Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Off the Beaten Path

Architecturally Stunning and Historically Significant. Those are four words that I believe encompass the general vibe of St. Petersburg. The city is simply magical when it is feather dusted with light snow, and is even breathtaking during its usual sunless gloom. Personally I think the beauty of this city can be contributed to the windy river canals, buildings that look like they should be the homes of kings, and of course the charming number of churches scattered throughout the metropolis. After living in St. Peter for 2.5 months, I can honestly say that Francesco Rastrelli wins the “My Favorite Architect Award.” Not only did this man design the Tsarist Winter Palace and Catherine’s  Winter Palace, he also is responsible for this little beauty of a church: Smolney Cathedral (bottom left). It used to be a women’s monastery, but now it serves as a concert hall where everyone can admire the blue and white exterior of this magnificent architectural masterpiece. Oh, and here’s another beautiful blue church I recently visited: Sampsonievsky Cathedral. Not a particularly well know Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Sampsonievsky hold the city’s largest bell and tallest iconostasis. I particularly like the black and gold domes that rest atop the church :)
Sampsonievsky Cathderal

Smolney Cathedral

And then there’s St. Isaac’s Cathedral (image to the right). The largest cathedral in St. Petersburg and the second largest cathedral in Russia. I can’t believe it took me this long to actually tour the inside of this stunning architectural marvel, but it did. And the interior is even more spectacular than the exterior. Jade, marble, granite cover ever square inch of this cathedral, and the icons were created from stone mosaics. No wonder it took 40 years to complete. We could even climb to the top of the cathedral for an aerial view of St. Petersburg. I was able to see the actual scope of the “cultural soul of Russia,” and I could even see the winter palace and the Church on Spilled Blood (my two favorite locals in the city) from this height. Man am I thankful that the Soviets didn’t completely destroy some of these churches during their reign. 

The Eternal Flame and Mass Graves 
125 grams of bread- an entire day's worth of food
Historically Significant: History has been in the making eveywhere I turn. I live a block away from the apartment where Dovtoesky wrote one of his most famous novels, Brothers Karzmazov. I attend classes in a unversity that is a 10 minute walk away from the Tsarist winter palace (the place where Bloody Sunday occurred and where the Bolsheviks took control of the country in October 1917 during the coup et-detat that kick started the Soviet Regime). Sometimes I forget that I walk on the same streets where people during WWII waited in lines over 2 hours simply to receive a pitiful ration of bread. St. Petersburg’s history is essential to understanding the nature of the city. To learn more about the Leningrad Blockade, a particularly grim time period in St. Petersburg, some friends and I traveled to the Leningrad Blockade Museum and the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery.  At the museum, I was amazed by the resilience of the Russian people. During the most brutal winter of the Blockade, each person only received 125 grams of bread per day. Schools continued to run and actors died out of starvation on stage while attempting to provide entertainment for those suffering from the war of attrition with Nazi Germany.  It’s hard to believe that less than 25 miles away from the city center, the war between Nazi Germany and Russian forces was being fought for control over the city. At Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery, over one million people were buried in mass graves during the Blockade. A memorial to commemorate the deaths stands by the graves that are only marked with a date, no names. “They defended our city... We will never forget.” When I returned home after my trip to the cemetery, my host mother asked what I did that day. When I told her, I immediately wish I had lied. I thought she was going to start crying. The blockade is still a highly emotionally charged subject for many in the city, demonstrating that St. Petersburg stands true to the message at the memorial.. They have not forgotten, nor do I think they will ever forget the suffering and loss during the WWII. 

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