Learning About LeningradJune 28, 2019 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C
Over the past hundred years St Petersburg has been known by numerous different names. For a time after the revolution it was known as Stalingrad, later changed to Leningrad. It was here that the German advance was halted at the infamous Siege of Leningrad. This prolonged blockade of the city lasted for over two years from September 1941 to the start of 1944. The lifting of the siege by the Russian army marked the end of the German eastern advance and the beginning of the end of the war for Germany.
In the 1990s the citizens of the city voted to return to its original name of St Petersburg, named after Peter the Great of Russia who founded the city in 1703. Over 300 years later his name and image is everywhere in the city.
The modern city shows very few scars of the massive destruction that took place during the siege, in fact our first impressions of the place were very positive. It feels like a modern, prosperous city with a lot of vitality. It is a city of islands and hundreds of bridges, dominated by the wide Neva River. For this reason St Petersburg is often referred to as the "Venice of the North". Our task for today was to explore the place and learn more about its secrets.
At 9 am we were met in the foyer of our hotel by a young and attractive guide who introduced herself as Svetlana. She spoke excellent English, probably because she had a masters degree in Linguistics. Apparently she also conducts tours in Spanish - a very smart woman indeed.
I had been dreading that we would lumped in with about 50 other people and be following a flag lady all day, but I needn't have worried. Our group consisted of just the 6 of us, plus Svetlana and Igor the driver. Even though it turned out to be an exhausting day, it was the best way to make use of our limited time here.
The morning part was spent visiting some huge churches and museums. The size and opulence of these places give an insight into the power and wealth of the imperial rulers of the past. It is staggering to see the scale of the buildings and the inestimable number of man hours of labour that went into their construction and decoration. One common theme is gold. It is everywhere and on everything. I wondered why it had not been looted during the revolution and was told that some of it had been. This is apparently what was left. It is truly a staggering display of what unlimited money can buy.
One particularly poignant location is the small sanctuary in the Peter and Paul Fortress that has been set up in the memory of the last Tsar and his family. Nicholas and his entire family were brutally murdered and dismembered in St Petersburg in July 1918. There were several stories that one of children (Anastasia) may have survived the massacre, but these have now been disproved. At least the modern Russians appear to have some remorse for what happened on that dreadful day, just over 100 years ago.
Our major highlight for the day was the Hermitage Museum, one of the three biggest museums in the world. Since I am restricted in the number of images that can be included in each footprint, I will make a separate entry for our afternoon's activity.Read more