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St-Petersburg: 19th Century

In the nineteenth century St Petersburg spread along the banks of the Neva “as a marvellous monument to the victory gained by the man of genius over nature.” Turned into the capital of Russia and being its main port now, it was quickly developing and getting rich. St Petersburg could boast a brilliant galaxy of talented architects in any period and never had a shortage of cheap manpower. Therefore nothing could prevent the Russian Emperors from endowing their northern capital with a befitting air of majesty and glitter.

Franz von Kruger. Portrait of Emperor Nocolas I. 1850s

Nicolas I

The first decades of the nineteenth century saw the emergence in St Petersburg of immense architectural ensembles on a scale that was unparalleled elsewhere in the world. The marvellous architectural complex of the Spit of Vasilyevsky Island was created, a major reconstruction of the Admiralty was undertaken and the Kazan Cathedral was put up on Nevsky Prospekt, the main thoroughfare of St Petersburg, enriching it with a new square. But the most impressive new landmark was the breathtaking ensemble of the three large squares – Palace, St Isaac’s and Decembrists’ (former Peter’s and Senate) Squares.
The focus of this ensemble became the new building of the Admiralty with its facade stretching for 415 metres. The tall golden spire soaring over its tower was crowned with a weather-vane in the form of ship, a decorative feature that turned into a symbol of the whole city. Moreover, large-scale construction was under way not only within the city – a whole “necklace” of suburban palaces and summer residences was created around the capital by Peter the Great. Over the time they turned into brilliant imperial residences and now gladden present-day visitors as fascinating
open-air museums. Many of these projects were carried out by Carlo Rossi, the favourite architect of Nicholas I.

Vasily Sadovnikov. The Anichkov Bridge. 1840s

The Anichkov Bridge
Saint-Petersburg, the busy capital of a huge empire, a residence of the imperial court and military garrison, a city of officials and clerks, was thriving. But in the three decades of the austere reign of Nicholas I (1825-55), who was obsessed by a passion for order, the city acquired some resemblance to military barracks в it became, In the words of the poet Piotr Viazemsky, “slender, regular, aligned, symmetrical, single-coloured…”
The inhabitants of the capital were afraid that under the new emperor, Alexander II, things would be going even worse, but the new rule turned out to be the time of “thaw”. The main event of Alexander’s reign, and probably of the whole history of Russia, became the Tsar’s Manifesto of 19 February 1861 that declared the abolishment of serfdom. The reform changed the situation in the city: throngs of peasants rushed to the capital to earn their living. The new residents settled on the outskirts of the city where factories and plants were being hastily built. A large number of
tenement houses were then constructed in the capital and they occupied whole quarters or even streets – they were put up closely one to another leaving inside them the “wells” of narrow courtyards.

Yegor Botman. Formal Portrait of Alexander II. 1875

Alexander II
Classicism with its harmonious clarity and balance, clear-cut rhythm and calculated proportions became out of date, it obviously clashed with the new spirit of practical pursuits that demanded comfort above all. The obsolete style was ousted by Romanticism with its spiritual and emotional thrust and a free choice of artistic means. That was the time of infatuation witlrthe Antiquity and the Middle Ages, there emerged the Neo-Gothic movement, the ornamental trend, folklore architecture and other trends which drew in fact on all preceding styles. Illustrious examples of this
period of eclecticism in architecture are the Nicholas Palace, the Palace of Grand Duke Vladimir Alexeyevich (now the House of Scientists), the Mariinsky Theatre and others, There emerged new types of buildings, such as railway stations, hotels, covered markets, banks, theatres and department stores. Drawbridges spanned the Neva, streets were paved with stone and provided with sideways; at the end of the nineteenth century electric lamps
illuminated streets – in short, the city was improving its appearance.

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