All aboard for Russia’s famous maritime museums

Крейсер "Аврора", Санкт-Петербург

Крейсер "Аврора", Санкт-Петербург

Famous ships continue to stand guard well after they have served their time. We showcase five legendary Russian ships that are serving again with distinction, this time as museums.

Aurora, St. Petersburg, 440 miles west of Moscow

Source: Lori/Legion-Media

The famous ‘Aurora’ was among the first armoured cruisers produced in Russia. According to tradition, warships could only be named by the monarch. Tsar Nicholas II chose from 11 options and eventually settled on the name ‘Aurora’. This was the only ship of the Imperial Russian Navy to be renamed after the 1917 Revolution.

The Aurora participated in the 1905 battle of Tsushima, a major naval battle during the Russo-Japanese War. In 1917, one of the ship's guns was fired, leading to the storming of the Winter Palace and the October Revolution, which ushered in the Soviet Union. This July, the Aurora will return to the Petrovskaya Embankment after a two-year renovation. The updated exposition will highlight the ship’s participation in the Russo-Japanese, First and Second World Wars.

St. Nicholas, Krasnoyarsk, 2,600 miles east of Moscow

Source: Lori/Legion-Media

Alexander Sibiryakov, owner of gold mines, factories and company steamships, participated in research expeditions to fulfil his dream of creating a single water route through Siberia. One of the ships he owned was the ‘St. Nicholas’, considered the fastest local boat in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It had 14 first and second-class cabins, with the third class located up on deck.

The St. Nicholas twice hosted some extraordinary passengers. In 1891, on his way back from a trip to Japan, the future Tsar Nicholas II was a passenger. Six years later, in 1897, the steamship took Vladimir Lenin to Shushenskoye, where the future Soviet leader spent three years in exile. After the revolution, the ship was called ‘Red’, ‘Friedrich Engels’ and even ‘Tuba’. The Saint Nicholas has been used as a museum since the 1970s.

Angara, Irkutsk, 3,200 miles east of Moscow

Source: Lori/Legion-Media

The ‘Angara’, the oldest icebreaker in the world, was launched in 1900. It was built in the shipyards of Sir W.G. Armstrong Whitworth & Co Ltd in Newcastle, England by order of the Committee for Construction of the Siberian Railway. At the time it was being built, transportation in Siberia consisted of ferry travel after an icebreaker ship paved the way. The Angara was in use till the early 1960s. In 1990, the ship was moored in a reservoir in the Gulf of Irkutsk. The Irkutsk Regional Museum in 2015 opened a new exhibition onboard that delves into the history of the vessel and of navigation on Lake Baikal.

Vityaz, Kaliningrad, 700 miles west of Moscow

Source: Lori/Legion-Media

The ship has changed its name four times in its lifetime. It was initially called ‘Mars’, but after World War II, it moved from Great Britain to the USSR. Finally, in 1949, it assumed its final name, ‘Vityaz’ (Hero). It conducted research work in the Okhotsk, Black and Japanese seas and the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. Notably, the maximum depth of the Mariana Trench was actually measured from the side of the ship.

In 1994, the ship made its final journey to the embankment of Peter the Great in Kaliningrad, where it was turned into a museum depicting the history of navigation and geographic discoveries with a separate exhibit devoted to amber.

Krasin, St. Petersburg

Source: Lori/Legion-Media

Another icebreaker called the Svyatogor was built for the Russian Navy at the shipyard of Sir W. G. Armstrong Whitworth & Co Ltd. in England. It was committed in the fall of 1917 to the Arctic Ocean fleet, but, after a few years, the ship was captured by British forces. When the Soviet government sought to buy the icebreaker back from the UK, Leonid Krasin, the Plenipotentiary Trade Representative of the USSR, was in charge of the negotiations. Subsequently, the ship was renamed in his honour.

In the late 1920s, the ‘Krasin’ rescued members of the expedition of the Italian Arctic explorer Umberto Nobile, whose airship Italia had crashed in the Arctic. The icebreaker in the 1990s became a museum that is now docked at the Lieutenant Schmidt Embankment in St. Petersburg.

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