In one corner of the Summer Garden stands the little Cottage (see page 130) in which Peter the Great lived while laying the foundation and superintending the progress of his new Capital. Many relics and memorials of him are preserved about St. Petersburg, but this is by far the most interesting. The small sleeping-room is immediately opposite the entrance but neither in it, nor in the other rooms, is door or ceiling high enough for a tall visitor. It is built of logs, painted to resemble bricks. The walls are hung with coarse canvas, whitewashed; the only piece of luxury being round the doors, which are edged with a pennyworth of flowered paper. To preserve this modest mansion from decay a good brick house has been built round it, within which it nestles as dry as a kernel in its shell. In the space between the cottage and its case lies a very appropriate relic of the illustrious apprentice in the dockyards of Saardam — the boat, built by his own hands, in which he rowed about the Neva to his different works.
On one side of the Summer Garden is the Tzarizinskoi Lug, or Champ de Mars. This place is more used than any other for exercising troops (see page 131), though there are several other parade places in the city, and many of them much larger than the Champ de Mars. The Alexandrofskoi Platzparad, the largest of all, occupies fully a square verst, but lies on the outskirts of the capital. The chief parade, however, is held in the Square of the Admiralty, and forms one of the daily enjoyments of many of the inhabitants.
The sixtieth degree of northern latitude crosses the suburbs of St. Petersburg. Since the creation of the world no other city has displayed so much splendor and luxury so near the eternal ices of the pole, as this Imperial Residence; and the neighborhood of the Baltic Sea is, perhaps, the only one where such an attempt in such a parallel could have succeeded. The parallel under which St. Petersburg has built palaces and cultivated gardens, is the same under which, in Siberia, the Ostiaks and Fungusians find a scanty nourishment of moss for their reindeer, and where the Kamtschadale drives his dogs over never-melting ice. In the same circle where St. Petersburg enjoys every luxury of the civilized and uncivilized world, the Greenlander and Esquimaux, with their seal fat and train oil, barely keep alive the feeble glimmer of vegetation rather than life. Swampy Livonia, which even the Poles call harsh and raw, the province whence come the wild and pitiless snow-storms, called by the Prussians Courland weather, are to the St. Petersburgers very agreeable and tolerably warm southern provinces. In Poland the Russian begins to look about him for tropical vegetation; and of the nebulosa Germania, whose frigora and gray sides inspire the shuddering Italian to strike the elegiac chords of his harp, the Petersburger thinks as of a land where the orange trees bloom."
The climate of St. Petersburg oscillates continually between two extremes. In summer the heat often rises to 99° Fahrenheit, and in winter the cold as often falls to 55° below zero. This gives to the temperature a range of 154°, — which probably exceeds that of any other city in Europe. It is not only in the course of the year, however, but in the course of the same twenty-four hours, that the temperature is liable to great variation. In summer, after a hot, sultry morning, a rough wind will set in towards evening, and drive the thermometer down twelve degrees immediately. In winter, also, there is often a difference of 12° or 18° between the temperature of the morning and that of the night. It would be impossible to preserve existence in such a climate, if man did not endeavor to counteract its fickleness by his own unchangeableness. The winter is considered to begin in October and end in May; and in the beginning of October every man puts on his furs, which are calculated for the severest weather that can come, and these furs are not laid aside again till the winter is legitimately and confessedly at an end. When the thermometer stands at 13°, every man pricks up his ears, and becomes a careful observer of its risings and failings. At 22° or 23° all the theatres are closed, as it is then thought impossible to adopt the necessary precautions for the safety of the actors on the stage, and of the coachmen and servants waiting in the street. The pedestrians, who at other times are rather leisurely in their movements, now run along the streets as though they were hastening on some mission of life or death; and the sledges dash in "tempo celeratissimo" over the creaking snow. Faces are not to be seen in the streets, for every man has drawn his furs over his head, and leaves but little of his countenance uncovered. Every one is uneasy about his nose and his ears; and as the freezing of these desirable appendages to the human face divine is not preceded by any uncomfortable sensation to warn the sufferer of his danger, he has enough to think of if he wishes to keep his extremities in order. "Father, father, thy nose!" one man will cry to another, as he passes him, or will even stop and apply a handful of snow to the stranger’s face, and endeavor, by briskly rubbing the nasal prominence, to restore the suspended circulation. These are salutations to which people are accustomed; and as no man becomes aware of the fact when his own nose has assumed the dangerous chalky hue, custom prescribes, among all who venture into the streets, a kind of mutual observance of each other’s noses, — a custom by which many thousands of those valued organs are early rescued from the clutches of the Russian Boreas.
Extreme cold is usually accompanied by cheerful and quiet weather: so that the magnificent City of St. Petersburg rarely appears to greater advantage than when the thermometer stands at thirty-five degrees below Fahrenheit’s zero, when the sun shines brilliantly in a clear sky, while its rays are reflected by millions of icy crystals. From houses and churches dense columns of smoke slowly ascend. The snow and ice in the streets and on the Neva are white and clean, and the whole city seems clothed in the garments of Innocence. Water becomes ice almost in the act of being poured upon the ground. Every one in the streets appears to be running for his life; and, indeed, is literally doing so; for it is only by running that he can hope to keep life in him. The trodden snow crackles and murmurs forth the strangest melodies, and every sound seems to be modified by the influence of the atmosphere.
St. Petersburg, like Berlin, is a child of our days; a birth that first saw the light under the sun of a philosophical age. In opposition to Moscow, as Berlin in opposition to Vienna, St. Petersburg has neither so many nor such distinguished churches although the major part are built in a pleasant and tasteful style, — in the modern Russian; which is a mixture of the Grecian, Byzantine, old Russian, and new European architecture, the Byzantine, which was brought from Constantinople with Christianity, being the most prominent. A building in the form of a cross; in the midst, a large cupola, and at the four ends, four small, narrow-pointed cupolas, the points surmounted by crosses; a grand entrance, adorned with many columns, and three side entrances without columns, — such is the exterior form of the greater part of the Russian churches.
The most magnificent church in St. petersburg is St. Isaac’s Cathedral (see page 133), which was begun in 1819 and finished in 1858. This building is extremely simple, but is rendered imposing by its tremendous proportions — Montferrand, the architect, preferring to elicit the admiration of the beholders more by the lofty grandeur of his style than by adding one more to the large number of elaborately ornamented cathedrals which existed in the different cities of Europe. Some idea maybe formed of its proportions and cost when it is known that the foundation-pile on which it stands, owing to the excessively marshy nature of the soil, cost over one million of dollars. Each of its four entrances is ornamented with a Porch supported by polished granite monolith pillars, sixty feet in height by seven in diameter. Everything in this elegant structure is made of the most costly materials. Over the centre of the building rises an immense Cupola, covered with copper overlaid with gold, and supported by thirty gigantic pillars of polished granite ; from the summit of this rises a smaller cupola of the same design, surmounted by an immense cross. The larger cupola is surrounded by four smaller ones, also in the same style. The small circular temple, or prestol, which forms the inmost shrine, was presented to the Emperor Nicholas by Prince Demidoff, owner of the malachite mines of Siberia. The cost was one million of dollars. The steps are of pophyry, the floor of variegated marble, the dome of malachite, and the walls of lapis lazuli, the whole magnificently gilded.
After St. Isaac’s Church, that of Peter and Paul, in the fortress (see page 135), built by an Italian architect, under Peter the Great, is the most interesting. Its pointed slender tower rises like a mast, three hundred and forty feet in height; for the last hundred and fifty feet the tower is so small and thin that it must be climbed like a pine tree. The summit of the cross by which it is surmounted is over twenty feet higher than the topmost of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and in all Russia second only to that of Revel. This gilded spire is seen from all parts of St. Petersburg, like a golden needle hovering in the air, particularly when, as it is frequently the case, the lower part is veiled in fog.
The Peter-Paul Church is a kind of sequel to the Arkhangelskoi Sabor, in Moscow; the one contains the register of the deceased rulers of Russia, from where the other leaves off. In Moscow are interred the Russian czars down to Peter the Great; he, and those that succeeded him, in the Peter-Paul Church. Whoever has seen the monuments of the Polish kings at Cracow, or those of the French and English kings and Italian princes, will wonder at the simplicity and absence of ornament in this last resting-place of the Russian emperors. The single coffins are placed in the vaults, and over them, in the church, is nothing further in the shape of a monument, than a stone coffin-shaped sarcophagus, covered with a red pall, on which the name of the deceased emperor or emperor’s son is embroidered in golden letters.
The Churches of "Our Lady of Kasau," "Our Lady of Vladimir" (see page 137), &c., and the Smolnoi Convent, for nuns, and the St. Alexander Nevskoi Convent, for monks, are among the more remarkable of the many religious edifices which we must leave undescribed.
Before the chief front of the Winter Palace the vast edifice of the General expands its enormous bow, to which the straight line of the Palace front forms the string. Between the bow and the string, at a like distance from either, the stately column erected in honor of Alexander I. rears itself. In no part of Europe have we seen anything worthy of being compared with this remarkable pillar. It is the greatest monolith raised in modern times, its height, including the figure on the top, and the cubic block that supports it, being one hundred and fifty feet, and its diameter fifteen feet. It is a round column of mottled red granite, from the quarries of Pytterlax, in Finland, one hundred and forty miles from St. Petersburg. The eye is delighted with the slender form of this giant; it is highly polished, and reflects the outlines of the surrounding buildings in its cylindrical mirror. There is something sublime in its simplicity, and we have never seen anything that attracted us so much. You never think of asking to whom it is raised; it has an interest quite distinct from any associations with him whose memory it honors. You view it merely as a triumph of human power, which would tear such a mass from the reluctant rock, transport it so great a distance, and under so many difficulties, carve, and mould, and polish it into one smooth shaft, then poise the huge weight as lightly as a feather, and plant it here, to be the admiration of ages.
This pillar is founded on massive blocks of granite, and has a pedestal and capital of bronze, made from the cannon taken in the wars with the Turks. The shaft alone is eighty-four feet high. On its top stands a bronze statue of Religion, in the act of blessing the surrounding city. If this unrivalled monument excites our admiration so strongly, even as it now is, what would have been thought of it had it been raised here of the full height in which it was cut from the quarry? Orders had been given to the director of the quarries to try and extract one solid mass, fit to be hewn inth a column of a certain length. The operation was begun with slight hopes of success. It was deemed impossible ever to obtain one stone of such size. Ministers, generals, princes, the whole court, were in anxiety about what the mountain should bring forth; when, at last — who shall describe their joy? — a courier arrived with the happy tidings that, for once, the labors of the mountain had not ended in disappointment.- Expectation was even surpassed; for in place of eighty-four feet, a mass had been separated nearly one hundred feet long. There were no bounds to the delight inspired by the news. St. Petersburg would now boast of a monument that might challenge the world. But, alas! there was a postscript to this famous letter. The director had been ordered to get a stone eighty-four feet long; and as in Russia they are not in the habit of giving a man much credit for departing from the very letter of an imperial mandate, — and it being a bad precedent to allow any functionary to think for himself, — the zealous man of stones added, that he was now "busy sawing away the superfluous fourteen feet." Here was a pleasant piece of implicit obedience! The Emperor Nicholas was in despair; but as it was not his custom to commission others to do things which might be better done by himself, he posted away immediately, in hopes of still having his unexpected treasure; and, as good luck would have it, arrived just in time — to see the fair fragment tumble off. This monolith was swung into its place (August 1832) in the short space of fifty-four minutes, by the French architect M. de Montferrand.
In honoring his predecessor with a monument of this description, the Emperor Nicholas may have been prompted by a wish to excel the boasted feat of the Empress Catherine, who selected for the base of the bronze Equestrian Statue of Peter the Great, here represented, a large mass of grayish rock, lying in the middle of marshes, at such a distance from St. Petersburg, that every one believed it impossible to transport it thither. It is a rough, irregular mass, forty-three feet long, twenty-one broad, and fourteen high in front, from which it slopes gradually backwards. The inscription is beautifully simple: "Petro primo, Catarina seconda, 1782." Peter is seen riding gallantly up this rock, in the ancient costume of Muscovy, which, with a short mantle flowing from his shoulders, has a very classical effect. He is without stirrups, and is so busy getting his steed to trample on the hydra of rebellion writhing beneath his feet, that he does not perceive the brink of the precipice till he is about to be plunged over it. Ever calm and fearless in peril, he checks his horse as if by a wish, and pauses, with the greatest self-possession, to beckon into existence the proud city which was to bear his name. This admirable work of art, executed by the French artist Falconet, stands at the west corner of the Admiralty Square.
Men are always eager about what is most difficult to be obtained. The Russians have a passion for these mountains of granite; probably because there is not a stone bigger than a molehill within sight of their capital. If common materials could be procured at little expense, they would build monuments like other people; but since stones may not be had for thousands, they must transport whole rocks at the expense of tens of thousands. In Norway and Sweden, which are strewed as thick with rocks as other countries are with furze-bushes, they build everything of wood.
What have people elsewhere that St. Petersburg should not have? Egypt had its obelisks. St. Petersburg has hers also. Paris and Rome are adorned with columns and triumphal arches; so is St. Petersburg. There are two triumphal arches there already. They span the two roads which connect the city with her most important territories; the one the road to Narva and the Baltic provinces, the other, the Moscow road, leading to the heart of the empire. The former, called the Triumphal Arch of Narva (see opposite page), commemorates the return of the victorious Russian troops in 1815. The arch is supported by very high metal columns, and is surmounted by a triumphal car, which is drawn by six horses. In the car sits Victory, holding trophies of Glory and of Battles. Underneath, between the columns, are warriors in Sclavonian armor, awaiting their laurel wreaths.
No modern city can boast that it is so entirely composed of palaces and colossal public edifices as St. Petersburg; in some of these several thousand persons reside: six thousand, for instance, are said to inhabit the Winter Palace during the Emperor’s residence in the capital; and when we look on this gigantic pile of building, represented on page 143, we do not fail to remember that, in 1837, it fell a prey to the ravages of fire, and that in a few hours the greedy flames destroyed much of these treasures and works of art which had, with extraordinary zeal, been collected during the prosperous and magnificent reigns of Elizabeth and Catherine, and of their successors, Alexander and Nicholas. In two years from the destruction of this palace it rose again, under the skilful hands of the architect Kleinmichael, and is now, certainly, one of the most splendid and largest royal edifices in the world. Its long façades are highly imposing, and form a grand continuation to those of the Admiralty beyond it. The principal entrance is the "Perron des Ambassadeurs," a magnificent flight of marble steps, leading from the Neva up to the State apartments. Suits of splendid apartments, galleries and halls, with gilded walls and ceilings, and filled with marbles, malachites, precious stones, vases, and pictures, constitute the gorgeous display of the interior. Among the finest apartments of the palace are the "Hall of St. George," or "Audience Chamber," a parallelogram one hundred and forty by sixty feet, where the emperor gives audience to foreign ambassadors; the Throne-room of Peter the Great; the Gallery of Field Marshals; the Alexander Gallery; the Empress’s Drawing-room, a beautiful apartment. The gem of the Palace, however, is the "Salle Blanche," which is so called from its decorations being all in pure white, relieved only with gilding. Here are held the court fêtes, which are always got up on the most magnificent and sumptuous scale, no court entertainments in Europe surpassing those of St. Petersburg.
The Hermitage is no cloistered solitude, no rocky grotto hidden among the waters of the Neva’s murmuring sources, but a magnificent palace, second only to that we have just described, while within it is loaded with precious objects of art and vertu. The great Catherine built it, in order that she might retire to it in her leisure moments, there to enjoy the conversation of the French philosophers and men of learning; and here, after the duties of the sovereign had been transacted in the Winter Palace, she was wont to pass the evening, surrounded by all that could gratify the eye or the senses: musicians displayed their talents, artists their works, scientific men their speculations, and political men their opinions; for, in accordance with the ukase suspended in all the apartments, perfect freedom and equality reigned; and the pictures which we see elsewhere only as allegorical representations of art and science, loving princes were here every day realized. Catherine not only bruilt this luxurious retreat, but furnished those who were admitted to her intimacy with the opportunity of becoming acquainted with those admirable masterpieces of art which had graced the walls of many of the royal palaces of Europe, and thus laid the foundation of that Gallery of Paintings which is now without a rival in Northern Europe. The Hermitage was entirely reconstructed in its present form (see page 145) between 1840 and 1850, from Renaissance designs by the German architect, Leo Von Kleuze; and as far as elegant solidity in its architectural form and costliness of the beautiful materials are concerned, this edifice challenges competition with any in Europe. It forms a parallelogram of five hundred and fifteen feet by three hundred and seventy-five feet, and everything in it is of vast and noble dimensions — the vestibule, the hall, the marble staircase; every pillar and monolith of Finland granite. On the grand floor is the Museum on the first floor the Picture Gallery.
There are in St. Petersburg a number of families of the educated classes who have never visited the Hermitage; and how little is gained, compared with what might be, even by those who do? When we look at the listless faces of the sight-satiated public lounging past the pictures, we cannot help asking ourselves how so many painters could ever obtain such extraordinary renown. Where is the enthusiasm for their works? — the rapture they inspire? For four thousand paintings, reflecting half the natural world and half mankind, a two hours’ saunter; for thirty thousand engravings, a few minutes; for three rooms full of statues, as many passing looks; for the antiquities of Greece, a couple of "Ahs!" and "Ohs!" and for twelve thousand cameos and gems, scarcely a half-opened eye!
The most admired objects here are, beyond all doubt, the crown jewels and other valuables, arranged in a separate cabinet with them. For, boast as we may of our higher cultivation, the old Adam is so little driven from his kingdom, that we all grasp, like children and savages, more eagerly after what is bright and glittering, than after that which breathes life and grace. What is the water of Ruysdael’s forest brooks to the water of the imperial diamonds? — all the melting lustre of Carlo Dolce, to the lustre of these pearls? Cuyp’s green meadows seldom touch the heart, but the green of the emerald in yon sceptre fills all hearts with hope and longing.
We human creatures, taken on the whole, are very sensual, rapacious, unrefined beings, and when we see hundreds yawning in the face of Rembrandt’s "reverend old man," we scarcely see one so much a philosopher as not to grow more animated when the jewel-keeper grasps his keys, and opens that magic cabinet. In fact, it would be hard to find so many jewels together. The old connection of Russia with India and Persia has brought a quantity of precious stones into the treasury; and lately her own subject mountains have opened their bosoms, and yielded such treasures, that many a private person might be well contented with what was meant for the imperial little finger alone.
When the Emperor Paul began to be afraid of his subjects, he intrenched himself behind the strong walls of the Michailow Samok (fort). He pulled down the old Summer Palace on the Fontanka, and built in its stead one of granite, surrounded by walls and ditches, and bristling with cannon, and dedicated it to the Archangel Michael, according to Russian custom, which dedicates to protecting saints not only churches, but fortresses, castles, and other buildings. Although it has been completely repaired, the Michailoff Palace (see page 146) has a more gloomy exterior than the other palaces of St. Petersburg. It is an immense, high, strong, massive square, whose four façades all differ the one from the other. The ditches are partly filled up, and laid out in gardens, but the main entrance is still reached over several draw-bridges, like a knightly castle in the middle ages. In the square before the chief gate stands a monument, insignificant enough as a work of art, which Paul erected to Peter the Great, with the inscription, "Prodãdu Pravnuk" (the grandson to the grandfather). This palace was built in an incredibly short space of time, at a cost of eighteen millions of rubles. It was abandoned soon after the death of Paul, and has never been dwelt in since. It is now the abode of the School of Engineers. The rooms where Paul was murdered are sealed and walled up. The Russians generally do this with the room in which their parents die. They have a certain dread of them, and never enter them willingly.
The painted ceilings of the principal halls have considerable interest. In one are represented all the gods of Greece, whose various physiognomies are those of persons of the court at that time. The architect, whose purse profited considerably by the building of the castle, appears among them as a flying Mercury. When Paul, who was a ready punster, and who knew very well that all the money he paid was not changed into stone and wood, caused the different faces to be pointed out to him, he recognized the face of the Mercury directly, and said, laughing, to his courtiers, "Ah! voilà l’architecte qui vole."
The theatres of St. Petersburg are generally built in a uniform and very indifferent style of architecture, but they are admirably conducted, for the simple reason that the government has the sole charge and management of them. A government censor examines every piece before it is performed, that nothing injurious to the morals of the citizens may be produced. Of course the best scenery and dresses are used, and the accommodations for the public are admirable. The Great Theatre (see page 147), built in 1836, and capable of containing about three thousand persons, is devoted to the Italian Opera, where one of the best troupes of Europe may always be heard during the winter season. In the Michael Theatre (see page 148), French plays are performed by troupes as fine as any in Paris.
The Exchange of St. Petersburg (see page 149) is more favorably situated than many great public buildings. It stands on the extreme point of Vassili Ostroff, with a noble open space before it, and is reared on elevated foundations. On either side the superb granite quays, that give solidity to the point of the island, divide the majestic river into two mighty arms, in which it flows in calm power to the right and left. Stately flights of granite steps lead down to the river. On the space before the building, two massive "Columnæ rostrataæ," above a hundred feet in height, and decorated with the prows of ships cast in metal, have been erected to the honor of Mercury. These columns are hollow; and on the summits, which are reached by flights of iron steps, are gigantic vases, that are filled with combustibles on all occasions of public illumination. The great hall, of colossal proportions, is lighted from above. At either end and on both sides are spaces in the form of arcades: in one of the first stands an altar, with lamps constantly burning, for the benefit of the pious Russian merchants, who always bow to the altar, and sometimes even prostrate themselves, on their entrance, to implore the favor of all the saints to their undertakings. The blue or green modern frock coats of the worshippers form as curious a contrast, with their long patriarchal beards, as the altar itself, with its steps covered with an elegant Parisian carpet and its age-blackened image of a saint, which none would venture to modernize any more than they would attempt to put the razor to the Russian mercantile chin.
Historians say so much about Peter’s firmness in extirpating the long beards in which his people delighted, with his own imperial hand cutting off not the beards merely, but the heads, of the refractory, — that we expected to find the chins of the Russian as naked as those of barbers’ blocks. But there are national prejudices too strong even for the most unshrinking reformer. The Russian loves his beard with no common love, and there it still flows in ample waves to his girdle, defying alike the beheading-sword and the razor. The peasant would sooner part with his purse than with his beard; it is his pride, his birthright. Better abandon children and home to wander into forlorn exile, than give up the only thing left him to glory in. Liberty is not worth contending for, but a beard is. Liberty is but a word, an untangible, fanciful thing, which no man ever saw or could make money of; a beard is a reality; something which a man can not only see, but handle also. And if he cannot exactly make money by a beard, it gives him that which is better than gold, for he knows that no true Russian maid would look to him if shorn of this beauteous appendage. Without his beard he would neither have affection from others, nor respect from himself. A beard is graceful, imposing, venerable, — in one word, it is Russian.
Whether the long beard is consistent with cleanliness, is a question soon settled in the streets of St. Petersburg. Nothing can be more filthy than the appearance of the people. The nature of their dress powerfully contributes to the disgusting appearance of the native population, — greasy sheep-skins, being not great promoters of cleanliness. It is a notorious fact, also, that the great bulk of the people never allow water to touch the person, except once a week, — on Saturday evening, when their religion prescribes a visit to the bath, when they get such a thorough ablution as entitles them to eight days’ filthiness. To wash the face on ordinary week-days is a folly unknown; the hands may, by a few, be occasionally polluted with water. In the country, a small jar of this scarce liquid may be seen hanging by some of the doors, for washing with; at least a thimbleful being allowed, oozing from below, to each person. At some inns, and eating houses also, a metal cistern, of the smallest dimensions, hangs by the entrance; from which, on pushing up the pin stuck in the bottom, a few drops of water trickle, to smear the hands with, before going to dinner. But the practice is scarcely associated in our minds with any idea of cleanliness; the towel hanging near having already been used by every comer for a week past, and being often as black as if it had been scouring the sauce-pans.
The Imperial Public Library, situated on the Nevskoi Prospect, is one of the richest in Europe. It contains eight hundred thousand printed volumes, twenty thousand manuscripts, and a collection of incunabula (see page 151), or books printed before the year 1500, which is generally considered to be unique. The building itself has been many times enlarged, to suit the increasing size of the library. The last addition, made in 1862, consists of a beautiful reading-room, only equalled by that of the National Library in Paris and that of the British Museum in London.
On the Vassili Ostrof not far from the Exchange, stands the Academy of Arts. This building was erected by a Russian architect, between the years 1765 and 1788. The façade, on the Neva (see page 152), about four hundred feet in length, and adorned with columns and pilasters, is very fine. The lower floor is devoted to sculpture; above are galleries appropriated to paintings, and on the second story a large collection of drawings, illustrating the progress of architectural art, together with a well-lighted hall, destined for an annual exhibition of paintings, held in September. A fine collection of French, Belgian, and German pictures was bequeathed to the picture gallery by Count Kouchelef, in 1864, greatly adding to its interest and value.
In the whole delta of the Neva there are more than forty islands, great and small. Some of these islands, although all belong to the precincts of the city, are still perfectly desert, inundated by the sea and the Neva, visited only by seals, or by wolves who come over the ice. Such are the Volney Islands, the Trukhtanoff islands, and some others. The largest are the often-named Vassili Ostrof, the St. Petersburg Island, and the islands formed by the Moika, Fontanka, and the other canals. These are almost entirely occupied by the houses of the city, and form the centre of the island-metropolis. North-west of St. Petersburg Island lie five others of moderate size, separated by the arms of the greater and lesser Nevka, and the Neva: these are the islands, emphatically so called, the "Garden Islands," — Krestovsky, Kammessoi Ostrof, Petrofskoi Ostrof, Yelaginskoi Ostrof, and the Apothecary Island. When they say, in St. Petersburg, "We will go to the Islands this summer," "We will make a party to the Islands," they mean these five Garden Islands, and no others out of the whole forty. Nothing can be more lively and varied than the sights witnessed there in summer. Gay palaces for the royal family, and handsome carriage-drives for the nobles, adorn them; while on them, also, the lower classes find the ordinary means of amusing themselves, — eating-rooms, dancing-places, concerts, &c. The most popular public garden is the Vauxhall (see page 153). The Garden Islands may, therefore, be said to form both the "Champs Elysées" and "Bois de Boulogne" of St. Petersburg. They are much farther away from the centre of the capital than these places are from that of Paris, but the cheapness of the droschky brings them near, as their crowded state shows.
The branches of the river, which twine round these islands in most confusing but beautiful variety, give to the scenes a singular life and interest. The waters are constantly enlivened by gay barges, shooting past in every direction, with lofty prows, and gaudy streamers floating behind; in these, many, and generally the merriest parties, come all the way by the river; some shaded by striped awnings, some sitting unprotected, but all singing most beautifully.
Singing, in fact, is one of the great amusements on these islands; and though the Russian is generally a most disagreeable vocalist, when heard alone, nothing can be more delightful than to hear two or three of them joining in their national airs together. To the Russian, singing appears to be as natural as speaking is to other nations. The moment a stone-cutter gets the chisel in his hand, the song begins; and the "yemtchik" (postilion), in seizing the reins, strikes up his horrid melody, as regularly as if the amount of hire depended on the qualities of his voice. Watch a party of friends returning at night: if in a boat, the oars keep time to their harmony; if on foot, the pavement rings with their measured steps. But most of all are they musical in their droschkies. Five, six, or eight of them will crowd on one of these vehicles: how they do not all tumble off— like that bearded gentleman, or long-gowned lady, whom you see rolling in the mud not far off — is wonderful. Notwithstanding this accident, the song is not stopped — the vehicle is, perhaps; but the worthy fallen continues his song till raised by his brethren, who build themselves on again, and drive away, with a fury of voice increased by the delay.
From the Garden Islands up to Lake Ladoga, a distance of twenty-one miles, the Neva is extremely beautiful. At the point where the river issues from the lake, rises, on a small island, the old and celebrated fortress of Schlusselburg, that we give on page 154. It is the key and only outwork for the defence of the capital on the east.
Cronstadt — the great bulwark of Russia, her chief naval station, and most thriving trading-port, all in one — stands on a naked, sandy island, about five miles long and one broad, in the middle of the narrowing Gulf of Finland, sixteen miles from St. Petersburg, five or six from the rising shores of Istria on the south, and the same distance from the flatter coast of Carelia on the north. The island is so perfectly level that no ground is seen in approaching it; it looks (see page 155) a vast fortress rising on piles, rather than a town on solid ground.
So strongly is it defended by every device which skill can suggest, that many look upon it as impregnable. One part of its strength lies in the shallowness of the gulf about it: except on one small line, there is not more than eight feet of water all round it. Ships can approach only through a narrow, winding channel, with twenty-six or twenty-eight feet of water, along which stand several fortifications of immense strength, and so placed that no enemy could pass without being demolished by their united fire. First comes the Citadel, close by the passage which all ships must take; then follow the frowning batteries on the Riesbank rock; and lastly, stronger than all, the Castle of Cronschlott, a polygon with double batteries.
Whether viewed in detail, or as a whole, Cronstadt is every way worthy to be the outpost of the largest empire of Europe. There is nothing mean or disappointing about it, as is often the case with the first places seen in approaching a new country. It speaks boldly out, an unblushing frontispiece to tales of war and despotism.
During our voyage from France to Cronstadt and St. Petersburg, it had been our fortune to behold a stirring exhibition of Russia’s strength. It was about noon, in the month of July, when our attention was drawn to a large vessel bearing down, with all sail set. She proved to be a ship of the line of the largest dimensions. Another soon appeared — another — and another;
till we could reckon about twenty-five men-of-war, all in view at the same moment. A more splendid scene it had never been our fortune to witness. Such a number, even of small vessels, would have formed a beautiful sight; but the effect produced by this vast array of large ships is beyond description.
When the first feelings of wonder had subsided, we rubbed our eyes, and began to ask where we could have got to? We were in the midst of the sailing vessels of the Baltic fleet (see page 156), which was now out on its annual cruise; and we had come just at the luckiest moment, the ships being all in their highest trim, in expectation of the emperor, who was on his way down to superintend the manœuvres which were to take place before a great proportion of the fleet should return to port for the season. Such a splendid sight we never expect to see again. The day was most beautiful; every ship had her sails set, and ploughed the waters with the grace of some stately bird that scarcely ruffles her native lake. The fine breeze kept all in motion. Signals for changing position were rapidly passing from one end of the line to the other; new groups, the most varied and most beautiful, were thus every moment presenting themselves. A little more of storm — something of danger — black hurrying gloom in place of that sunny sky, and it would have been a scene for a Vernet.
From Cronstadt to Peterhof, a distance of about eleven miles, a series of country houses stretch along the coast of the gulf. The Palace of Peterhof, that we have given on page 157, was commenced in 1720, by Leblond, under the direction of Peter the Great. Alterations and additions have been made to the building by every suceeeding emperor and empress, but the general character is still, preserved, even to its color, yellow, which is continually renewed. Its architecture is very insignificant in character, and deserves as little to be mentioned with Versailles and the other French chateaux which may have served as models, as the Kasan Church deserves to be compared with St. Peter’s at Rome. Animating as the view is from the lofty coast over the sea, covered with ships of war and merchantmen, it is strange enough that the main front of the castle should be turned landwards. Downwards to the sea- shore, the garden descends in terraces, adorned with fountains and waterfalls. The basins, the Neptunes, storks, swans, and Nymphs, the Tritons, dolphins, painted rocks, and grottos, are copied from the engravings in Hushfeld's Art of Gardening; but we cannot pass the oaks and lime trees planted by Peter himself without reverence. The smaller buildings of Maly and Montplaisir, which lie under these trees, as wings to the larger edifice, remind the beholder of the modest arrangements of the carpenter of Saardam, the great reformer of Eastern Europe.
About six miles farther on we come to the Monastery of St. Sergius (see page 158), which was founded in 1734, the grounds having been bestowed, by the Empress Anne, on Warlaam, the superior of the Froitsa Monastery, near Moscow. By him the first church and cells were built. The principal church is probably one of the prettiest in Russia; it stands on an elevation which overlooks the estuary of the Neva, and, with its stalls of oak and open roof, has an appearance of elegance which is possessed by few of the Russo-Greek churches. Underneath are the sepulchral vaults and mortuary chapels of many great families. Great crowds assemble here on Sundays to listen to the music and singing at the monastery, which are always very fine.
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© 2001, by Lynn Waterman