Founded by Peter the Great, ruler of the Tsardom of Russia from 1682 to 1721; Saint Petersburg’s history is intertwined with that of Russia’s Tsars. The impact of Peter the Great, and the other Tsars who ruled from Saint Petersburg, can still be keenly felt in the city to this day, having shaped the architecture, culture and atmosphere of Russia’s former capital.
Saint Petersburg was designed and built as a new force and face of Russia, westwards facing and influenced by the cities of western Europe such as Manchester, Leipzig, Dresden and Vienna. This was an intentional move by Peter the Great to recreate the most successful medieval and renaissance cities of Europe, and give Russia a cultural shot in the arm.
Founded in 1703, Saint Petersburg was grandiosely designed as the beautiful, powerful and ornate face of Russia. And with much of the city painstakingly restored over the past 300 years, much of Saint Petersburg’s intrigue remains in its history. A tour through Saint Petersburg can provide an insight into the lives, passions and aims of the Tsars who turned a small tribal settlement into one of the world’s most enigmatic cities.
These are the places to explore the history of the Tsars in Saint Petersburg.
Peter and Paul Fortress
The original citadel around which Saint Petersburg was built, the Peter and Paul Fortress, was established by Peter the Great. From the early 18th century, the fortress was the base of the city’s forces as well as a prison for high-ranking prisoners and enemies of the state. A key component of Saint Petersburg’s development, the Peter and Paul Fortress was the west-facing focal point of the new city and the Tsarist regime.
Although the island has been decommissioned, it still provides an insight into the development of Saint Petersburg. One of the central and most important parts of the State Museum of Saint Petersburg History, the site possesses an abundance of relics chronicling the Tsarist past of the city.
The home of Russian monarchs from 1732 to 1917, the Winter Palace has felt the footsteps of Tsars more keenly than anywhere else on the planet. Sat overlooking the Palace Square, the massive palace was, during the Tsarist regime, perhaps, the most powerful building in the world. From the palace’s decadent rooms, the Tsar ruled over roughly 1/6 of the Earth’s landmass, and well over 125 million people.
The extravagant Rococo style of the building exuded the power and wealth of the ruling Tsars, intimidating and impressing opposing forces in equal measure. Like many of the major buildings central to the Tsarist regime, the Winter Palace is now an integral part of the Hermitage Museum, providing an insight into old Russian life for the modern visitor.
Saint Isaac’s Cathedral
The largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in the city, Saint Isaac’s Cathedral was commissioned by Tsar Alexander I and named for Saint Isaac of Dalmatia, the Patron Saint of Peter the Great. Built in a Late Neoclassical rendering of a Byzantine Greek-cross church by French-born architect, Auguste de Montferrand, the church’s heritage hints at a city looking to immerse itself into the rest of Europe.
The church’s interior is spectacularly ornate, with extensive murals covering many walls, domes and columns. Still in use today, both as a museum and a place of worship, the cathedral is one of the finest places to experience the grandiose wealth of the Tsarist empire in its full pomp.
Named for Empress Maria Alexandrovna, wife of Tsar Alexander II; the Mariinsky Theatre is the 150-year-old home of opera and ballet in Saint Petersburg. As the home of many of the world’s leading ballet performers, the Mariinsky Theatre continues to showcase revered talents from Russia and further afield.
With the Tsarist regime at its peak, premieres of masterpieces by Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov were performed at the Mariinsky Theatre, putting Saint Petersburg at the forefront of opera and ballet. The theatre is still open today, providing guests with the same incredible cultural experiences of Tsarist Russia.
Church of the Savior on Blood
A memorial to Tsar Alexander II, the Church of the Saviour on Blood was built to surround the site where the beloved former leader of Russia was killed by a conspirator with a bomb. Built by his son and heir, Alexander III; the church started life as a temporary shrine before funds were collected to build the cathedral.
Completed in 1907, the church is one of the most unique and recognisable sites in Saint Petersburg, with amazing Baroque and Neoclassical designs complete with an amazingly ornate and colourful façade. Intricate mosaics cover almost all of the interior walls and ceiling, offering amazing religious scenes.
Hugely popular with visitors, the Church of the Saviour on Blood is immediately recognisable, and one of Saint Petersburg’s proudest landmarks.
If you are interested in tracing the steps of the Tsars, Cruise1st UK have a great selection of cruises visiting Saint Petersburg as part of a Russian or Baltic cruise. For a full selection, click here, or call our friendly sales team on 0808 2746 777.