Exploring St. Petersburg

Trip Start Jan 30, 2013
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Russia  , North-West Russia,
Thursday, February 21, 2013

My politics professor: "So, there's a pattern in Russian politics, bald(ing) and hairy. Lenin was bald, Stalin had hair, Khrushchev was bald, Brezhnev had hair, Andropov was bald, Chernenko had hair, Gorbachev was bald, Yeltsin had hair, Putin is bald, Medvedev has hair. So, with all my knowledge as a political scientist, Putin's successor will have hair. Despite the uncertainty of Russian politics, this I can say for certain!"

Student: "Putin's successor…you mean Putin with a wig on."

My elective classes are my favorite of the five courses I’m taking this semester. The politics class is a comparative politics course, which looks at the political culture in the US and Russia, and which is my favorite class. My other elective, a culture class, is good as well. In that class we learn about the history of St. Petersburg, and at the moment we’re learning about architecture. It’s really neat to learn about the history of some of the amazing buildings in the city that we see on a daily basis.

In our time after class we have gone exploring. There is so much to see, as is fitting for a city with so much history.

My favorite building is the Church of the Spilled Blood, built where Alexander II was mortally wounded, because of its color and grandeur. It must rank high on the list of fitting tributes to fallen leaders of empires, perhaps behind the pyramids but in front of the Roman funeral rites (the emperor would be cremated and as the smoke spiraled upward an eagle would be released to accompany his soul to the next world) and the Norse funeral barges. It is a beautiful example of Russian architecture with its onion domes. Onion domes, though often associated only with Russia, can actually also be found in many parts of the world: India and Central Asia and the Middle East, and even Central Europe (Germany and Austria). There is much symbolism in the onion dome: it is possible the shape is meant to resemble a candle; clusters of three domes symbolize the Holy Trinity, five domes together symbolize Jesus and the Four Evangelists, and a single dome symbolizes Jesus; the bright colors of the domes symbolize different religious elements.

My favorite monument is the statue of Peter the Great which was put up by Catherine the Great. Peter is sitting on a bear-skin on his rearing horse (the horse is either rearing or jumping into a bright new future, over current difficulties), which is trampling the snake of treason (which also symbolizes Russia's enemies) as Peter surveys the magnificent city he built.  It says “Peter was first, Catherine was Second,” on the side, to show the world that despite the greatness of Peter, Catherine earned her own place in the history books. Also, because Catherine did not come to power legitimately (she orchestrated a coup and had her husband killed), this statue was intended to remind the world that she was Peter's rightful successor. The name "the Bronze Horseman" comes from Pushkin's poem of the same name. In the poem, a work of art, the protagonist goes mad and believes the statue comes to life and chases him through the city.

From Pushkin’s The Bronze Horseman:
“…Above the void, and in thy hold
A curb of iron, thou sat'st of old
O'er Russia, on her haunches rearing!
About the Image, at its base,
Poor mad Yevgeny circled, straining
His wild gaze upward at the face
That once o'er half the world was reigning.
His eye was dimmed, cramped was his breast,
His brow on the cold grill was pressed,
While through his heart a flame was creeping
And in his veins the blood was leaping.
He halted sullenly beneath
The haughty Image, clenched his teeth
And clasped his hands, as though some devil
Possessed him, some dark power of evil,
And shuddered, whispering angrily,
"Ay, architect, with thy creation
Of marvels.... Ah, beware of me!"
And then, in wild precipitation
He fled.

For now he seemed to see
The awful Emperor, quietly,
With momentary anger burning,
His visage to Yevgeny turning!
And rushing through the empty square,
He hears behind him as it were
Thunders that rattle in a chorus,
A gallop ponderous, sonorous,
That shakes the pavement. At full height,
Illumined by the pale moonlight,
With arm out flung, behind him riding
See, the bronze horseman comes, bestriding
The charger, clanging in his flight.
All night the madman flees; no matter
Where he may wander at his will,
Hard on his track with heavy clatter
There the bronze horseman gallops still…”

(The entire poem: http://web.ku.edu/~russcult/culture/handouts/bronze_horseman.html)
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Boom Boom Diggity on

Love reading your entry's. I feel like I am there with you. Next time I go, I am bring you as a tour guide! Love and miss you!

Arthur on

Hi Jen, I am loving your blog! Very well written! I'm surpised at how intact all the pre-Soviet churches are. Do you see evidence of any Soviet-era attempt to eradicate fhe Orthodox faith?

francine franklin on

that napoleon looked delicious, did it taste as good as it looked .? your descriptions and pictures are wonderful. was that bubble place the restaurant

Dad on

Thanks for the comment on the onion domes. I was impressed with ones in Germany and didn't think they had anything to do with Russia.

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