Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

rooms and a kitchen. The room in which Peter dined and slept is now a chapel. Here zealous

a devotees gather to salute the miraculous image of the Saviour which accompanied Peter in all his battles, and aided him at Poltava, when the hitherto victorious star of Charles XII. went down in disaster and disgrace. Numerous relics of the great Czar are exhibited in this humble abode, which is scrupulously preserved. Close by stands a wooden church, founded by Peter in 1703—the oldest sacred edifice in the capital. In it is a bell brought from Abo, in Finland, in 1713, and also many interesting small objects connected with, or made by, Peter the Great.

The city of St. Petersburg is rich in monuments erected to the glory of its sovereigns and its great generals. Of these, the most celebrated is the equestrian statue of Peter the Great on the shores of the Neva, opposite St. Isaac's Cathedral. It was erected by Catherine II., and is the work of Etienne Maurice Falconet, one of the cleverest sculptors of France in the eighteenth century. The head, however, which is considered a striking likeness of the Czar Peter, was modelled by Marie Callot, who afterwards became Falconet's wife. The whole bronze group was produced at a single casting, but nevertheless, the preparation and completion of the monument represent the patient labour of seventeen years. The Emperor, in Roman costume, sits erect, with head well raised, gazing across the river, and with his right arm stretched out, “in such a way,” says M. le Maistre, “that it is difficult to say whether it is an attitude of menace or protection.” The horse, reined back upon the edge of a precipice, prances in the air. Beneath its hind feet it tramples a serpent, emblematic of the difficulties overcome by Peter's resolute will. The hind legs and tail of the horse, and the serpent, form a solid basis, containing 10,000 pounds of metal; the group in all weighs sixteen tons, but by skilfully varying and adjusting the thickness of the metal from a quarter of an inch to an inch, the centre of gravity has been thrown back so far as to securely balance the whole group.

The pedestal is an enormous block of granite, weighing 1,500 tons. This stupendous mass of rock was discovered by Falconet in a morass near Lakhta, about four miles from St. Petersburg. According to one tradition, Peter the Great had once stood upon it to watch a naval victory over the Swedes. The morass was drained, and a road cut through the forest and carried over the marshy ground. Along this road, under the arrangement of Count Carburi, the Police Master of St. Petersburg, the rock was transported to the city. Five hundred men and a large number of horses were engaged for five weeks in hauling the vast mass over cannon-balls rolling in an iron tramway, with the aid of ropes, pulleys, and windlasses. The rock originally measured 45 feet in length by 30 feet in height and 25 feet in width, but it was damaged and reduced in the course of preparation for the site it was destined to occupy. It now measures 43 feet in length, 14 feet in height, and 20 feet in width. The height of the statue is nearly 18 feet. The entire cost of the monument was 500,000 silver roubles, or £80,000, an immense sum for those days, and equal to a vast deal more at the present day.

In the open space near the Winter Palace stands the triumphal column to Alexander I., the “Restorer of Peace,” raised by the Emperor Nicholas in 1832. The shaft is a single block of red granite 81 feet in height, exclusive of pedestal and capital—the largest monolith erected in modern times. It is the work of M. Montferrand, the architect

[ocr errors]
[graphic][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

St. Petersburg.)

FOUNDATION OF THE CITY.

227

other part of the empire was forbidden whilst the new capital was in progress. To assist in keeping up the supply of building materials, no vessel, large or small, was permitted to sail

up the Neva, and no peasant's cart to enter the city, without bringing a specified quantity of building stones. After Peter's death, Catherine I. continued the work, though less vigorously. Peter II. preferred Moscow, and resided there till his death. The Empress Ann did much to adorn St. Petersburg, which henceforth became the settled residence of the Court. Various edifices and monuments have been since erected by successive monarchs. The Empress Catherine lined the left bank of the Neva with a granite quay, which has not, however, prevented several serious inundations since that time. As the result of so much imperial energy, and so much toil and suffering on the part of the wretched labourers, a vast and beautiful city has replaced the dreary marshes amidst which Peter dwelt and planned his future capital. But its maintenance, like its foundation, is a constant struggle with nature. It rests upon a substructure of piles, without which it would sink deep into the marshes below. All large buildings, the granite quays, the very foot-pavements, rest on piles. The district produces nothing except fish from the Neva, and for six months in the year the harbour is inaccessible. The winter is so severe that it is only by the assiduous labour of a host of workmen that the city can be annually restored, in readiness for summer visitors. Half a century of neglect would insure for St. Petersburg its complete destruction.

But the city is also liable to sudden dangers, that may at any time overthrow it. When westerly winds roll back the waters of the Gulf of Finland, the lower parts of St. Petersburg are submerged. Then alarm-guns are fired-with increasing frequency

the water rises—and the dwellers in the low districts are rescued in boats, and carried elsewhere till their dwellings can be again approached. In spring, when for a fortnight the Neva is flooded with the accumulated water and broken ice pouring down from Lake Ladoga, the occurrence of a westerly Wind for twelve hours would produce results indescribably disastrous.

One of the most destructive inundations to which the city has been subjected occurred in November, 1824, when 15,000 lives were lost, and property destroyed to the amount of £1,000,000. It is said that Peter the Great was aware of the liability of the site to floods, but that he nevertheless persisted in his enterprise. Whilst the first piles were being driven into the soil, he happened to notice a tree conspicuously marked at a certain height from the ground. He called a Finnish peasant, and asked him what the mark signified. The man said it was the height to which the waters had risen in 1680. “It is a lie !” cried the angry Czar; "the thing is impossible !” With bis own hand he cut down the tree that dared to foreshadow an obstacle to the attainment of his wishes.

St. Petersburg, as approached from the Neva, presents a most imposing aggregate of gilded domes, tall spires, and immense palaces and other public buildings. All is vast, and arranged on a plan so gigantic that even the loftiest buildings seem dwarfed. The immense edifices side by side become monotonous for want of grouping and variety. The most important part of the city is the southern portion ; here are the principal buildings and finest streets; the Court, the nobility, and half the population reside

as

man.

Finnish granite, and in high relief around the pedestal are the figures of celebrated personages whose names are linked in history with that of the great Empress.

St. Petersburg contains, of course, the usual buildings connected with the Government departments and civic institutions. The different ministries are accommodated in an immense edifice, and there is a fine palace for the Senate. The Admiralty is a vast parallelogram of brick, with contiguous accommodation for the construction at one time of several ships of war, and thence launching them into the Neva. It is surmounted by a light and graceful tower, from which a splendid view of the city and river can be obtained. The building is to a considerable extent occupied by schoolrooms for the cadets, but there are also a Naval Museum, a Museum of Natural History, and a Library. The Naval Museum contains a varied collection of naval models, including an array of Russian iron-clads; there are also life-size models of Russian sailors at different periods. There are several other technical and scientific museums in St. Petersburg, that do not require further notice here, excepting only the Artillery Museum and the Museum of Imperial Carriages.

The Artillery Museum is in the new Arsenal, and contains a grand collection of all sorts of curiosities in addition to the objects specially appertaining to it. Here is the horse (stuffed) on which Catherine II. rode in June, 1762, when she came to take possession of her throne. On this horse the great Empress rode astride like a Here is the stool on which Stenka Razil, the renowned bandit chief of the Caspian, used to sit and deliver judgment, and execute his decrees, without rising, by means of eight pistols stuck round the stool. Surrounded by his Don Cossacks, he set the Russian power for a time at defiance, but was ultimately captured and beheaded. A stone sun-dial from Adrianople, the clothes and ornaments of Frederick the Great, captured in the Thirty Years' War, Peter the Great's hat, and an immense collection of weapons of war and ordnance, with an endless array of relics and curiosities render this museum a place of intense interest.

To one group of objects a word or two must be devoted. In an alcove hangs the huge standard of the Strelitz troops, formed of pieces of silk sewn together and covered with symbolical pictures. Other banners and accoutrements of this famous corps lie around. The Strelitz were the Imperial Guard of Russia ; and when Peter the Great was introducing foreign dress and foreign customs into the country, they fomented popular discontent and opposed the new order of things. Not content with passive resistance, the Strelitz planned active measures. A number of them conspired to assassinate the Czar, and burn his new capital off the face of the earth. Peter heard of it, and surprised the conspirators. He had the culprits racked, and then, whilst under the torture, their limbs were slowly cut away one after another, and not till after long-protracted agonies were their lives finally extinguished. The Russians shuddered with horror at this cruelty, and Peter for a time left the country. In his absence there were fresh troubles. The Strelitz, influenced by the priests, were indignant at Peter's foreign alliances, and refused to repair to the Polish frontiers as ordered. Peter had been prosecuting his studies in the dockyards of Zaandam and Deptford, he had left the Scottish General (Gordon) in command of 12,000 disciplined troops, principally Frenchmen, and all

Α.

« PreviousContinue »