A June 2000 trip
to St. Petersburg by Danner
Quote: A Journey Around The Former Communist Centre Of The World, The Place Where It All Started. A City Of Contrasts, Extreme Beauty And Extreme Reality.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on January 21, 2002
Lermontovskiy pr. 43/1
St. Petersburg, Russia
As we walked along the Nevsky Prospect, the city’s central ‘vein’, the city was beginning to wake up and the cultural differences were beginning to show themselves. One contrasting scene that made for 'artistic' photography, was down a side street. There was this pale blue and white, clean church set right in the middle of these disused and rundown housing blocks with piles of debris and rubbish outside. It was either a visual metaphor for the church being an oasis in the desert of poverty, or a visual metaphor of how wealthy the church and how far removed from the people in poverty it has become.
Just off the prospect is 'The Church of The Bleeding Saviour', one of the places I wanted to see. Now to clarify, this church is not like a 'normal' church, this one is similar to the Kremlin. The church looks like an ice cream decorated with hundreds and thousands. It has gold plated,(signifying that it is Russian Orthodox) swirly domes at the top of its towers, this was enough to invoke awe, but a closer look at the exterior walls and you'll see that it's made up of square mosaics, like someone's vinyl collection with each cover being a story from the bible, there were at least 250 of these, placed next to the gold drapes and outlines it was a truly beautiful sight. The church was built upon the site where the Tsar Alexander II 'the liberator' was assassinated in 1881, which makes it all the more amazing given that it is only 120 years old. The interior makes this unbelievable as the entire inside is covered with different mosaics of different saints, disciples, and of course, Jesus. In the centre of the church there is a memorial to Alexander, I stood quietly, looked at his face and thought a little bit about the history.
Across the River Neva is the Peter And Paul Fortress. The main attraction of the fotress is the cathedral, whose spire shines with gold across to the main centre but it is only covered on one side, the side facing the city, to show the Tsar's people the wealth they had. Inside the cathedral the Tsars and their families eternally rest, gathered together in family groups. It was amazing at first to think the bones are inside the marble cases and so I went off to look for the 'famous' tsars only to find that the writing is, of course, in Russian so I didn't know who was who, so I just took pictures of them all. Peter The Great was obvious by the bust on the top of the coffin. Nicholas II, the last Tsars was there, he arrived in 1998 after the discovery of the bones outside of St. Petersburg at the place of execution, but I also think there was some politics associated with his transportation.
Walking back towards the centre we went via St Isaak’s Cathedral which has an amazing view at the top, well worth a look. We headed towards the Winter Palace and Palace Square. I was more interested in the Square and disappeared to take pictures of the place where the Marxist ideals were first applied in practice. I was definitely not bowing to any pressure to keep moving. I was going to stand and think about what happened in 1917. The Bolsheviks entered through the archway and gathered outside the Palace, which was home to the provisional government after the February Revolution in which the Tsar's dynasty had ended. The battleship 'Aurora' fired an empty shell over the palace which both scared the government and signalled the Bolsheviks to storm the palace. I could almost hear the shouting and the organised chaos of that day in October 1917. The square was also where Catherine II (the Great) was crowned Tsarina. The centre point is the Alexander Monument, a tall column created by De Monterrand again, to celebrate Russia's defeat of Napoleon in 1812. There is an angel carrying a cross at the top, it faces the palace and maybe if it had been facing the arch the Bolsheviks may not have succeeded, with it facing the palace it is symbolically supporting the actions of the revolution. However, I was slightly disappointed that the historical square was now home to beer tents and ice cream stalls but I suppose that is 'progress'. I had my 5 minutes of reflection time, whilst the others hurried to get inside the Winter Palace.
On the second day I set off by myself to investigate and explore the city by myself. I made for the Lenin Statue on the Fortress side of the River Neva. When I got there I sat underneath his outstretched arm and smoked a proletariat cigarette and then photographed it and paid my respect to the man with the right ideas which Stalin messed up.
While having a cigarette and a rest, I noticed that it's maybe not so much that there are a lot of immigrants in St. Petersburg, but rather that Russia is so big that it contains many different races of people, the Turkish Quarter may well have been the refugees from the Russian regions near to the Middle East. I reflected upon the past two days, I had seen just about everything, including a statue of the writer, Pushkin, who died in a dual with a French officer who was cracking onto his ballet dancer wife, Natalaya. One of my friends had commented on how I take a lot of photographs of statues but to me they're not just statues, they're living history and proof that these things happened and that these people were alive. Being here now, in this city is being in history. The history comes alive through the memorials, the buildings and the statues. The statues are the people who made history and changed the world, they're not just bronze or metal structures they're real, living history.
Its sad that for a city so steeped in wealth and history there are many forgotten people, gypsies, beggars, people with no legs and wheelchairs, and people with just no legs. It's so shocking and sad but maybe this is the history of these people and now they have progressed from the serfs and poverty to city dwellers and poverty. This was no more apparent than when we got on the bus that would take us back to the 'western world'. While my friends were sorting their bags out, a man on crutches was begging for money, pleading with us "please give me money, no one cares about me, no one looks after me." I wondered just how much truth was in that statement. The truth is that Russia has too many people and not enough money, I wonder how the country would have been had Stalin not messed with the ideas and plans of Lenin and Trotsky.
While my friends were filling in the customs form all I wanted to do was to say goodbye to the history, to this city, I think I'd become more attached to it because I knew its past and I'd spent more time amongst its baroque and neo-classical buildings, I'd soaked up the atmosphere and mingled with its people, I was an historian not a tourist.
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