St.Petersburg, Russia

  • Date
  • 14 September 1999

Peterhof, the summer palace built by Peter the Great, has over 140 fountains on the center grounds forming the Great Cascade. Czar Peter built this massive fountain compilation in celebration of the victory over the Swedes. The palace is opulent, filled with 18th and 19th century furniture, gold cherubs along the stairways and on moldings in the rooms, detailed wood working on the ceilings and walls, parquet and marble floors and crystal, brass and gold chandeliers. The cost of entry is 200 rubles (100 rubles for the grounds and 100 for the palace totaling US $8).

Entry into the Hermitage costs 250 rubles (US$10) and is worth every bit. Here we spent time in the rooms filled with de Vinci, Raphael, Rubens, Titian, Rodin, Rembrandt, Cezanne, Gaugin, Van Gogh, Monet, Matisse, Picasso, Faberge and more. We spent several hours but didn’t even touch the surface of what is offered in these five-linked-buildings forming one of the world’s greatest art museums. (One of these buildings is the winter palace with 1057 rooms and 117 staircases.) The extraordinary surroundings of the museum make the artwork, paintings, sculpture, jewelry and porcelain even more stimulating.

Admittedly even by the Russians, large parts of the collection and nearly all of the great works were taken from private owners after the Revolution and/or from Germany after the war. Some outstanding works still sit in storage because Germany wants them back but the Russian Supreme Court will not return them.

The Church of the Resurrection of Christ, built from 1887-1907, stands on the spot where Alexander II was assassinated by terrorists (one was Lenin’s brother who was executed for the crime). The church is sometimes called ‘Church of the Spilled Blood’ and ‘Church of the Bleeding Saviour’. The interior is filled with 7000 meters of mosaics instead of traditional oil paintings. This shows foresight, as the beautiful mosaics will survive much longer than paintings. I was shocked that the entrance charge for this church was 250 rubles, the same amount as the extraordinary Hermitage – the church is grasping tourists’ money while it can.

In the evening, we attended the St. Petersburg Philharmonic’s performance of Beethoven and Rachmoninoff Symphony No. 2. The violin soloist for the Beethoven concerto must have been renowned in St. Petersburg since he drew several rounds of applause even after breaking one of his violin strings in the heart of an intricate solo. Without missing a moment though, he turned to the first chair violinist for use of his violin (No. 1 then gave the broken stringed violin to No. 2 who gave his to No. 1 and then proceeded to play the soloist’s broken violin).

The Rachmoninoff Symphony No. 2 was fabulous. Buy it today if you can. It’s filled with bursts of power and then slow bouts of strings before more crescendos. I rushed to buy the CD when the performance concluded.