet – would have exceeded the spire of the St Peter and St Paul Cathedral.

Rastrelli never managed to finish the Smolny Convent. Russia’s entry into the Seven Years War against King Frederick of Prussia in 1757 and the empress’s death in 1761 brought a halt to construction. Vasily Stasov completed the interior decor and the cell wings between 1832 and 1835.

Even in its unfinished form, the Smolny Convent is one of the most perfect creations of Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli. The Smolny Cathedral is commonly regarded as the most “Russian” work of the famous architect. The building elegantly combines the traditions of Baroque and Russian church architecture.

Rastrelli was unmatched in his capacity for work and imagination. In parallel to these projects, he also designed palaces for such prominent Russian aristocrats as Count Mikhail Vorontsov and Baron Sergei Stroganov. In 1753, he began work on another grandiose project – the new building of the Winter Palace.

On 16 February 1753, Elizabeth Petrovna issued a decree on the construction of a new place “solely for the fame of the All-Russian Empire.” The new residence was built on the site of the old palace designed for Anna Ioannovna – between the River Neva and Palace Meadow. The last and most grandiose of Rastrelli’s creations, the new Winter Palace consisted of four squares joined at the corners by wide galleries. Inside were over one thousand rooms. The architect planned for the square in front the palace to be surrounded by a gallery with a wide break opposite the central entrance. The Winter Palace represents the crowning glory of Russian Baroque in the mid-eighteenth century, bringing Rastrelli’s compositional and architectonic devices to a state of perfection.

Elizabeth Petrovna died on 25 December 1761, before she could move into her new residence. She was succeeded by her nephew, Peter III, who asked Rastrelli to finish the interior decor by 6 April 1762. In this short period of time, the architect managed to decorate around one hundred rooms, the theatre, the chapel and the gallery. The new emperor was so pleased that he awarded Rastrelli the rank of major general and the Order of St Anne – the first and only decorations in his forty-six-year career in Russia.

On 28 June 1762, Peter III was overthrown in a palace coup by his wife, Catherine the Great. This signalled an end to all government commissions for Rastrelli, whose style no longer corresponded to the spirit of the new reign of rationalism. His project for the Gostiny Dvor shopping arcade was rejected and awarded to Jean-Baptiste-Michel Vallin de la Mothe.

A year later, learning that Vallin de la Mothe was also redecorating the interiors of the Winter Palace, Rastrelli asked to be relieved of the post of court architect. Catherine II accepted his resignation on 23 October 1763, awarding him an annual pension of one thousand roubles. In January 1771, Rastrelli was elected to the Imperial Academy of Arts. Only two months later, however, he died.

Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli’s oeuvre was a remarkable synthesis of Italian and Russian cultures. The architect developed his own unique style, distinguished for its remarkable opulence and great originality. Rastrelli’s creations combine geometrically clear and distinct inner and outer volumes with extravagant luxury of the facades, where the numerous columns, frontons and intricate window casings add a dynamic note.

After coming to power in 1762, Catherine did all she could to demonstrate her respect for the memory of the man who had founded St Petersburg. She demonstrated her determination to continue the deeds of Peter the Great by announcing her decision to create a memorial to the first Russian emperor in the capital. The Bronze Horseman opened on the hundredth anniversary of his accession to the throne – 7 (18) August 1782.

The age of Catherine the Great witnessed important developments in the architecture of St Petersburg. In the 1760s, the long reign of Baroque ended with the emergence of the new style of Neoclassicism, defining the aesthetic principles of the Russian capital for the next three-quarters of a century. The Winter Palace and the Smolny Convent – symbols of Russian Baroque and two of the greatest achievements of Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli – were finally completed at the start of Catherine’s reign. Two or three years later, however, new buildings were already appearing in correspondence with the more austere laws of Neoclassical architecture.

The changes in architectural styles were dictated by political, social and economic developments. The construction of palaces and churches, which had dominated Baroque architecture, was overtaken by the growing importance of such civil and public buildings as theatres, libraries, educational institutions, government and scientific establishments, hospitals, care homes, banks, stock exchanges, shopping arcades, warehouses, barracks and parade grounds. In European architecture, the Neoclassical style was influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment. Architects faced new tasks when designing housing and urban ensembles, requiring different planning strategies based on the principles of rationalism.

The new tasks facing architects led to an overhaul of the government organisations regulating building in the Russian capital. In December 1762, the St Petersburg and Moscow Stone Construction Commission was created. The commission was chaired by one of the leading statesmen of Catherine’s reign – Ivan Betskoi. Unlike the earlier St Petersburg Construction Commission, founded by Anna Ioannovna in 1737, this new establishment covered all the towns and cities in the Russian Empire, bringing order to municipal planning on the basis of enlightened ideas about a rational state.

The commission vowed to “bring the town of St Petersburg into such order and state and lend it such grandeur as befits the capital city of a spacious state.” By the late 1760s, Andrei Kvasov, who headed the work of the commission for ten years, had compiled a new general plan for the imperial capital.

Like his predecessors, Andrei Kvasov based his plans around the two main landmarks in the city – the Admiralty and the Peter and Paul Fortress. On the Admiralty Side, the architect retained the existing urban complex, defining the outlines of the two central squares in the city – Admiralty Square and Palace Square. The plans for the development of Town Island were far more radical. Kvasov proposed repeating, like a mirror reflection, the layout of the Admiralty Side. The centre would be the Peter and Paul Fortress, encircled in an arch by the future Kronwerk Prospekt, from which radial perspectives would extend, intersected by thoroughfares.

The strict control of construction contributed to the homogenous face of St Petersburg. Streets could only be lined with terraced stone houses, forming a “single facade.” For the first time in the history of the town, the height of buildings was also regulated. With the exception of places of worship, no structure was allowed to extend higher than the Winter Palace.

One of the main tasks facing the architects of St Petersburg was reconstructing the waterfronts. In 1763, the banks of the River Neva started being lined with granite. The embankment of the River Krivusha (later renamed the Catherine Canal) was also faced in stone. In the 1780s, the River Fontanka, Winter Canal and Kryukov Canal were enclosed in granite. The facing of the Moika embankment began in 1798. This process was complemented by the installation of decorative metal railings along the small rivers and enormous blocks of granite on the left bank of the Neva. The St Petersburg embankments boasted numerous descents to the water, which were used as landing wharves. Over the course of forty years, the majority of waterways criss-crossing the town were lined with stone.

These “banks of granite sheer” contributed to the famous image of St Petersburg described by Alexander Pushkin in his epic poem The Bronze Horseman (1833). This single image of the river basin was boosted by the decision to line the walls and bastions of the Peter and Paul Fortress with granite in the 1780s. Nikolai Lvov designed the Nevsky Gates of the Peter and Paul Fortress in the form of a monumental portico with a Tuscan colonnade. The railings of the Summer Garden were another architectural masterpiece, introducing a special flourish to the perception of the waterfront. Designed by Georg Friedrich von Veldten and installed between 1771 and 1784, the railings alternated massive granite columns with elegant cast-iron grilles.

The construction of the embankments was accompanied by the replacement of the old wooden bridges with more reliable stone and metal structures. The first were the Laundry Bridge, Upper Swan Bridge and the Hermitage Bridge in the late 1760s, followed by the Kazan Bridge and the Stone Bridge on Gorokhovaya Street. Their soft, plastic forms harmonised perfectly with the granite-lined banks of the rivers and canals. In the 1780s, in the course of work on the construction of permanent bridges over the River Fontanka, the architects developed a single model of four-turreted drawbridges. Today, only two of the seven survive in their original forms – Old Kalinkin Bridge and Chernyshev Bridge.

One of the distinctive features of the Russian capital in the eighteenth century was an absence of permanent bridges across the River Neva, which had too wide and deep a channel. Construction of bridges involved great technical difficulties and the only crossing point until the end of the eighteenth century was St Isaac’s (Floating) Bridge, which joined the central districts to Vasilyevsky Island. This bridge consisted of a series of pontoon barges anchored in the river. In order to let ships pass, St Isaac’s Bridge had two bascules. A special guard – the duty officer of the Admiralty College – was responsible for raising the bridge at night and controlling the passage of ships in both directions.

In 1786, the Resurrection Bridge was built, joining the Liteiny District and the Vyborg Side. During the passing of the ice and the freezing over of the river, however, the two bridges had to be removed, to avoid being damaged by the ice. This meant that Vasilyevsky Island, Petersburg Side and the Vyborg Side were virtually cut off from the rest of the city in the winter months.

The growth of St Petersburg increased the need for permanent bridges across the Neva. Ivan Kulibin came up with a remarkable project for a wooden bridge with almost thirteen thousand details. The planned construction had a span of one thousand feet and a single arch, beneath which ships could pass. The model was praised by the Imperial Academy of Sciences and shown to the public in the Academy courtyard. The engraving of an unknown master, made during the reign of Paul I, suggests what the bridge might have looked like in reality. Unfortunately, Kulibin’s project was never realised. The people of St Petersburg continued to rely on floating bridges for almost another eighty years, until the first permanent crossing – the Annunciation Bridge – was built in the mid-nineteenth century.

The spread of Neoclassical architecture in St Petersburg coincided with the creation of a new type of educational establishment – the “Academy of the Three Noblest Arts.” After succeeding to the throne, Catherine II replaced Count Ivan Shuvalov, the founder and first president of the Academy, with Ivan Betskoi. Intended to train future painters, sculptors and architects in the spirit of a synthesis of the arts, the Imperial Academy of Arts remained, for many years, a bastion of Russian Neoclassicism. Designed by Jean-Baptiste-Michel Vallin de la Mothe and Alexander Kokorinov, the Academy was one of the first and most important buildings in the new style. The image of the austere and majestic edifice on the waterfront of Vasilyevsky Island, facing the River Neva, became a popular subject in views of St Petersburg.

Between 1759 and 1775, Jean-Baptiste-Michel Vallin de la Mothe headed the architecture class at the Imperial Academy of Arts. Besides the Academy building, the French architect also designed Bolshoi Gostiny Dvor, St Catherine’s Church on Nevsky Prospekt and the Little Hermitage with a hanging garden. He was responsible for one of the masterpieces of Russian Neoclassicism – the facade and arch of the warehouses on New Holland. Besides architectural projects, Vallin de la Mothe also worked on the interiors of the Winter Palace, decorating the personal chambers of Catherine II and her son Paul.

Another magnificent monument to Neoclassicism appeared in the direct vicinity of the Imperial Academy of Arts. This was Giacomo Quarenghi’s Academy of Sciences, built between 1783 and 1789. Quarenghi was born in Italy and moved to Russia in 1779. He lived in St Petersburg for almost forty years, creating his best works there. Quarenghi’s buildings always employ the fundamental principles of Neoclassicism – simple volumes, minimal decorative details, absolute symmetry, hierarchy of forms and a central core set off by a colonnade or portico.

Giacomo Quarenghi’s first major project in St Petersburg was the English Palace in Peterhof (1781–96, destroyed in 1942). This was followed by a series of commissions in Tsarskoe Selo, including the Alexander Palace for the grandson of Catherine II, the future Tsar Alexander I. The Alexander Palace was linked to the imperial park through an open colonnade. Besides the Academy of Sciences, Quarenghi designed a number of public and palace buildings in the capital. These included the Hermitage Theatre, Raphael Loggia, Assignation Bank, Stock Exchange (redesigned by Jean-François Thomas de Thomon), Smolny and Catherine Institutes, Mariinsky Hospital, Horse Guards Parade Ground, Narva Triumphal Gates and mansions for the local aristocracy.

St Petersburg is impossible to imagine without the creations of Antonio Rinaldi, the Italian architect who designed the Marble Palace, Bolshoi (Stone) Theatre and the Prince Vladimir Cathedral on the Petrograd Side. Appointed court architect to Catherine the Great before she became empress, Rinaldi fulfilled numerous commissions on the imperial family’s suburban estates – Gatchina, Tsarskoe Selo and Oranienbaum. Vincenzo Brenna, another Italian architect, contributed to St Michael’s Castle – the home and last refuge of Tsar Paul.

Scottish architect Charles Cameron left an indelible trace on the architecture of St Petersburg. From 1779, Cameron worked as the court architect at Tsarskoe Selo and Pavlovsk. He designed the Grand Palace and numerous park pavilions in Pavlovsk and the famous Cameron Gallery and Agate Rooms at Tsarskoe Selo.

Russians architects worked alongside their Italian, French, Swiss and British counterparts, contributing to the development of architecture in St Petersburg. Many of them were representatives of early Neoclassicism, including Alexander Kokorinov (rector and co-designer of the Imperial Academy of Arts) and Georg Friedrich von Veldten, who helped Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli to build the Winter Palace. In 1762, Veldten was appointed principal architect of the Chancellery of Construction. In this capacity, he oversaw the construction of the first stone waterfronts along the River Neva – the Palace and English Embankments. Veldten also designed the Old Hermitage and the arched passageway over the Winter Canal. Like Kokorinov, he taught at the Academy of Arts, an organisation he headed from 1789 to 1794.

One of the greatest exponents of Russian Neoclassicism was Ivan Starov, who built the Trinity Cathedral, the chapel at the entrance to the St Alexander Nevsky Monastery and one of the masterpieces of St Petersburg architecture – the Tauride Palace. Vasily Bazhenov, vice-president of the Academy of Arts, also contributed to the imperial capital, helping to design St Michael’s Castle, the Stone Island Palace and the New Arsenal on Liteiny Prospekt. Another leading master of Russian Neoclassicism was the poet, translator, composer and architect Nikolai Lvov. Besides reconstructing Gavrila Derzhavin’s house on the Fontanka and designing the Nevsky Gates of the Peter and Paul Fortress, he also built a series of churches and public buildings in the Neoclassical style.

The Neoclassical traditions were continued by their younger colleagues, adding to the classical face of St Petersburg. Veldten’s assistant, Yegor Sokolov, built an important monument of late Neoclassicism – the Imperial Public Library. After graduating from the architecture class at the Imperial Academy of Arts, Fyodor Volkov designed the Naval Academy, the barracks of the Semyonovsky Life Guards Regiment and many industrial and public buildings.

By the time of its hundredth anniversary in 1803, St Petersburg was commonly regarded as one of the most beautiful cities on earth. The picturesque location of town was enhanced by the many masterpieces of world architecture. The popular perception of the Russian capital was slowly changing. In the first half of the eighteenth century, people had been struck by the audacity of its creation and rapid growth and the iron will and energy of its founder. By the end of Catherine’s reign, however, different categories were coming into play.

This new perception of St Petersburg is brilliantly captured in the memoirs of Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun. The famous French artist describes her first impressions of the Russian capital: “Magnificent as I had conceived the city to be, I was enchanted by the aspect of its monuments, its handsome mansions, and its broad streets, one of which, called the Prospekt, is a mile long. The Neva, clear and limpid, cuts through the town, laden with vessels and barks unceasingly moving up and down, and this greatly adds to the liveliness of the town. The quays of the Neva are of granite, like those of the large canals dug through the town by Catherine. On one bank of the river are splendid edifices: the Academy of Arts, the Academy of Sciences and a number of others are reflected in the Neva. There was no grander sight on a moonlight night, I was told.”

The succession of Tsar Alexander I in 1801 ushered in a new era in the construction of St Petersburg. Public expectations of wide-ranging political reforms and victory over Napoleon in the Patriotic War of 1812 influenced the whole of Russian art life in the first decades of the nineteenth century. The accompanying flourishing of architecture helped to put the final touches to the classical face of the imperial capital. In 1816, Alexander created a special committee with the aim of “bringing all construction and hydraulic work in St Petersburg into the finest order … elevating the capital to such a degree of beauty and perfection, that will bring both common and private benefit.”

This ambitious planning and reconstruction initiative affected the entire city centre. Whole ensembles of magnificent buildings, triumphal arches, new squares and adjoining streets sprung up, based on the single concepts of individual architects. A leading role was played here by public buildings, particularly government institutions and educational establishments. Classical aesthetics reached the highest phase of their development, under the influence of civil pathos, patriotism and heroic ideals, representing a Russian version of the French “Empire” style. A typical feature of Neoclassical architecture in the first third of the nineteenth century was a synthesis of the arts. Town planners sought an organic combination of architecture, sculpture and painting, all subordinated to a single idea or artistic concept.

An excellent example of such a synthesis was Andrei Voronikhin’s Kazan Cathedral – one of the most important new additions to St Petersburg in the early nineteenth century. The architectural design of the main wing and the adjoining side colonnades, stretching towards Nevsky Prospekt, evoke instant associations with St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The attics of the colonnades were decorated with reliefs by sculptors Ivan Prokofiev and Ivan Martos on the Old Testament subjects of the brazen serpent and Moses striking water from the stone. Such themes – a hero coming to save his people in difficult times – were popular in High Neoclassicism. The main entrance was flanked by bronze statues of St John the Baptist, St Andrew the First-Called and two Old Russian warrior princes – St Vladimir and St Alexander Nevsky. These majestic sculptures slotted perfectly into the austere architectural forms of the building. Fittingly, the Kazan Cathedral was chosen as the last resting-place of Fieldmarshal Mikhail Kutuzov in 1813. The keys of the European towns conquered by the Russian army in their foreign campaigns against Napoleon were also brought here.

The heroic theme inspired the construction and design of the Narva Triumphal Gates in 1814 for the ceremonial greeting of the imperial guards who had defeated Napoleon’s army and captured Paris. Giacomo Quarenghi hastily designed a wooden structure, which he decorated with relief images of military armour, laurel wreaths and six rearing horses. In the 1830s, Vasily Stasov rebuilt the gates in stone and bronze, retaining its original idea and artistic design as a triumphal arch.

The new Admiralty offered the most expressive example of a synthesis of architecture and sculpture. Adrian Zakharov completely reconstructed the old building, forming a new ensemble from the three adjacent squares brought together by the main facade and the side wings extending towards the River Neva – St Isaac’s Square, Admiralty Square and Palace Square. From the central tower and golden steeple, crowned with a miniature ship, a perspective opened up onto the three main thoroughfares of St Petersburg – Nevsky Prospekt, Voznesensky Prospekt and Gorokhovaya Street. The country’s leading sculptors – Feodosy Schedrin, Vasily Demut-Malinovsky, Stepan Pimenov and Ivan Terebenyov – were invited to decorate the building. The symbolic and plastic resolution of their reliefs on the walls and frontons and their numerous figures on the attic, tower and spans of the arch were all subordinated to the main theme of the architect – to extol Russian naval power.

The desire to underline the importance of St Petersburg as the naval and commercial centre of Russia was reflected in the new layout of the spit of Vasilyevsky Island. In the 1800s and 1810s, Jean-François Thomas de Thomon transformed the southern end of the island, where the River Neva splits into two branches, into a handsome new ensemble with a rounded outline, a granite parapet running along the waterfront and smooth descents to the water. The centre of the square was dominated by the imposing building of the Stock Exchange. Enthroned on a broad entablature and surrounded by a peristyle of Doric columns, the building was reminiscent of a Greek temple. The fronton of the main facade was adorned with a sculptural group symbolising maritime commerce. The solemnity of the entire ensemble was augmented by the Rostral Columns – two lighthouses installed in front of the Stock Exchange. The granite columns were decorated with the noses of ships, symbolising Russian naval victories, and allegorical sculptures representing the four main navigable rivers of Russia – the Neva, Volkhov, Volga and Don.

The greatest exponent of the Empire style in Russia was Carlo Rossi – one of the most talented architects of the first half of the nineteenth century. In the late 1810s and early 1820s, he created a new architectural-landscape ensemble on Yelagin Island in the delta of the River Neva. The architect reconstructed the existing eighteenth-century palace, adding a large complex of auxiliary premises and a landscape park, reaching as far as the waterfront looking out onto the broad river expanses.

Carlo Rossi followed the ensemble principle when designing the Mikhailovsky Palace for Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich in the centre of St Petersburg, on the territory of the former Third Summer Garden. The Neoclassical palace was surrounded by a small park with iron railings decorated with gilded military armature, recalling the owner’s profession. The youngest brother of Tsar Alexander I, Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich was the head of artillery and all military academies in Russia. The new ensemble was joined to the city’s main thoroughfare, Nevsky Prospekt, by a special road leading to the palace called Mikhailovskaya Street.

In the 1820s, Carlo Rossi was asked to redesign the main square in the capital of the Russian Empire – Palace Square. Faced with the complex task of reconstructing old private housing standing in a curve on the southern side, he created the imposing building of General Headquarters. This new structure was split into two western and eastern wings, joined by a double arch marking the official entrance to the square, with a view onto Nevsky Prospekt. All the decorative features of the arch celebrate Russia’s triumphant victory over Napoleon. Stepan Pimenov and Vasily Demut-Malinovsky sculpted statues of warriors and moulded armature for the niches on the side of the square and decorative reliefs for the vaults in the passageway. The arch was crowned with a horse-driven chariot commanded by Roman warriors and a winged figure of glory extending a laurel wreath over Palace Square.

In 1834, the Alexander Column was installed in the centre of Palace Square. Designed by Auguste de Montferrand, the monument rises high above the city. The column is crowned with the figure of an angel wielding a cross and bearing a facial resemblance to Tsar Alexander I. The Alexander Column successfully unites the different architectural styles of Baroque, Neoclassicism and Empire encountered in the surrounding buildings of the Winter Palace, Admiralty and General Headquarters.

Carlo Rossi designed several other magnificent architectural ensembles in St Petersburg. Next to the Anichkov Palace, he created the Alexandrinsky Theatre and a square joining the building to Nevsky Prospekt. The square was flanked on one side by the pavilions and new railings of the Anichkov Garden and, on the other side, by a new wing of the Imperial Public Library. The main facade of the Alexandrinsky Theatre faces Nevsky Prospekt. The front and side entrances are decorated with arcades supported by Corinthian columns, sculptures in the corner niches and handsome reliefs on theatrical subjects. The quadriga of Apollo on the attic is one of the most perfect and expressive sculptural finishes to a building in St Petersburg. Carlo Rossi redesigned the street running down to the River Fontanka behind the theatre, creating two analogous auxiliary buildings. In this way, from any approach, the entire ensemble creates the impression of a classical architectural festoon.

Carlo Rossi designed two new government buildings near St Isaac’s Square – the Senate and Synod. Once again, he united two identical edifices with the help of an arch thrown across Galernaya Street. Besides its functional purpose, the arch was also the dominant decorative element. This new ensemble gave a more regular outline to the nearby square, focusing attention on the Bronze Horseman in the centre.

St Petersburg continued to grow in the 1840s and 1850s, only not on the previous scale. Begun in 1818, construction of St Isaac’s Cathedral was finally completed in 1858. Opposite this magnificent edifice, Heinrich Stackenschneider designed a palace in the corresponding Neoclassical style for the eldest daughter of Tsar Nicholas I, Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna. On Nevsky Prospekt, near the reconstructed Anichkov Bridge across the River Fontanka, he built a magnificent mansion for Prince Beloselsky-Belozersky with Baroque forms recalling mid-eighteenth-century architecture. In the Kolomna district, the Church of the Annunciation was designed in the Neo-Byzantine style popular during the reign of Tsar Nicholas I. The adjoining square was linked to Vasilyevsky Island by the first permanent bridge in St Petersburg – the Annunciation Bridge. On the nearby Theatre Square, the old Stone Theatre was replaced by a much larger Bolshoi Theatre.

The municipal authorities were concerned with improving the local transport network. The pavements were widened and paved. The dilapidated bridges across the rivers and canals of St Petersburg were renovated, with the help of the latest engineering and construction advancements and such new materials as iron, steel and concrete. Such work was vitally important for the life of a large capital city. Although underlining the magnificence of St Petersburg, these developments did not cardinally change the city, formed over the past one and a half centuries. The decline in architectural-artistic creativity and the rejection of new ensembles reflecting contemporary ideas did not add any new expressive features to the classical face of St Petersburg.

Capitalism developed rapidly in Russia in the second half of the nineteenth century. The swift growth of industry and commerce in St Petersburg increased the need for new construction zones and such public buildings as banks, commercial headquarters, hotels, railway stations, markets and tenement blocks to accommodate the workers flocking to the capital from the countryside. Deprived of space in the city centre, this construction boom was concentrated on the outskirts, taking over vacant spots or the old wooden housing in the suburbs. The outlying districts of St Petersburg were enclosed in a circle of factories and mills.

The urgent need for mass construction superseded the attempts to maintain the architectural integrity of St Petersburg. Architects were required to work in a rapid and unregulated style, leading to the development of eclecticism. A new generation, including such talented architects as Heinrich Stackenschneider, Konstantin Thon, Alexander Rezanov and Alexei Gornostayev, dabbled freely in the styles of the past. Adding elements from the French Renaissance, Baroque, Empire or the government-approved Neo-Byzantine style, they were not always able – and did not always try – to slot their creations smoothly into the orderly and beautiful ensembles of the past.

Contemporaries complained about the new directions in the architectural development of the city. Russian art critic Vladimir Stasov wrote: “This is architecture copied from the old specimens, from books and atlases, from photographs and blueprints; this is the architecture of adroit men doodling in the classrooms.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky, a writer whose novels are permeated with images of St Petersburg, joined in the attack: “Truly, I do not know how to define our current architecture. We have some sort of disorderly style here which, however, entirely corresponds to the disorder of the present moment. We have a vast number of very tall (and above all, they must be tall) buildings for tenants, buildings with very thin walls, so they say, and cheaply built, with an amazing variety of styles of facades: we see Rastrelli and late Rococo, Doge balconies and windows which absolutely must be oeils-de-boeuf and absolutely must have five stories – and all this in one single facade.”

The end to architectural creativity and ensembles reflecting contemporary ideas did not add anything new or expressive to the outer face of St Petersburg in the last third of the nineteenth century. The soft and harmonious tones of the city’s buildings also disappeared in the 1880s, when Tsar Alexander III replaced the pale-yellow facades of the palaces and government buildings with dull red paint, depriving the capital of its classical expressiveness.

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