Historical Landmarks

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The Botanic Garden was established in the early 18th century, when Peter the Great ordered that an island near St. Petersburg be made into a garden and planted with medicinal herbs. The order was quickly carried out and the garden was given the name “Apothecary”. With time the collection of plants continued to grow and along with the medical part of the garden, a botanic section with “curious and foreign plants” was set up. Later scientists began serious work here: they organised regular expeditions, published catalogues of the plants, created and classified collections of seeds, built greenhouses for heat-loving vegetables and fruits and all kinds of exotic plants. 

Today a walk around the Botanic Garden is one of the most pleasant opportunities in St. Petersburg to be alone. Each year thousands of people come to see the annual attraction: the blooming of the Queen of the Night. This tropical cactus only blooms once a year, at night, and only for a few hours. Usually this happens in June. A week before the blooming, the news reports on the Queen of the Night’s flower buds are published daily by St. Petersburg’s news agencies. On the day that the cactus blooms, there is a huge line at the gates of the Botanic Garden and its doors stay open until 2 am.

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The residents of St. Petersburg are no less proud of their Zenit FC than they are of the Hermitage or the local delicacy koryushka fish; a game at Petrovsky Stadium is no less important than the Mariinsky Theatre ballet or half a dozen doughnuts at Pushechnaya/Doughnut shop at Malaya Konyushennaya Street. During the game the city quiets down, awaiting the final whistle. If Zenit wins, the city erupts in car honks, hoots and cries of happiness. If the team loses, the city is in mourning and everyone suffers a personal tragedy. On days of no games or practices the stadium is open for tours and the visitors get to see the commentary booth, team rooms and the tunnel that the players take to get to the field. You will also be told a detailed story of the club and the stadium, both of which appeared in 1925.

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The only thing left of Peter the Great’s times is the triumphal arch also known as Petrovsky Gate, a powerful stone structure with a width of 22 metres (68 ft). Beyond the gate is a whole town that has now been turned into a collection of small museums. 

The Commandant’s House today hosts the exhibition dedicated to the city’s history from its founding to 1918; the scale models of streets and houses carefully reproduce the everyday life of St. Petersburg and Petrograd, some of the clothes can be tried on, and the menu of pre-revolutionary restaurants can be copied to your notebook. 

At the Printshop you can visit a masterclass and learn how to make a monotype or an etching. The observation deck at Gosudarev (Tsar) Bastion is the best way to watch the loading of a cannon at Naryshkin Bastion. Every day at noon the cannon fires a blank shot. In the souvenir shop of the operating Mint you can buy wallets that look like paper money and rings made out of coins. 

People play the Russian game of gorodki next to the Alexeevsky Ravelin and you can have a picnic at the beach looking out at the Palace Embankment. Next to the Nikolskaya Curtain Wall is a helicopter pad and on weekends and public holidays helicopters take people for a short, but impressive spin over the city. 

The museum is open from Thursday to Tuesday.

Before Thomas de Thomon was given the task of transforming this part of the Vasilievsky Island, it  was a commercial port. With time the number of ships became too great, the piers were moved to Kronstadt and Gutuevsky islands, and Thomas de Thomon began to improve and refine the territory. The architect decided that everything will be symmetrical. The builders created a perfect semi-round cape at the junction of the Bolshaya and Malaya Neva rivers.

Across from the cape the architect built a stately Stock Exchange that reminds one of a Greek temple. After the war it housed the Navy Museum. About ten years ago there were suggestions to open a stock exchange on the premises, but finally the building was given to the Hermitage Museum. In several years it will open its doors as the Museum of the Russian Guard Corps and Heraldry. Between the cape and the Stock Exchange are the huge Rostral Columns. They are decorated not only with the bows of vanquished enemy ships, but also with allegoric figures of the important Russian rivers Volga, Dnieper, Volkhov and Neva. Back in the time the Rostral Columns served as lighthouses and today torches are sometimes lit inside for the holidays or special celebrations-the sight is very impressive.

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People come to the islands to walk around, have a bite, enjoy themselves and even spend summers. Krestovsky Island has the Divo Island Amusement Park and a full shoreline of restaurants and clubs. Kamenny Island strives to preserve the memories of pre-revolutionary summer life, but few of the new owners have been able to preserve the charm of those times. 

There are no private houses on Elagin Island. In the former imperial residence you will find an interesting collection of interior design items from the 19th and beginning of the 20th century; real costume balls are organised from time to time in its magnificent halls. In the park you will find a boat rental station and a little zoo with a Cameroon goat, Siberian ground-squirrels and a golden pheasant. The alleys are full of squirrels and the visitors who have signed up for a masterclass at Creative Summerhouse, try to sketch the little animals. On the weekends a brass orchestra plays foxtrot, waltzes and rock-n-roll at the dance floor near the Maslyanny meadow and older people dance like no one’s watching.

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The main symbol of St. Petersburg, a monument to Peter the Great at the Senate Square, was erected in 1782 on orders from Catherine the Great who sincerely admired the first Russian emperor. The monument bears witness to this admiration: Peter is presented as a crown-bearing victor, who not only spurred and reared up Russia thus preventing its fall, but also saved the nation from its enemies and the opponents of reforms, symbolised here by the dangerous snake tramped by the emperor.

There are lots of legends regarding this monument and after the publication of Pushkin’s poem everyone began to call it the “Copper Horseman”, even though the horseman and his horse are actually made of bronze. 

This is a unique place: in December 1825, the tragic events that later became known as the “Decembrist Revolt” unfolded here. The principal governing bodies-the Senate and the Holy Synod — were also located on this square. Now their space is taken up by the Constitutional Court and the Presidential Library. Whichever way you look at it, the Senate Square is a symbol of both the revolt and common sense. The Bronze Horseman is a favourite backdrop for wedding photos: the newlyweds drink champagne and break the glasses for good luck. The lawns around the monument are one of the rare places where you can lie on the grass without being reprimanded.

There is no better place for a meditative walk than the cemeteries on both sides of Smolenka River. There are four altogether: Smolenskoye, Lutheran, Armenian, and Voyennoe/Military. 

Smolenskoye Cemetery is one of the city’s oldest. Alexander Pushkin’s nanny Arina Rodionovna was buried here as well as St. Petersburg’s patron saint Blessed Xenia. Every day dozens of people come to her grave and leave handwritten notes asking for help and protection in the small chapel above her grave. In modern times, Smolenskoye Cemetery became the final resting place for many creative people such as film director Alexei Balabanov, artist Timur Novikov and writer Viktor Konetsky. 

The very beautiful Lutheran Cemetery has been closed for burials and declared a landscape architecture landmark. The Military Cemetery is officially called the “Island of Decembrists”. At the Armenian Cemetery you will find the tiny Church of the Hall Sun that was designed by the creator of the Summer Garden’s cast-iron railing Yuri Felten. 

There are lots of antique and second-hand stores in St. Petersburg, but you are most likely to find the most amazing treasures for very modest prices at the Udelnaya Platform, where each weekend hundreds of people sell all sorts of treasures from stale cookies to antique Florentine armchairs. You can come away with a full costume of a 1970s American hippy or a Silver Age diva; you can buy everything you need to decorate your apartment in the style of an academic summerhouse with Dresden china, lace tablecloths from Brussels and pre-war books. Vinyl records, bicycles, household detergents from Finland, samovars, Soviet uniforms and oven forks - you can find anything here as long as you have the time and the patience to search and agree on the price with the seller. As with any flea market, the earlier you come, the higher your chances of finding something really worth it.

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Peter the Great envisioned the Summer Garden as a formal park with pathways criss-crossing each other at a right angle and the Italian sculptures of antique gods and heroes. As time went by, the garden kept on continuously changing and evolving.

Peter the Great’s Summer Palace is located in the garden near the Neva River. In the palace you’ll find a unique navigation wind instrument that was made specifically for the emperor by German masters and near the palace is a wonderful monument to the Russian fable writer Ivan Krylov whose characters are portrayed all over the monument’s pedestal. A puppet master and an organ-grinder organise regular performances for children near the monument.

The Peter I's Palace is closed for the restoration.