When visiting Sint Petersburg, there are many things you can do. Especially when you are interested in history, culture and art. The city was founded in 1703 by Peter the Great, changed names several times, has been the capital of Russia in the past and is now Russia’s second largest city. What intrigued me (because I’m Dutch) was the historical connection between tsar Peter the Great and the Netherlands. It was the first tsar that travelled outside his imperium. He was interested in sailing, ships and shipbuilding and lived in the Netherlands for a few months. Dutch was the only foreign language he spoke and if I may believe Wikipedia, he wanted to make Dutch the second language in Russia. That would have saved me a lot of effort these days…
Here are a few of my personal highlights.
The State Hermitage Museum is my absolute favorite. Its located on the Palace Square and has a total area of 233 345 square meter where you can find a collection of more than 3 million works of art. It is one of the largest and most extensive art and cultural history museum in the world. The museum was created by Christina the Great in 1764, who further expanded the collection that Peter the Great had started. I visited the museum twice (with a student card the entrance is for free!) and I spent hours wandering, gazing at the most incredible pieces of art. The atmosphere was so fascinating, it makes you want to visit the museum again and again.
* Small tip if you are going to visit the Hermitage: make sure you get a map so that you don’t have to navigate yourself to the exit by the means of landmarks outside (like I did). That saves you a lot of time.
2. The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
This Russian Orthodox church was built in memory of emperor Alexander II who was fatally wounded in an assassination attempt by terrorist. In memory of the innocently shed blood, the cathedral is called the ‘Savior on Spilled Blood’. The cathedral is just as impressive inside as it is outside. The walls and ceilings contain over 7000 square meter of mosaics which makes it the most colorful cathedral I have ever seen. Oh…don’t be surprised if the church is under construction since it took longer to restore it than to build it.
The Kunstcamera is Peter the Great’s museum of Antropology and Ethnography. It is the oldest museum in Russia and shows objects of various cultures all around the world. Anything that surprised and amazed Peter the Great, was to be brought to Russia. The most interesting part of the museum is by far the ‘freak’ collection. This is a collection of anatomical rarities and anomalies of fetuses and newborns embalmed in alcohol, bought from the Dutch anatomist Frederik Ruysch, that still shocks people up to today.
4. Fabergé museum
Located at the Fontanka river, in the Shuvalov Palace of Saint Petersburg, is the world’s largest collection of Carl Fabergé masterpieces. So far I have only seen Fabergé eggs in the James Bond movie ‘Octopussy’ and in the series ‘Peaky Blinders’ but I can assure you…this is something you have to see with your own eyes. Fabergé eggs are jewelry in the form of an Easter egg. They are designed by the House of Fabergé between 1885 and 1917. Most of them are Imperial Easter Eggs, commissioned by the Russian Tsars to serve as an Easter gift. From all eggs that are designed, most of them are exhibited in museums, some of them are owned by private collectors such as Queen Elizabeth II and others disappeared. Each egg has a unique history. The Fabergé museum has a collection of 9 Easter Eggs including the very first design. Want to get an impression?
Go to https://fabergemuseum.ru and do a virtual tour!
Amazed by the beauty of these jewelry I wanted my own Fabergé egg souvenir. I thought I could afford one for a reasonable price (I don’t have millions of dollars) in one of the cheap looking, with fluorescent lightning, souvenirs shops on Nevsky Prospekt. However, it turned out that they were decorated with real Swarovski crystals. I will wait for an Easter gift.
This excursion was a surprise to me. My Russian colleague and his wife invited me on a daytrip to show me something outside of Saint Petersburg. They took me to the city of Kronstadt, which is located on Kotlin Island. It’s approximately 45 minutes drive from the city center. The city is founded by Peter the Great, how can it be otherwise. The main purpose was to protect the city of Saint Petersburg from the Swedish navy. Kronstadt was the main military base of the Baltic fleet and became the home for many sailors and their families. The highlight on the island is the naval cathedral of Saint Nicholas. This cathedral was the main church of the Russian navy and dedicated to all fallen seamen. Being sailors ourselves, made this experience a bit more special. I ended the afternoon on the island by lighting up candles for all my loved ones.
A tradition that I will hold on to, wherever I go.
These were a few of my personal highlights. There is one more thing that I wanted to put on this list, but this is a story itself. Of course, besides these 5 highlights, there are many more places and museums to visit, for example the Russian Museum and the Peterhof Palace which are still on my wish-list. But never visit everything, because then you always have a reason to come back!