Did you catch the opening ceremonies of the Socchi 2014 Olympic Games? It was a truly elegant and awe-inspiring production with moments that reminded me of the grandeur and elegance of Russiaís most beautiful city, St. Petersburg. St Petersburg is the embodiment of Imperial Russia, the time of Peter the Great. From the incredible collection of art residing in the Hermitage to the Baroque architecture lining the banks of the Neva River, St. Petersburg will impress and amaze you.
This city is unlike so many other European cities because it is so young. This was a city built by a man of vision, Czar Peter the Great. St. Petersburg was just one of the ways in which Peter the Great sought to increase connections with the western world. Until that time Russia had been largely isolated from Western Europe in more than just physical distance. It had never experienced the renaissance and until Peter undertook his program of bringing European influences to Russia, it remained cloaked in medieval times. In the span of only two centuries that would change. What Peter began, a city built largely on swampland, would be continued and expanded by his widow, and later his daughter, Elizabeth.
Although the cityís name, St. Petersburg, would lead you to believe this man was the one responsible for the cityís greatness, in fact, the credit should go to his daughter and later, Catherine the Great (not Peterís wife).
When Elizabeth began her reign in 1741 she worked hard to see the city transformed into a capital that would rival any of those in the West. Peter the Greatís estate, Perterhof, would be remodeled by the Italian architect, Bartolomeo Rastrelli who created the Winter Palace and Smoiny Cathedral. The Yekaterininsky, Catherineís Palace, would be remodeled with an elaborate baroque garden added. The Elizabethan era in Russia, truly was the start of something big.
However, it would fall to the Catherine the Great to create the greatest treasure of St. Petersburg, the Hermitage.
What is the Hermitage? More than just a museum, it is the finest collection of art ever assembled under one roof. There are over three million pieces of art and archaeological finds representing many peoples of the world. Catherine began her art acquisition by purchasing the collection of Johann Ernest Gotzkowski, the first of many collections she would acquire. Begun in 1771, the Hermitage would not be completed until 1787. The collection of Western European art is housed in 120 rooms of the hermitage and reflects the development of the arts from the middle ages to the present. Current exhibitions include: Edgar Degas: Figures in Motion; and British Silver of the Victorian Age. New exhibitions are always being presented, so be sure to check the web to see what is currently being shown.
The Hermitage is part of the heart of St. Petersburg, Palace Square. You enter the museum through the courtyard opposite the Winter Palace. Prepare to go into art overload. There is so much to see, it is almost too difficult to absorb. All of it is fabulous, even the floors with their complex parquet designs. Entire galleries have been devoted to individual artists. With 3 million pieces at their disposal it is difficult to present minimalist exhibitions.
Take advantage of the guided tours, they will keep you moving and allow you to see as much as possible, as well, prebooked groups are given specific times, which may save you minutes spent waiting in lines.
The Hermitage is not all there is to see in Palace Square. In the very middle of the Square, the Alexander Column at 47 meters tall commemorates the 1812 victory over Napoleon. At the end of the square you will find Falconetís statue of Peter the Great, the Bronze Horseman, facing west, of course, the source of much of Peterís inspirations.
These are just a few of the treasures to be found in St. Petersburg, the imperial era heart of Russia.