CATHEDRAL OF SAINT PETER AND PAUL / ROMANOV TOMBS
Petit Futé's opinion on CATHEDRAL OF SAINT PETER AND PAUL / ROMANOV TOMBS
Enclosed in the austere setting of the fortress of the same name, the Peter and Paul Cathedral contrasts the luxuriance of its Baroque lines with the military rigour of the adjoining buildings.
Dominating the citadel - and the whole of St. Petersburg - with its 122.5 m golden spire, it is the masterful expression of Peter I's dreams of grandeur, who laid the foundations but did not see it in its final form: begun in 1712 to replace a modest wooden church built in 1703, its construction by D. Trezzini was not really completed until June 28, 1733. The emperor's favourite architect, inspired by the Nordic Baroque, faithfully obeyed the imperial directives: the building breaks with the canons of Russian religious architecture, replacing the five traditional domes with a dome that crowns the nave; the nave is preceded by a double pediment façade with quadruple volutes and surmounted by the famous spire, which still today makes the cathedral the highest building in the city, as the tsar wanted it to be. Ended by a cross and a weather vane representing an angel, this spire has been resting on a metal frame since the fire of 1830; the little story tells that Nicolas I rewarded the intrepid roofer, Telushkin, by guaranteeing him the right to drink free of charge in all the inns of the empire, a rather poisonous gift!
The interior, which gives the same feeling of elevation, is just as impressive with its triple nave, separated by a double marble colonnade, and its golden panelling running along walls in pastel pink and green tones. The almost Rococo decor is reminiscent of a church in Vienna or Prague, if not for the rich iconostasis by Ivan Zaroudni (1722-1726).
The collegiate church, a veritable necropolis of the Romanov dynasty, houses the tombs of Tsarevich Alexis and the children of Peter the Great, who died while still young, those of Catherine I, Anna Ioannovna, Elizabeth Petrovna, Peter III, Catherine II, Paul I, Alexander I, Nicholas I, Alexander II and Alexander III. Only Peter II and Ivan IV (the Terrible, buried in the Cathedral of the Archangel Michael in the Kremlin) are absent. It was of course Peter the Great who inaugurated the posthumous imperial residence in 1725; his white marble tomb is to the right of the south entrance, a site he himself had chosen. There are a total of 36 white marble tombs, decorated with golden crosses and double-headed eagles for those of the Romanovs who ruled. Manufactured at the Peterhof factory, the funeral monuments of Alexander and his wife Maria Alexandrovna are monoliths of Ural green jasper and pink quartz. The iconostasis, carved and gilded by Moscow masters between 1722 and 1729, is a masterpiece of Russian Baroque.
The October Revolution, which transformed the place into a museum in 1923, put an end to the crypt's funerary vocation. The collapse of the Soviet system, returning the cathedral to worship - only for very solemn liturgies - also reconciled it with the afterlife. Thus the descendant of the Romanovs, Duke Vladimir, who died in April 1992, was buried in the Chapel of the Grand Princes alongside 13 members of the Romanov dynasty, buried before 1917 in this annexed chapel built by the architect D. Grimm in 1887 for members of the imperial family. As for his great uncle, Tsar Nicholas II, and part of his family, Alexandra Fedorovna, his wife, Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana and Anastasia, they were buried here in 1998, 80 years after their assassination in Ekaterinburg on the night of 17-18 July 1918. Their bones, discovered in 1989, were identified in early 1998 after undergoing the infallible DNA test. The remains of Mary and Tsarevich Alexis have not been found. In 2006, the ashes of Empress Maria Fedorovna (1847-1928), wife of Alexander III, were transferred from Denmark.
House of Engineers. If you take the central alley of the fortress, you will see, on the left, the Injenerny (Engineers') house, built in 1748-1749 for the engineers in charge of the maintenance work of the fortress. The Injenerny house now exhibits objects from the 18th to the beginning of the 20th century and their copies as souvenirs. The exhibition begins with plans of the town from the 18th and 19th centuries. Many paintings, lamps, porcelain, and interior reconstructions from the 19th century.
Commander's house. Behind the execution square, the Komendantski house is a light pink building, once inhabited by the fortress commanders, but also housing the chancellery and the court of justice. Of the 32 commanders of the fortress, 19 are buried in the cemetery located in front of the west façade of St. Peter and Paul's Cathedral, including the Scotsman Bruce, a close friend of Peter. In 1917, this commandery served as the headquarters of the city's revolutionary committee. It was converted into community apartments after the Second World War. Today it houses an exhibition on the history of St. Petersburg.
The ground floor mainly retraces the construction of the city, with models and maps. You can also see excerpts from excavations dating back to medieval times that were carried out in the region. A model reproduces the room where the Decembrists and the Petrashevsky circle were questioned and judged, in the presence of Nicholas I, who dictated the sentence.
The first floor is particularly interesting with a series of rooms depicting the daily life of the Russian nobility in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Fashion, first of all, with a host of luxurious outfits and accessories. But also the home, with furniture ranging from simple desks to cars, stoves, kitchens and bathrooms with a host of beauty products from Paris.
The Troubetskoï bastion. The bastion reopened after a period of restoration.
Crossing the square diagonally from the chapel to the Neva River, you come to the Troubetskoy bastion of sad memory. The prison of the Troubetskoy bastion was transformed into a museum in 1924, a museum whose exhibition evokes one of the most terrible political prisons in the country. Built in 1870-1872, the building was converted into a gaol by Alexander II. It soon became the main interrogation and detention centre for hundreds of revolutionaries and overly liberal personalities. Kropotkin, Figner, Ulyanov, Gorky, Trotsky and the ministers of the provisional government were detained there among many others. Tsarevich Alexis, son of Peter I, was sentenced to death.
You visit the gloomy cells of the bastion, but even worse cells exist against the ramparts. The constant dampness and cold made tuberculosis almost inevitable. You will also see the corridor lined to muffle the sounds and prevent prisoners from communicating with each other, and the bath house where each prisoner engaged from time to time in exercises and ablutions.
Boat house (Botny Domik). This small ochre pavilion with porticoes with white columns was built from 1761 to 1766 by the architect Viste. It houses a replica of the small boat of Peter, nicknamed "the grandfather of the Russian navy", on which the young czar was introduced to the subtleties of navigation on the Yaza River near Moscow. The original of this modest boat is on display today in the Naval Museum. In front of the Mendeleevskaya pavilion you can see a Navigation, an allegorical work by the sculptor Ienson (1891). In the small courtyard of the little house, the Bolsheviks shot four grand dukes and a few hostages captured at the beginning of the Great Red Terror on 27 January 1919. They sentenced them to death in retaliation for the murder of Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknicht in Berlin.
The Mint. Facing the cathedral, leaning against the walls of the citadel, stands the yellow and white building of the Mint. It was built at the end of the 18th century by the architect Porteau, in a neoclassical style. Before that, coins were minted in the Naryshkin and Trubetskoy bastions. Its activity began in 1811, and the Mint continued to operate until the end of the Soviet era. Today its activity is limited to commemorative coins and decorations, especially military ones. You can buy replicas in the shop next to the exhibition on the history of coinage. Not very spectacular, this one displays coins from different periods.
The statue of Peter I. The monument of Peter the Great, installed here in June 1991, is the work of Mikhail Shemyakin. The monument does not depict the emperor or the warlord, let alone the reformist statesman, but just a man with his passions and weaknesses, simply sitting in an armchair. The thinning of his silhouette as one climbs from head to toe is perhaps explained by the fact that he could only be seen on his knees... The fact remains that the head was made from an authentic mask of the Tsar (now in the Hermitage), who, although claustrophobic, agreed to stay for hours under layers of plaster... out of simple curiosity.
The Narychkin bastion. An alley, which runs along the wall to the east of the Komendantsk house, leads to the Nevsky gates, the Komendantskaya quay and the Narychkin bastion. The latter is surmounted by an octagonal turret from which a cannon is fired every day at noon. This is a custom inherited from the 18th century, when few people had watches. It is also fired on other occasions: to celebrate the lifting of the blockade of Leningrad on 27 January, or to signal a flood. Fireworks on major national holidays are also fired from this bastion.
The Museum of Astronautics and Rocket Construction. To the left of the Saint-Jean gate, as you leave the fortress, this incongruous little museum proves to be fascinating. Opened in 1973, it retraces the history of the Soviet space program, from Sputnik to the Mir station. It was built here on the site of what was once a rocket research laboratory in the 1930s. You'll see jet engines, Sputnik models, space suits and even the authentic Soyuz 16 spacecraft.
The beach. At the foot of the ramparts, the people of St. Petersburg do not hesitate to bathe, in summer... as in winter! Fishing is also practiced.
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Closed on Wednesdays. 10am-6pm (5pm on Tuesday) and 11am-6pm on Sunday. 750 RUB - single ticket for any complex.
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