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Longer Latitude Journey behind the Ironic Curtain

Saint-Petersburg: Conspicuous Churches & an ill-fated Tsar's Palace

RUSSIAN FEDERATION | Friday, 25 September 2015 | Views [375]

Spilled Blood interior ceiling

Spilled Blood interior ceiling

After we returned from Pushkin we decided to catch up on a few of the recommended places that we hadn't got to on the walking tour. The Saviour on Blood Church (AKA 'Church of the Spilled Blood') is on most 'unmissable' lists for St Petersburg. The key to this cathedral's origin lies in its name. The church was erected on the spot (the junction of Moika and Griboedova canals) where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881, hence the somewhat queasiness-inducing name. By the time I got round to visiting it I was probably suffering from ABC fatigue, the prospect of viewing yet "Another Bloody Church!" (having had my fill of them all over Eastern Europe) didn't excite me. But even in this jaded state of mind I would have to admit that the exterior of "The Spilled Blood" left a strong impression on me. It is stunning admixture of different designs and patterns, domes with swirling colours, some pure gold and some looking like a "chocolate freckle".  I was reminded more than a little of the famous Pokrovskiy Cathedral (St Basil's) in Moskva's Red Square with its striped, multi-coloured domes & towers (but "The Spilled Blood" is a slightly scaled-down version of the Krasnaya church). The 16-17th century style building contrasts sharply with the Baroque, classical & more modern surrounding buildings of the area. Some expressive mosaics in the church's interior. There's a long string of souvenir stalls at the rear of the cathedral alongside the canal.

We crossed town to see St Issac's Cathedral (in Russian transliterated as Isaakievskiy Sobor), one of the icons of Saint-Petersburg, right up there with Kazan Cathedral. It is located in the Admiralteiskaya district not far from the Neva River. St Issac's is worthy of a look for its crowning glory alone - the huge fully gold-plated dome roof, identifiable from diverse parts of the city. The 250rbl entrance fee (as at 2015) is very good value because the interior is quite a treasure to behold, richly decorated with glittering mosaics & columns containing malachite & lapis-lazuli ornamentation. As an added bonus good views of the cityscape await climbers willing to walk up the 226 steps to the church's colonnade.

We went next to St Michael's Castle (known variously as St Michael's Castle, Mikhailovskiy Palace and the Engineers' Castle), located on Sadovaya Ul near another junction of  the city's canals. Mikhailovskiy Palace is in a different league to the vainglorious excesses of St Petersburg's better known architectural tourist magnets. It lacks the glamour, richness and sheer scope of Peterhof, the Winter Palace and Catherine Palace. As castles go this pink castle with a green roof is a formidable looking structure with a moat and strong walls. The castle has a big open courtyard in the middle which is quite barren, it could do with a few pot plants & a little imaginative planning to brighten the area up. Mikhailovskiy Palace's beginnings had an ironic element which explains the castle's air of foreboding - built by Tsar Pavel I with the purpose of strengthening the emperor's personal security, however Pavel survived only 40 nights in it before he was murdered! Across the road in a pleasant park overlooking the palace there is a statue of Peter the Great posing as a Roman emperor. Today Mikhailovskiy Palace is an art museum (part of the Russian Museum) with lots of works by famous Russian artists including world-class painters like Chagall and Kandinsky. Architectural oddity: all four facades, N, S, E & W, are completely different in appearance. 

Getting back on to Nevskiy Pr, a monumental piece of architecture that you'll find hard to miss as you walk the street is Kazansky Cathedral. When I first noticed this panoramic building I mistook it for the parliament or the head-of-state's residence, not a church. It has a large, extended colonnade, bookended by two huge, square arches. The colonnade with a dominant central dome  is shaped in a semi-circle which encloses a small, peaceful garden with a fountain. Kazansky Cathedral's design was based on the iconic St Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, much in the way that Peter the Great's inspiration for Peterhof was the glory of Versailles. Visits inside the Cathedral during opening hours are free.  Not far from here, still on Nevskiy, we stumbled on another ecclesiastical building very different to Kazansky. The St Catherine Armenian Apostolic Church, a little Armenian church set back from the street and dwarfed by all the large elegant Art Nouveau buildings close by. The Armenian church is a small but beautiful light blue and white building. From the street you only get only a glimpse of it as it is jammed in between two large, more pedestrian-looking buildings. Up close of course you get a better view, but unfortunately, the proximity of unconnected buildings block a full, wide shot of the whole facade. Still, it is worth your while to stop and check out this minor gem of a building.


Tags: city tour

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