St. Petersburg and the Hermitage
Saturday July 19, 2008
Welcome to St. Petersburg, Russia
Founded by Peter the Great in 1703, it was first known as Saint Petersburg, later changed to Petrograd (1914-1924) and the n to Leningrad from 1927-1991. St Petersburg is the second largest city in Russia (Moscow being the first). It was actually the capital of the Russian Empire from 1712 – 1918. Today the city is an important seaport, cultural and industrial center. Located on the delta of the Neva River it lies about 100 miles from the Finish border. Because the site of the city is on a low marsh land, an area prone to flooding, canals were built to assist in drainage. St Petersburg foremost industries include production of armaments, electrical and power machinery, and ship building. It is also the largest port in Russia with major import/export traffic in commercial and industrial products.
We arrived at our berth at Sea Terminal, the industrial/cargo handling area of the port under hazy morning skies, with the full moon setting over the area of the Peterhof Imperial Palace, and the sun rising in the Northeastern sky. We had a good weather forecast for our visit and it proved to be another exceptional day in all respects.
Our home of the seas was soon docked and passengers were going ashore by 8 AM. Two very large cruise ships were also docked aft of the Rotterdam: the Carnival Splendor and the HAL Eurodam. Both vessels were very impressive. As our passengers disembarked, a six piece Russian Band began playing very professional and rousing music selections; one of which was the “Cornel Bogey’s March”. It was a very warm welcome indeed, quite different from when we visited Russia last September. Since our tour was not going to start for another couple of hours, we passed the time having breakfast in the Lido and watching the various harbor traffic pass by on the very narrow channel on our port side.
When we departed for our visit to the Hermitage, our transit through the customs station was swift and uneventful, and all business – no joking or high fives here. Soon we boarded our busses and headed out for our four hour visit to the Winter Palace, the winter residence of the Russian Tzars, as well as four other interconnected museum buildings. We were a bit dismayed as our bus approached the main entrance to the museum, with its mass of tours waiting to be admitted, however thanks to Alan’s thoughtful research and planning, we scooted in “through the back door” in no time at all.
This complex of structures was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great as a private court museum; it has evolved into the most remarkable collection of art in the world, containing more than 3 million objects of unparalleled importance. Our guided tour (by a very competent Marina) included the State Rooms, and a collection of Western European art featuring Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck (to name but a few) and also many French Impressionists. Our tour ended in Palace Square with its 156 foot high column erected as a monument to the Russian victory over Napoleon, by then we were suffering “sensory” overload. This complete collection of priceless art can be viewed on the Internet at the Hermitage Web Site at http://www.hermitagemuseum.org/html_En/index.html The intricate workmanship in each of the countless rooms was overwhelming. Even though we “surfed” the rooms and narrow doorways with a mass of other tour groups, the overall experience was not diminished.
Before returning to the ship we made one final 30 minute stop at the Church of The Spilled Blood, which was built on the site of the assassination one of the Tsars . This is a beautiful church spired with the famous Russian Onion Domes. On our way we drove by the Neva River and were treated to views of St. Petersburg’s architecture which is a uniquely unified blend of French, Italian, and Georgian styles, and the unmistakably Russian character reflected in Byzantine domes that adorn various monuments.
On our return to the ship we had just enough time for “recharging” nap/rest, enjoyed our dinner and departed once again for a three and one half hour St. Petersburg Evening Folklore show. We were treated to over two hours of Russian folk music and dancing in the concert hall at the Anichkrf Palace Grounds. This folkloric performance featured traditional music and dance drawn from Russia’s many regions, and was brought to us by one of the best internationally acknowledged professional Russian ensembles. The dance and songs were mixtures of traditional music and dances done in villages and cities, in ceremonial situations, combined with classical movement forms such as ballet and modern dance. The program included the famous Cossack dances as well. During intermission we were treated to complimentary glasses of Russian wine, champagne, vodka and hors d’ouvres. I was still tired from our previous tour and managed to nod off from time to time, only to be awakened by the loud clapping and whistling at the end of each performance. I really did not miss that much and certainly enjoyed the parts that I was awake for.
Tomorrow, 8 hours at the Peterhof Imperial Palaces and Villas.