The Summer Gardens and Surrounds
The beautiful Summer Gardens make a superbly serene setting for a stroll. Commissioned by Peter the Great to match the pristine planned parks of Europe’s royal estates, the Summer Gardens are a majestic maze of fountains, marble statues and manicured trees and bushes. At one point more than 250 sculptures by Italian masters pockmarked the park, but only 89 remain today.
At any time of day, in any season it is a real pleasure to wander the Summer Gardens and bathe in their beauty. But while the gardens are incredible, the name ‘Summer Palace’ is a little misleading. It is, in fact, a rather small and unimpressive two-storey building designed by Domenico Trezzini that stands in the corner of the gardens. Built between 1710 and 1714 it is notable for being one of the oldest buildings in the city as well as the residence of Peter the Great for a few months of the year. These days it houses a museum with some of Peter the Great’s personal belongings and furniture plus some stuff that was simply made in the era when he lived. Also on the grounds are the 1826 Coffee House, designed by Carlo Rossi, and the 1827 Tea House, designed by Ludwig Charlemagne, where you can still imbibe on refreshing beverages today.
Directions: The Summer Gardens have an idyllic location bordered by the Moika, Fontanka and Neva Rivers on three sides and the Lebyazhei Canal on the fourth.
The sublime neoclassical Mikhailovsky Palace was erected between 1819-25 as a residence for the
Grand Duke Mikhail, brother of Alexander I. Carlo Rossi’s magnificent design wasn’t limited to the palace itself, but also included the reshaping of the square in front and the gardens behind the palace. This allowed for unblemished views of the marvelous palace, turning it into a prominent part of the city center. Today Arts Square in front of Mikhailovsky Palace is a picturesque area just away from the bustle of Nevsky Prospekt and a popular meeting place for youth. A famous statue of poet Alexander Pushkin by sculptor Mikhail Anikushin stands in the center of the square. Since 1895 the Mikhailovsky Palace has functioned as the main building of the Russian Museum, a repository of Russian art that rivals Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery.
Directions: Inzhenernaya Ulitsa, #4/2, metro Nevsky Prospekt. Website: www.rusmuseum.ru.
Mikhailovsky Castle (St Michael’s Castle).
An intriguing building both historically and architecturally, the Mikhailovsky (or Engineers) Castle was built from 1796-1800 by the orders of the ill-fated Tsar Paul I. The son of Catherine the Great, Paul’s reign was a
brief one. He commissioned the castle almost immediately after the death of his strong mother handed him the reins of Russia. Disliked by the nobility and the royal guards, Paul was paranoid about being asassinated, so much so that he was afraid to stay in the Winter Palace. The Mikhailovsky Castle was meant to be his personal fortress, a menacing structure surrounded on all sides by water – the Moika River, Fontanka River and two specially dug canals. But ‘twas all in vain. Just over a month after Paul took up residence in his armored abode he was murdered in his bedroom, in a plot conceived by his own son, Alexander. No more royals lived in the fortress and in 1819 it was given to the Main Engineering School. These days it serves as a branch of the Russian Museum. Designed by architects Vincenzo Brenna and Vasily Bazhenov, the Mikhailovsky Castle is most notable for employing a different style on each of the four facades, from Italian Renaissance to Gothic.
Directions: Sadvaya Ulitsa, #2.
The Smolny is a truly beautiful baroque blue-and-white cathedral, which will captivate from up close or catch your eye from out on the Neva. A good distance away from the heart of St Petersburg, the Smolny Cathedral was built as the centerpiece of a convent. Erected on the site of a former tar yard between 1748-64, it is one of the greatest works of Bartolomeo Rastrelli (architect of the Winter Palace). Standing at a staggering 94 meters, the church is truly an amazing sight. However, from the outbreak of the Seven Year War with Prussia funding dried up and the Smolny ensemble was put on hold. Rastrelli’s greater plans for the complex, including a 140 meter high bell tower, were never realized. And it wasn’t until 1835 that the interior of the Smolny Cathedral itself was finally finished and the church was consecrated. Today, the church is mainly used for concerts and the surrounding convent buildings, also gorgeously garlanded in blue-and-white baroque, are used as government offices. After a recent refurbishment the entire complex is positively gleaming.
Directions: Located on Rastrelli Square, the Smolny Ensemble takes up a sizable slice of land along the banks of the Neva. The nearest metro is Chernyshevskaya. From there it’s a fair walk up Prospekt Chernyshevskogo and right along Shpalernaya Ulitsa to the Cathedral. But well worth the effort.
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