My Favourite History Place: David Pearse explores St Petersburg


By David Pearse, published 13th May 2013

If you want to understand Russian history from Peter the Great up to at least the 1917 Revolutions, you have to visit St Petersburg. Like Versailles, St Petersburg was built for an absolute monarch, on an unsuitable site, at the cost of many labourers' lives. Unlike Versailles, it was designed to have practical aspects, as a port with a fortress, In fact the SS Peter and Paul Fortress was never attacked. It is, however, a good place to start a visit, not only because it was one of the first important constructions in St Petersburg but also because rising from within its walls is the Cathedral of SS Peter and Paul. Containing the tombs of Peter the Great and his successors (including the recently interred remains of Nicholas II and his family), the Cathedral is topped by a golden spire. This was one way Peter the Great indicated that his plans to westernise included an Orthodox Church that would be more "protestant".

After Peter the Great, perhaps the most famous modern ruler of Russia was Catherine II. Russian by marriage and Empress by virtue of a coup d'etat, Catherine the Great was keen to be associated with Peter and as a tribute commissioned a statue, the Bronze Horseman, erected near the Admiralty looking towards the...

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