View from the bridge: the sights of the picture-postcard waterfront area include the splendid St Isaac’s Cathedral, above. Source: PhotoXPress
Peter the Great was a bit of a copycat when he built St Petersburg back in 1703. He brought the concept of a whole new city from Italy, and replicated other aspects of Europe, such as the Dutch fleet and French architecture. He wanted foreigners arriving on ships from all over the world to be struck immediately by the grandeur and beauty of his new imperial capital, which is why the waterfront is the city’s face.
Often referred to as the “Venice of the North”, St Petersburg consists of a network of canals surrounding 101 islands, just 16 fewer than Venice. “A ride along the rivers and canals is a must for every visitor to St Petersburg”, says travel agency head Yana Khrustovskaya. “Our tourists are amazed at the harmonious and magnificent view of the city from the water.”
At night, the interplay of light and shadow emphasises St Petersburg’s impressive architecture. If you take a boat to the middle of the Neva River at about 2am, you can watch the world-famous sight of the drawbridges being raised to let through the huge liners that cruise here every summer night.
Source: Lori/Legion Media, FocusPictures, Alamy/Legion Media
A bookworm’s route
The name of
writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky is inseparably linked with St Petersburg. Literary scholars say that the
city figures in about two-thirds of Dostoyevsky’s writing – both as the setting
and also as a protagonist. The homes of his characters and places associated
with the writer’s life can be found on city maps, and many travel firms offer
Dostoyevsky-themed tours. “The writer lived here for 28 years and moved apartment 20 times,
which is why so many addresses are linked to his name”, says Valery Fridman,
director of Mir travel agency. Dostoyevsky tours start at his memorial
apartment on Kuznechny Pereulok, where he worked on his last novel, The
Brothers Karamazov .
Another must-see is the
mysterious Mikhailovsky Castle, which used to house the engineering school in which
Dostoyevsky was enrolled in 1838. The castle was built between 1797 and 1800 at
the behest of Emperor Paul, son of Catherine the Great, as a shelter from
conspirators. Ironically, he was assassinated in the castle in 1801.
Semyonovsky Platz is where Dostoyevsky was almost hanged. After he became
acquainted with revolutionaries and joined their secret society, he was
arrested on a tip-off, incarcerated in the Peter and Paul Fortress and
sentenced to death along with other members. On December 22, 1849, he was
brought to this place of public executions, along with 20 other
convicts. “I have told tourists this story countless times, and each time it sends a chill down
my spine”, says Elena Yakovchenko, a guide with the Mir travel agency.
“Three pillars were put up on the square and the conspirators were to be hanged
in seven rounds, three at a time. Dostoyevsky, was in the second three, and
while waiting his turn, a messenger arrived with a new sentence: death by
hanging was commuted to four years’ hard labour.”
After serving his term, Dostoyevsky lived in Moscow
for a while before returning to St
Petersburg and settling on Stolyarny Pereulok, where
he wrote his most famous novel, Crime and Punishment .
In summer, a
tour of St Petersburg’s
rooftops offers magnificent views of the landscape and the monuments, but
you’ll need a sensible pair of shoes. You can scale at least four roofs on a
three-hour excursion in the historic heart of the city and get a different
perspective from each one.
From the six-storey building on the quay of the Fontanka River,
opposite the Circus, you overlook a junction where, in the evening, the winding
car headlights undulate and interweave with the riverboat lights. This
synchronised dance is hypnotic.
Near Mokhovaya Street the landscape is quite different. On the horizon, the illuminated domes of Kazan and Saint Isaac’s Cathedrals and the Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood, plus the spire of the Admiralty are all aligned, like golden balls set along the tops of the roofs.
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