— St Petersburg (Санкт-Петербург) ~ pre-revolution

Anya lived in St Petersburg but for how long and when … no idea 🙁

Her connection with this impossibly beautiful city was that she *possibly* attended the Smolny Institute for Girls, but she definitely attended services at St Isaac’s Cathedral and she met her future husband here.

Wladyslaw went to the Marine Engineering School in Kronstadt and I’m pretty sure he had an apartment in St Petersburg, so no doubt he would have kicked up his heels at all the places where people kicked up their heels 😉

Another crossover of the two families 🙂

History of St Petersburg

Tsar Peter I (aka Peter the Great) was one of the few tsars who had spent quite a lot of time both in England and the Netherlands and he was keen to bring back the ideas he formed in Europe to implement in Russia. He understood the need for a modern navy and he was hell-bent on westernising his country, both by changing the customs and appearances of his courtiers and government officials.

1910 - "Tsar's Entry Awaited" by Andrei Ryabushkin

“Tsar’s Entry Awaited” painted by Andrei Ryabushkin (1910) Click to enlarge

On his return from a trip to Europe in 1698, all the Boyars gathered at a reception at his court to welcome the 26-year old tsar home.

Boyars were from aristocratic Russian dynastic families, second only to princes, and used to dress in a particular kind of kaftan called «feryaz».

This type of kaftan was «made only of expensive fabrics was one of the holiday and ceremonial dresses of the nobility. It had a lining, sometimes a fur one. Feryaz was very broad, up to 3 meters, at the hem, and had extremely long sleeves hanging down to the ground. It was put on in the following way: only one hand would be passed into the sleeve, which was gathered in numerous tucks, whereas the second sleeve would be hanging along the figure to the ground.

This garment was the privilege of the nobility and emphasized their class status, as well as disdainful attitude to physical labour. It is this type of kaftan that brought about the well-known Russian expression “to work with sleeves lowered down”, which means to slack one’s work.»
[Source: National Russian Dress: Basic costume garments]

They also wore tall, cylindrical fur hats – the higher the hat, the higher the wearer’s status! These hats were called «boyar» or «gorlatnaya» hats. You can see them being held in the Boyars’ hands in Ryabushkin’s painting. When their hats were taken off, it was customary for them to be held above the forearm, between the hand and elbow, or worn as a muff.

Just as an aside, when Nicholas II came to the throne he wanted to re-introduce the wearing of Boyar costumes in his court but when he found out the cost of doing that, it was so excessive that he canned the idea 😮 However, in 1903 he hosted a ball in the Winter Palace and everyone had to come dressed in Boyar costumes.

1903 - The Winter Palace Ball

1903 – The Winter Palace Ball


Now, back to the young tsar, Peter …

When he greeted and embraced all the Boyars in his court in Moscow, he had a pair of large scissors brought to him and proceeded to cut their long flowing beards 😮

Although horrified by the act (beards were considered traditional in their culture and many considered it a sin to shave), the Boyars allowed their ruler to remove their beards.

In order to keep his court looking western, Peter also issued an exorbitant tax on beards so that the nobles would either stay clean shaven or pay the high cost of keeping their beards. However the tax didn’t apply to either the clergy or to peasants.

In 1703 Tsar Peter conquered Nyenskans, a Swedish fortress, and the city of Nyen, both of which were on the cape at the confluence of the Okhta River and the Neva River.

Peter the Great Meditating the Idea of Building St Petersburg at the Shore of the Baltic Sea – A N Benois (1916)

It was there where he decided to build a new city and have it as a “window to the West”.

The city was to be called St Petersburg, in honour of the tsar’s patron saint and it truly was a city built on the blood, sweat and bones of serfs.

«Three hundred years ago, this was a place where no sane person would have wanted to live. The marsh lay just off the icy, storm-blasted Gulf of Finland, and what little firm ground there was disappeared regularly beneath the floods. The nearest approximation of civilization was hundreds of miles away. Yet it was here that Peter the Great chose to build his “darling,” his “paradise,” the imperial city that for three centuries has embodied the soul of Russia.»
[Source: Nancy Shute; David Grimm “Cities of Dreams”]

The tsar ordered hundreds of thousands of peasants to come and build a city on the marshy, swampy delta. Not only that, he also commanded them to bring their own tools to work with 😮 He also had convicts and prisoners-of-war sent to the area to join in with the serfs.

Amazing what being an autocrat could do in those days! 😉

«He also seems to have had an instinct for hiring the right help. Domenico Trezzini, an Italian-Swiss who had designed a palace for the king of Denmark, signed on as Peter’s master of building, construction, and fortification just a month before the founding of St. Petersburg. Even as the laborers were struggling to build foundations for the fort in the muck of Hare Island, Trezzini was supervising construction of a small church within the fort.

Painting by A N Benois of a parade in St Petersburg during Peter I's reign

Painting by A N Benois of a parade in St Petersburg during Peter I’s reign (Click to enlarge)

His later efforts were far grander, including the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, Peter’s Summer Palace, and the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, which holds the tombs of most Russian monarchs. Trezzini’s work, which combined the serene, almost austere designs then popular in northern Europe with graceful Baroque detailing, set the tone for the “northern Baroque” style that epitomizes St. Petersburg.

Building a city from the ground up also requires labor, a lot of it. Anyone who has waited in vain for the drywall guy to show up might envy Peter’s method for acquiring workmen. He simply ordered them by fiat. “From all parts of his empire an unhappy stream of humanity — Cossacks, Siberians, Tatars, Finns — flowed into St. Petersburg,” wrote historian Robert Massie.

Two shifts of workers, 15,000 each, were ordered for the summer of 1706. The conscripts were promised a travel stipend and six months’ wages. After that they could return home — if they survived. They spent nights in rough shacks and long days digging canals like those Peter had loved in Holland or pounding in 16-foot oak foundation pilings. Many succumbed to scurvy, dysentery, or malaria. At least 25,000 perished, giving Petersburg the label “a city built on bones.”

1703-1738 Map of St Petersburg

1703-38 Map of St Petersburg (Click to enlarge)

Peter made up for the site’s lack of building materials by ordering all arriving wagons and ships to bring building stones with them. The nascent city also needed inhabitants. There again, Peter simply ordered them up. In March 1708, he commanded hundreds of noblemen and wealthy merchants to leave Moscow and their comfy country estates and join him in the north. Peter dictated the size of the houses they were to build, with a nobleman owning more than 500 serfs obliged to build a two-story manse. Plans of approved designs, drawn by Trezzini, were provided.

The nobles loathed St. Petersburg. Food was scarce and outrageously expensive. There was no good source of fresh water. The hastily built wooden houses were firetraps. (Peter’s lanky form was often seen among the fire crews, wielding an ax to stop the spread of fire by demolishing nearby houses.) There were no bridges across the swift-flowing Neva; noblemen returning from receptions drowned when the small sailboats that Peter deemed proper capsized.

And even the adamantine will of the czar couldn’t keep nature at bay. The Neva flooded regularly, sweeping the new trees and flowers from Peter’s beloved Summer Garden and sending the city’s inhabitants clambering onto their roofs. In winter, hungry wolves prowled. In 1715, the creatures devoured a woman in broad daylight on Vasilevsky Island. “Petersburg will not endure after our time,” declared Peter’s half-sister Maria, one of the city’s unhappy involuntary colonists. “May it remain a desert.”

When Peter died there in 1725 the city was still rough hewn. But it flourished under his successors, notably Catherine the Great, who assembled much of the extraordinary art collection in the Hermitage Museum in the Winter Palace. Petersburg became achingly lovely, the haven and inspiration for generations of poets, painters, and musicians.»
[Source: Once Upon A Time – St Petersburg]

In 1713 he moved the capital from Moscow and set about to making St Petersburg a city that would be unrivalled by its beautiful architecture.

Sadly the city was the centre of many troubled events and unrest towards the end of the 1800s and early 1900s.

Tsar Alexander II was killed in St Petersburg in 1881 when revolutionaries threw a couple of bombs at his carriage.  I wonder what drove these anarchists to kill him as the tsar was known as Alexander the Liberator, and was intent on making many reforms to the country  🙁

Years later, in December 1904, the workers at the Putilov steel plant in St Petersburg  – a major supplier of artillery to the Imperial Russian Army – went on strike.  Workers from other companies joined them and the chaos grew so that a month later, the city had no electricity and no newspapers and public places were closed.

On January 22, 1905, a priest named Georgiy Gapon led a huge procession to the Winter Palace to deliver a petition to the tsar, who was not in fact in residence there. Their petition asked for the working day to be cut to eight hours, for the right to strike and for the election of a constituent assembly by secret ballot and universal suffrage.

The protesters were all dressed in their Sunday best, with the women and children at the front, and they carried icons, crosses or pictures of the tsar and sang hymns as they marched.

Troops facing the demonstrators on Bloody Sunday

Troops facing the demonstrators on Bloody Sunday (Click to enlarge)

Click to enlarge








The troops guarding the palace had warned the protesters not to proceed past a certain point but when they did, the troops fired on them, killing around 200 people and injuring about 800 more.

This day was named «Bloody Sunday» and is considered the flash which ignited the flames that occurred 12 years later 🙁

In June and July of 1905 there were many uprisings across the country so on October 30 (Oct 17 in the Julian calendar) Nicholas II signed the October Manifesto. This manifesto granted basic civil rights, the formation of political parties, giving everyone the right to vote and making the Duma the central legislative body.

The tsar dithered for three days before signing but he did sign it, then in 1906 the Russian Constitution was published the night before the first Duma sat.

It wasn’t enough and the unrest still festered 🙁

Although in St Petersburg the strikes and unrest declined and stopped, it became a time of covert political terrorism by the Bolsheviks.

During the time leading up to the 1917 Revolution there seemed to be a stream of assassinations around the country, targeting politicians and high ranking government officials.  The anarchists also managed to blow Grand Duke Sergei to bits when they threw a bomb into his carriage in Moscow.  Tragically Sergei, the son of Alexander II, died in the same manner as his father 🙁

The remains of the carriage which the Grand Duke was in.

The remains of the carriage which GD Sergei was in (Click to enlarge)

When WWI began, the city’s name was changed to Petrograd, as there was a concern that St Petersburg sounded too Germanic and in 1918, German troops were so close to Petrograd that the Russian government decided to make Moscow the capital once again.

WWI then Revolution and finally, in 1924, the Communists changed the city’s name to Leningrad. A very ugly name for a very beautiful city, IMHO.

My poor grandparents, being there at a time of utter turmoil and chaos!

The more I delve into my research, the more I admire them all for getting through those horrible times — WWI, the Revolution, then WWII — and coming out the other end without too many scars  🙁

This photo must have been taken in Russia before the Revolution – but I have no idea where it was taken 😮  I don’t think it was Nikolaieff or Baku, so must assume it was taken somewhere near St Petersburg!

It looks like it could be my grandmother standing by the tree when she was a young girl, but I don’t know who the little boy is, or the dog 😉



Very interesting article about St Isaac Cathedral in the 21st Century …

10 reasons why St. Isaac’s Cathedral is a unique masterpiece – St. Petersburg’s largest cathedral will be returned to the Russian Orthodox Church (RBTH)



St Petersburg

Pictures of St Petersburg taken during the late 1800s/early 1900s

*NB – when you click on the album, the screen will show the top of this page. Please just scroll down to see the pictures.










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