Wednesday 29 August 2018
Our trip this year began at 6am when we left home to drive to Canberra with Rae and David. After breakfast together at Canberra Airport, Rae and David headed back home and we caught the flight to Sydney. Following the flight, the bus ride to T1 and lunch in the lounge, we left Sydney 3.15pm. After a mainly smooth flight we arrived in Abu Dhabi at 12.15am (a 15hour flight) and left again at 3.15am to arrive in Moscow 7.35am (nearly 24hours in total).
Thursday 30 August
After clearing Security and Customs we met our driver for a two hour drive in peak-hour traffic to our hotel; a cup of tea and lunch followed by a walk. There was a large area set up with stalls selling local wares – honeys, jams, pottery and food of all descriptions. The massed displays of miniature roses provided a colourful backdrop to the activities. We saw a white baby grand piano filled with red and pink geraniums as well as a large potted variegated Pittosporum hung with brightly coloured little dresses.
After 2pm we could access our room; the unpacking was followed by a shower – being in the same clothes for 36hours necessitated a shower and change of clothes.
The Hotel Metropol was very close to the Kremlin, Bolshoi Theatre, St Basil Cathedral and Red Square which made exploration accessible and I could take a break while John carried on exploring. Describing the Hotel Metropol in Moscow is a challenge – words seem inadequate for this experience and the photos will cover it more ably.
Friday 31 August
Breakfast is another experience in elegance – a beautiful room, white linen on the tables with a dainty fresh rose and greenery, a myriad of lights, a harpist providing a soft melody and attentive staff. The food was all locally produced, freshly prepared and most enjoyable; a delightful way to dine before heading out for a day of sightseeing.
We began the day’s activities with the Red Bus Tour; our way of orienting ourselves and deciding what to visit. After nearly the complete circuit, we left the bus at the Kremlin to join the thousands of other visitors. The red brick wall that surrounds the Kremlin is 500years and the buildings within cover many decades in styles we have not seen previously. As with most iconic buildings, trying to see everything (that is available to the public) would take days, so we decided to explore the Cathedrals and churches. Once again, the architecture and decorations covered centuries; an amazing array of paintings, frescos, religious artifacts and Shrines to Reliquaries (sacred repositories for relics).
The Tsar’s Cannon was the most ornate weapon I can remember seeing; it would have needed a rather large blast to launch one of the cannonballs on display.
Saturday 1 September
Another delightful breakfast, this morning’s table decoration had changed to autumnal colouring. It was amazing how many types of bread and pastries were available; baguette, square loaf in white or black, cob, loaves in every type of cereal, many with additives such as fruit or chocolate, croissants and numerous sweet pastries. There were eight varieties of homemade jams – the raspberry was delicious. John found the egg chef and indulged in an omelette in addition to a range of other foods.
First thing, John headed out to explore the Armory returning at lunchtime, while I worked on the Newsletter.
JR – I was down to the tourist office by 9am to ensure I got one of the 200 tickets allocated for 10am opening. Only 30 left after I got my ticket.
Walked around the gardens to kill time and then went through security to be at the entrance by 10am only to be beaten by two tour groups.
I obtained an electronic guide and proceeded to section 6 which contained the gowns, thrones and jewels of the past rulers back to the 15th Century.
Then upstairs to sections containing silverware, gifts from foreign nations, soldiers protective armour, horses and their ceremonial equipment and lastly the carriages. About 15 in total from the very early day to the reign of Catherine the Great who had very expensive taste. The latest one had rubber wheels instead of the usual steel.
On the way home I came across a wedding couple posing with some of the troops performing at the pageant in the Kremlin.
This afternoon we explored Red Square; a large cobblestone area, once again surrounded by tall red brick walls with turrets. The Square was set up with lots of small stalls selling a wide selection of souvenirs, local products and food. There were several arenas for a range of events, including children’s activities, ballroom dancing displays, Mounted Cavalry as well as the International Military Tattoo. We tried to find the ticket office to see if we could buy tickets for tonight’s performance but that proved impossible – fortunately John was able to buy them from the hotel concierge.
There is a large indoor high-end shopping arcade The GUM) off one side of Red Square and we spent time just wandering. I was was reminded of the Strand Arcade but on a much larger scale, a beautiful glass dome ceiling, wide marble walkways and stairways with numerous atria to sit an while away some time enjoying the world around you. All the high-fashion labels were represented, displaying their autumn and winter fashions; it looks as though checks and tartans in more subtle tones are the preferred option this season – from woollens through to sheer fabrics all with variations of check patterns.
The crowds both inside and outside were larger today, out enjoying the festival and the warm weather. The walkways between buildings were a stream of people heading in both directions, leaving no room for people to just stand.
Sunday 2 September
After spending the morning alternatively resting and packing our gear, we were collected at our hotel for the trip to the cruise ship – some 20km away. The car trip took us through some rather upmarket shopping as well as residential areas but the further we drove there was a difference in architecture as well as maintenance.
After boarding the Alexander Grin / Scenic Tsar we had lunch and then unpacked for the fortnight aboard. The Captain’s Welcome and safety briefing was followed by an overview of our time on this cruise – lots to see and do.
Monday 3 September
We spent a rather full day of sightseeing, starting with the hour long bus trip back into the city centre, then driving around to view the major sights with a commentary by a local guide who certainly had lots to tell us about the various sights interspersed with history of the area.
Arty (one our cruise director team) was telling us Russians love to shop – a hangover from the days of there being nothing to buy. Arty also wanted to correct some misconceptions e.g. Russians do not consume any more Vodka than any other country, Matryoshka Dolls originated in Japan and the country does not shut down in winter, everything still operates as normal, they just wear really thick clothing, very few people wear fur hats – they are for the tourists. Moscow (Moskva) is a city of some 15 million people, has the highest number of billionaires in the world and real estate prices are higher than New York, although the size of apartments is rather smaller.
We stopped at the Sparrow Hills lookout over the city, but the vista was hampered by the smog, but on a clear day it would be fascinating to identify the various areas that had been described on our drive. The incongruity between the cluster of ultra modern buildings was clearly seen however.
The next stop was to visit thee stations on the famous Moscow underground; I decided to stay on the bus for this one; poor balance and 100+ metres long, escalators that move rapidly with crowds of people in a hurry would not be a good combination. The underground carries some 9million passengers a day with a train arriving every minute or minute and a half with the doors opening for just 10seconds.
Following the train journey we stopped at a local restaurant for lunch before going to Red Square again as well as visiting St Basil Cathedral.
John and I wandered around, stopping for ice cream before our tour of the Cathedral, known as Basil Cathedral, its correct title is Intercession Cathedral. The cathedral’s construction was ordered by “Tsar Ivan the Terrible, and was conducted between 1555 and 1561, to celebrate the conquest of the Khanate of Kazan” (which coincided with Intercession Day).
“According to legend, the czar blinded Postnik Yakovlev, the architect of this cathedral, so he could not build a church that was better than this one, though it is known this is not true, Yakovlev also participated in the construction of the Kremlin of Kazan some years after.
Throughout its 457year history, the cathedral has been in danger of disappearing on more than one occasion, surviving fires, Napoleon’s invasion and even a demolition plan by Stalin collaborators , who considered that the cathedral hindered military parades in Red Square.
Outside the cathedral (now a Museum) you can see its beautiful domes, all different with striking, colourful and rounded shapes. In front of the church, in a garden, a bronze statue stands in honour of Dmitry Pozharsky and Kuzma Minin, who gathered volunteers for the army that fought against the Polish invaders during the Time of the Riots (between 1598 and 1613).”
The last part of the day was a cruise on the Moskva River before the hour plus drive back to our ship in the evening traffic arriving back after 7pm. Needless to say, we were both rather tired and did not take long to crawl into bed – I think Rheinberger may have broken his own record from immediately falling asleep to the snoring.
Tuesday 4 September
Today was a rather quiet day after yesterday’s effort. Editing photos to add to the Newsletter and then upload to the website took most of the day, so a day well spent.
In the evening, John went to the Russian National Dance Show – Kostroma and thoroughly enjoyed the performance; he bought the DVD for me and I look forward to seeing it.
The evenings are beginning to cool a little, thank heavens which makes it much more pleasant for venturing out on deck to view the world around the waterway. The colour of the water would not entice you to swim in it, let alone use it for any domestic purpose. Dead fish floating by did not add anything positive. There were several people sitting along the water’s edge, even a couple ventured in to swim – costumes optional apparently.
Wednesday 5 September
Today’s outing was to the Cosmonaut Museum which once again necessitated the hour and half drive back into town. Firstly we walked around the Space Obelisk, 150 metres tall, topped with a spaceship and covered in titanium; next we visited the statues depicting the scientists and early Astronauts while we were given a potted history of their early space program. Inside the Museum we were led through all the exhibits with the history lesson continuing as we moved through to the auditorium where one of the Cosmonauts gave a presentation on his four months on the International Space Station. It was very interesting to gain an insight to his time in space six years ago, his hopes for a return visit soon as well as an enjoyable visit to Australia eight years and carrying those souvenirs in to space.
After lunch at a local restaurant the return trip to the ship took two hours – the first hour was spent crawling through the bumper-to-bumper city traffic.
In the evening I joined a bus load to visit a private art museum to attend a concert of professional singers. The art was not to my taste however the concert was very enjoyable.
Landscapes are more to my taste
Thursday 6 September
John joined the buses and spent the morning at the World War II Museum while I spent the time having sutures removed (a last minute excision undertaken the day before left).
As the ship’s Doctor was unable / unwilling to remove my sutures, I needed to be driven into a GMS Clinic in town for a Doctor there to remove them for me. Talk about a challenging morning; it began with the hour’s hair-raising drive to the Clinic (I am sure the driver must have been a Kamikaze pilot in a former life and thought he is a racing driver in this one). After filling in numerous forms, I eventually saw the Doctor for him to remove the sutures – not too sure he had ever removed any previously and what should have been a simple procedure took nearly an hour to achieve. I then had to wait for half an hour for the Doctor to write a three two-line sentence report before facing the return journey. Next time I won’t try to utilise the tour company medical personnel, just find a nurse among the passengers. The ship’s doctor sent a message to me to see her to have the dressing changed in two days – fat chance!
WWII Museum is another impressive structure completed in 1995. A large circular column building from the front followed by a doomed building behind which housed six rooms featuring a diorama and frescos on the entrance and side walls. Each diorama featured a different stage of the war. A central staircase lead to a high circular doomed room which featured a light & movie presentation of prominent military staff who lead the war effort.
We set sail at 2.30pm and after the mandatory safety drill, John slept while I watched as we travelled through several locks via Moscow Canal to the Volga River.
The Captain’s Dinner was a pleasant time – chatting with interesting people while eating lovely food. An entertaining couple of hours.
Friday 7 September
A later start today as we sail to Uglich. A leisurely breakfast before listening to Elena’s presentation on Russian History.
After docking at Uglich by 1.30pm, there was a Walking Tour of the Old Town.
Uglich is a town in west Russia. The grounds of its Kremlin citadel surround the green-domed Transfiguration Cathedral, which has an ornate wall of icons. Close by, the Church of St. Dmitry on the Blood has vivid frescoes memorializing the death of 16th-century leader Ivan the Terrible’s son. Uglich State Museum exhibits antique weapons and religious artifacts. The Hydropower Museum lies west along the Volga River. Area: 26.6 km² Population (2010 Census): 34,507 inhabitants
Founded: 937 or 1148
We set sail again at 5pm to ensure we met our time-slot at the Rybinsk lock on the way to Yaroslavl.
Saturday 8 September
Having docked at Yaroslavl at dawn we were up early for breakfast before the sight-seeing of the Old City began at 8.30am.
The city of Yaroslavl is situated on the Volga River at its confluence with the Kotorosl River, some 250 km northeast of Moscow. It was founded by the Prince of Kievan Russia Yaroslav-the-Wise (988-1010) and consisted of a small wooden fortress. Until the 13th century, it had belonged to the territory of Rostov Principality and in 1218 it became the capital of Yaroslavl Principality. The city of Yaroslavl started developing in 1463 when Yaroslavl Principality joined the powerful Moscow state. After several fires, and starting from the 16th century, the original wooden town was gradually rebuilt in stone.
The Historical Centre of the City of Yaroslavl is the oldest part and the kernel of development of one of the most ancient, rich, and well preserved Russian cities. The historic centre is a representative example of the development of the planning structures of ancient Russian cities, which was subject to regular urban re-development as a part of unique town-planning reform pursued by Empress Catherine the Great at the end of 18th century. Solutions developed and implemented in Yaroslavl ensured preservation of the historical environment and spatial integrity in the central part of the city.
The Historical Centre of the City of Yaroslavl became a recognised model in the art of town planning during the Neoclassical Age, which has organically incorporated ancient elements of the city’s historical structure. It comprises a large number of town-planning elements representing the development of Russian architecture of the 16th to 18th centuries. The property consists of the historic centre of the city, the Slobody, forming roughly a half circle with radial streets from the centre. It is essentially Neoclassical in style, with harmonious and uniform streetscapes.
Most residential and public buildings are two to three storeys high along wide streets and urban squares. A specific and unique feature of Yaroslavl is the existence of numerous 16th- and 17th-century churches and monastic ensembles with valuable mural paintings and iconostases, which are outstanding in terms of their architecture, as dominant town-planning elements and composition centres. The main merits of the town-planning structure and architectural face of Yaroslavl city centre are the rational approach to activation of artistic values of the past within the city system, and the subordination of further architectural constructions to them, using the contrast between picturesque ancient churches and distinctly regular, symmetrical, composed classical buildings of the later periods.
Another particularity is the organic use of the rich natural landscape at the junction of two rivers, with their picturesque banks and wide water expanses. They reveal marvellous sights of well-equipped embankments with the best buildings constructed there.
Our guide took us through the local park to a vantage point to overlook a new free space created for the city in recent years. We then came back to the city square to view another older church that was now a museum and on the square there was a parade of the armed forces recruits taking their oaths.
All aboard and left at 12md; we spent a quiet afternoon watching the world go by – do you gain the impression we are slowing down a little?
Sunday 9 September
A rainy night with lots of lightning but very little thunder and the weather cooling nicely – a lovely 19C for most of the day.
After arriving at Gorinsky at 10.30 we were taken by buses to the St Cyril Monastery were we spent the morning on an organised tour of two of the Chapels.
Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery (Russian: Кирилло-Белозерский монастырь), translated into English as White Lake [translation of the town name of Beloozero] St. Cyril’s Monastery, used to be the largest monastery and the strongest fortress in Northern Russia. The monastery was consecrated to the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, for which cause it was sometimes referred to as the Dormition Monastery of St. Cyril. By the 20th century, the town of Kirillov had grown nearby.
The monastery was founded in 1397 on the bank of Lake Siverskoye, to the south of the town of Beloozero, in the present-day Vologda Oblast. Its founder, St. Cyril or Kirill of Beloozero, following the advice of his teacher, St. Sergius of Radonezh, first dug a cave here, then built a wooden Dormition chapel and a loghouse for other monks. Shortly before the creation of the monastery, the area fell under the control of the Grand Duchy of Moscow.
Being a member of the influential Velyaminov clan of boyars, Kirill relinquished the office of father superior of the greatest cloister in medieval Moscow, the Simonov monastery. His close ties with the ruling elite can be convincingly demonstrated by his letters to sons of Dmitri Donskoi. It seems that the Muscovite rulers regarded Kirill’s monastery as an important strategic point, both for Northern trade and in their struggle with the Novgorod Republic. By 1427, when Kirill died, the prince of Belozersk-Mozhaisk (subject to the Grand Prince of Moscow) was the monastery’s patron, and the monastery was administratively subordinate to the Archbishop of Rostov. Under Hegumen Trifon (1434/5–1447/8), social and administrative reforms were undertaken, including the adoption of an Athonite cenobitic rule. A Byzantine-style secondary school was established at which translations of textbooks on grammar, semantics, geography, and history were used. A lasting legacy of the school were bibliographical studies, exemplified by the elder Yefrosin, and text-critical studies, exemplified by Nil Sorsky (1433–1508). Nil also founded a skete on the Sora River near the monastery.
In the 16th century, the monastery was the second richest landowner in Russia, after its model, the Trinity Monastery near Moscow. Ivan the Terrible not only had his own cell in the cloister, but also planned to take monastic vows here. The cloister was also important as a political prison. Among the Muscovite politicians exiled to Kirillov were Vassian Patrikeyev, Tsar Simeon Bekbulatovich, Patriarch Nikon, and the prime minister Boris Morozov. In December 1612, the monastery was besieged by Polish-Lithuanian vagabonds, the Lisowczycy, who failed to capture it.
The vast walled area of the monastery comprises two separate priories with eleven churches, most of them dating to the 16th century. Of these, nine belong to the Uspensky (Dormition, the Orthodox equivalent of the Catholic holiday known as the Assumption of Mary) priory by the lake. The Dormition cathedral, erected by Rostov masters in 1497, was the largest monastery church built in Russia up to that date. Its 17th-century iconostasis features many ancient icons, arranged in five tiers above a silver heaven gate endowed by Tsar Alexis in 1645. A lot of valuable objects kept in the sacristy are personal gifts of the tsars who visited the monastery.
The smaller Ivanovsky priory is dedicated to St. John the Precursor, the patron saint of Ivan the Terrible. The oldest church of the priory was commissioned by Ivan’s father, for the benefit of the “mendicant brethren,” soon after his visit to the monastery in 1528. Subsequently, the monks incurred the tsar’s displeasure by constructing St. Vladimir’s Chapel over the grave of the exiled Prince Vorotynsky. Although the tsar chastised them for having broken canonical requirements, the chapel — which became the first family mausoleum in Russia — survived Ivan’s reign and was expanded to its present form in 1623.
The monastery walls, 732 meters long and 7 meters thick, were constructed in 1654-80. They incorporate parts of the earlier citadel, which helped to withstand the Polish siege in 1612. The first construction works were supervised by Jean de Gron, a French military engineer known in Russian sources as Anton Granovsky. After the monastic authorities denigrated his Western-style design as alien to Russian traditions, Granovsky was replaced by a team of native masters. The fortress was the largest erected in Muscovy after the Time of Troubles; its walls feature numerous towers, each built to a particular design. The most remarkable are the Chasuble, the Tent-like, the Vologda, and the Smithy towers.
After the Bolsheviks, the monastery was secularised and turned into a museum (1924), a wooden shrine from 1485 and several traditional timber structures were put on exhibit on the grounds. During Soviet restoration works, superb 16th-century frescoes were discovered in the gate church of St. Sergius (1560–94).
On the other hand, the monastic library and some other treasures were transferred to Moscow and St Petersburg. These included the oldest extant copies of the 12th-century Daniel’s Pilgrimage and the Zadonshchina.
The larger part of the monastery is still administrated as the Kirillo-Belozersky Museum of History, Art, and Architecture. The monks were readmitted into the Ivanovsky priory in 1998. As of 2011, the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery was one of the four functioning monasteries in Vologda Oblast.
The ensemble of the monastery has been designated as a cultural heritage monument of federal significance.
Today there are 10 Monks and 10 Novice Monks in residence, several of whom form “The White Lake Ensemble” and we were treated to a short performance while in one of the chapels. Orthodox churches in Russia have no seating, you may either stand or kneel; also, there is no music played – all singing is A cappella and the ensemble sounded amazing.
The bell tower originally had 20 bells, but all Russian church bells were melted down in the 15th Century to supply Peter the Great with Cannons (examples seen at the Kremlin in Moscow). Now there are four smaller bells on the Church of John the Baptist for use by the Monks who rise at daybreak and retire at sunset and spend their day in prayer, translating the Bible or working in the Monastery kitchen or gardens.
We set sail again at 1.30pm and spent a quiet afternoon reading, editing photos, adding to the Newsletter and updating the website (John also managed to have a nap).
After listening To Part2 of Elena’s Russian History (Romanovs to Putin) we stayed the hear what was on the agenda for tomorrow’s tour and then retired.
Monday 10 September
Another quiet morning as we sailed to Kizhi Island was spent reading, chatting and I went to a workshop painting a Matreshka Doll – entertaining to say the least; I don’t think I could make a living at this enterprise.
The name Kizhi is believed to originate from ancient Veps or Karelian word “kizhat” or “kizhansuari” (“social gathering” or “island of games”). In Russian, it is usually pronounced with stress on the first syllable; an alternative stress on the ultimate syllable is grammatically incorrect in the Russian and Karelian languages.
Since at least the 14th century, the island was part of the exchange route between Novgorod and White Sea. The numerous settlements on Kizhi and neighboring islands (about 100 by the 16th century) comprised an administrative entity called Spas-Kizhi Pogost. Since the 13th and 14th century, the area acquired economical importance as a source of iron ores. By the early 18th century, as a consequence of the industrial reforms of Tzar Peter I, several ore mines and metallurgy plants were built on the Onega Lake, in particular on the place of modern Medvezhyegorsk and Petrozavodsk cities. Those plants required hard physical labor such as cutting forests for wood, coal burning, ground works, etc., which was mostly provided by the local peasants.
The labor was forced; the disobeyed were punished by public beating and fines that sparked local riots. The largest one occurred in 1769–1771 and is known as Kizhi Uprising, which was sparked by a governor order to send peasants during the harvest season for works at Tivdiysk marble mine and construction of the Lizhemsky metallurgical plant. Peasants disobeyed and boycotted the order. They were soon joined by up to 40,000 people from all over Karelia led by Kliment Sobolev, Andrei Salnikov and Semen Kostin. The revolt was based in the Kizhi Pogost that resulted in its name. The peasants sent petitioners to St. Petersburg, but those were arrested and punished, and a military corps was sent to suppress the uprising. They arrived to Kizhi by the end of June, 1771, and after artillery fire the peasants quickly surrendered. The leaders and 50–70 other peasants were publicly beaten and sent to exile in Siberia. Many others were forced into military service, which was a form of punishment of the time. However, the recruitment of peasants for the construction of local plants and mineworks had stopped.
From the early times, the most important occupation of the islanders was farming. All available area, about half of the island was converted to fields; from the remaining half, a quarter was rocky and the rest occupied by swamps. On one occasion in the 18th century, two villages were moved from Kizhi island to the nearby infertile mainland to free land for farming. Until 1970, the island had about 96 hectares of fields yielding various grains and potato, and combine harvesters and tractors for field cultivation. The farming was stopped in 1971 by a government directive. Some fields were reconstructed in 2004 as part of the Kizhi museum. Those fields are an exhibit demonstrating major steps of the farming and harvesting work.
Other traditional activities of the area included embroidery, making beaded jewelry, weaving (including traditional birch bark weaving), knitting, spinning, woodcarving (which included making traditional Russian wooden toys) and pottery.
The first mentioning of churches on the island is dated to 1563. This document describes two domed wooden churches with a bell tower standing in the southern part of the island (on the site of the present Kizhi Pogost), and mentions their earlier description of 1496. A more detailed description was documented in 1628. In particular, contrary to the later, domed churches of the pogost, the first ones had pyramidal roofs. Those churches were burned by a fire caused by lightning in the end of the 17th century. The first church raised after the fire was the Church of the Intercession (Russian: церковь Покрова Богородицы, 1694) which was heated and held services all year long. It was reconstructed several times in 1720–1749 and in 1764 rebuilt into its present 9-dome design.
In 1714, the 22-dome Transfiguration Church (Russian: Церковь Преображения Господня) was constructed and soon after the bell tower was added, thereby completing the Kizhi Pogost. The bell tower was entirely rebuilt in 1862. Much earlier, some time in the 17th century, a 300-meter long fence was built around the churches, which then served as a protection ground against Swedish and Polish incursions.
Kizhi churches were built on stones, without a deep foundation. Their major basic structural unit is a round log of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) about 30 cm in diameter and 3 to 5 meters long. Many thousands logs were brought for construction from the mainland which was a complex logistical task at that time. The logs were cut and shaped with axes and assembled without nails, using interlocking corner joinery — either round notch or dovetail. Flat roofs were made of spruce planks and the domes are covered in aspen.
Open-air museum Kizhi is one of the first in Russia, which started functioning on the island in 1951 and currently contains about 87 wooden constructions. The most famous of them is the Kizhi Pogost, which contains two churches and a bell tower surrounded by a fence. The pogost was included in the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1990.Since 1951, a large number of historical buildings were moved to the island. They include Church of the Resurrection of Lazarus from Murom Monastery, which is regarded as the oldest remaining wooden church in Russia (second half of the 14th century), several bell towers, more than 20 peasant houses, mills, barns and saunas. In 1993, the museum was included into a short list a Russian Cultural Heritage sites. The museum contains more than 41,000 exhibits. Most of them are domestic artifacts: tools, dishes, utensils, furniture, etc. There are about 1000 icons of the 16th–19th centuries which includes Russia’s only collection of “heavens”. There are also church items, such as crosses early manuscript of 17th–19th centuries. The museum also contains exhibits of the 20th century, about 10,000 photographs and 1,500 drawings.
What a delightful couple of hours wandering around the Open Air Museum with commentary supplied by Marianna, our local guide. I will let the photos better reflect our time on the Island rather than words that possibly do not portray its subtle beauty adequately.
Tuesday 11 September
After docking at Mandrogi at 9am, we were free to roam the village until we sail. Once again the photos can more ably portray the quaintness of the buildings – once again wooden structures. The older structures were made completely of wood, including the rooves and gutters, while the newer ones had concrete foundations, steel frames, wooden cladding and detail with steep metal rooves. Today it is a tourist destination with artisans from a great range of crafts making and selling their wares.
The north shore of Lake Ladoga contains many fascinating sights that have been around since Peter the Great moved the capital to the shores of the nearby Baltic Sea. One of the most beautiful of them, located just beyond the archipelago monastery of Valaam, is a small village settled in the 18th century on the left bank of the Svir River – Mandrogi.
Prior to World War II Mandrogi was a quintessential Karellian mill town, a fishing settlement hardly touched by time. The war left it a burnt ruin, but after the Soviet Union fell, a group of Russian investors bought the land and invited the best of the region’s woodworkers to use their creativity and traditional skills to restore the town to its former glory. Between 1996 and 1999 the traditional buildings were restored, and today the settlement is called Upper Mandrogi (Verkhny Mandrogi).
Cruise ship passengers traveling between St. Petersburg and Moscow on Russia’s most popular waterway route frequent the cobbled streets of Upper Mandrogi. The intricate gingerbread-like traditional woodwork regularly attracts international tourists, many of whom spend a day getting to know the local museums, each featuring a different aspect of Russian folk life. The most popular museum is the Museum of Russian Vodka. It contains a collection of 2,800 different types of vodka brought from all across the Russian Federation, with displays educating the guest on the varying ways in which this drink is produced.
Joining this popular attraction are craft workshops where painting and wood carving, weaving, lacework, and pottery are demonstrated.
We spent an hour wandering around the village, in and out of most of the shops to view their wares (it was a challenge resisting temptation to buy many beautiful items).
Lunch was a Russian Barbecue – Shashliki provided in a large catering hall. The wide range food was very tasty – the soup was either Russian Vegetable or Chicken consommé followed by pork, chicken, fish, sausage, baked potato, numerous salads and dressings accompanied with the usual range of drinks.
The meal was accompanied with Russian Music – a lady singing with a chap playing the balalaika; both excellent performers and well received by our group.
A short walk back to the ship and set sail at 1.15pm
We now sailed down the river Svir and to our final loch connecting Onega Lake and Ladoga Lake, a fall of 17metres. Lake Ladoga is the largest lake in Europe and in a good storm waves can reach three and a half metres. We were told to expect some movement during the night as there was rain approaching, thankfully it was not too bad. Lake Ladoga flows via the Neva River through St Petersburg and into the Gulf of Finland. It is a fast flowing river but does not flood these days because of upstream dams that control the flow, however if there is a strong western winds in the Gulf than it can cause the water to backup in Neva and flood St Petersburg.
Wednesday 12 September
Overcast and light rain this morning for the bus trip around St Petersburg.
Today we start with a guided tour of this uniquely beautiful metropolis, followed by lunch in a local restaurant. Then we visit the Hermitage, formerly the Winter Palace and home of the Tsars. Today it houses one of the world’s most magnificent art collections.
The State Hermitage Museum is a museum of art and culture in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The second-largest art museum in the world, it was founded in 1764 when Empress Catherine the Great acquired an impressive collection of paintings from the Berlin merchant Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky. The museum celebrates the anniversary of its founding each year on 7 December, Saint Catherine’s Day. It has been open to the public since 1852.
Its collections, of which only a small part is on permanent display, comprise over three million items (the numismatic collection accounts for about one-third of them), including the largest collection of paintings in the world. The collections occupy a large complex of six historic buildings along Palace Embankment, including the Winter Palace, a former residence of Russian emperors. Apart from them, the Menshikov Palace, Museum of Porcelain, Storage Facility at Staraya Derevnya, and the eastern wing of the General Staff Building are also part of the museum. The museum has several exhibition centers abroad. The Hermitage is a federal state property. Since July 1992, the director of the museum has been Mikhail Piotrovsky.
Of the six buildings in the main museum complex, five—namely the Winter Palace, Small Hermitage, Old Hermitage, New Hermitage, and Hermitage Theatre—are open to the public. The entrance ticket for foreign tourists costs more than the fee paid by citizens of Russia and Belarus. However, entrance is free of charge the first Thursday of every month for all visitors, and free daily for students and children. The museum is closed on Mondays. The entrance for individual visitors is located in the Winter Palace, accessible from the Courtyard.
A hermitage is the dwelling of a hermit or recluse. The word derives from Old French hermit, ermit “hermit, recluse”, from Late Latin eremita, from Greek eremites, literally “people who live alone”, which is in turn derived from ἐρημός (erēmos), “desert”. The building was initially given this name because of its exclusivity – in its early days, only very few people were allowed to visit.
Originally, the only building housing the collection was the “Small Hermitage”. Today, the Hermitage Museum encompasses many buildings on the Palace Embankment and its neighbourhoods. Apart from the Small Hermitage, the museum now also includes the “Old Hermitage” (also called “Large Hermitage”), the “New Hermitage”, the “Hermitage Theatre”, and the “Winter Palace”, the former main residence of the Russian tsars. In recent years, the Hermitage has expanded to the General Staff Building on the Palace Square facing the Winter Palace, and the Menshikov Palace.
Since 1940, the Egyptian collection, dating back to 1852 and including the former Castiglione Collection, has occupied a large hall on the ground floor in the eastern part of the Winter Palace. It serves as a passage to the exhibition of Classical Antiquities. A modest collection of the culture of Ancient Mesopotamia, including a number of Assyrian reliefs from Babylon, Dur-Sharrukin and Nimrud, is located in the same part of the building.
The collection of classical antiquities occupies most of the ground floor of the Old and New Hermitage buildings. The interiors of the ground floor were designed by German architect Leo von Klenze in the Greek revival style in the early 1850s, using painted polished stucco and columns of natural marble and granite. One of the largest and most notable interiors of the first floor is the Hall of Twenty Columns, divided into three parts by two rows of grey monolithic columns of Serdobol granite, intended for the display of Graeco-Etruscan vases. Its floor is made of a modern marble mosaic imitating ancient tradition, while the stucco walls and ceiling are covered in painting.
The Room of the Great Vase in the western wing features the 2.57m (8.4ft) high Kolyvan Vase, weighing 19t (42,000lb), made of jasper in 1843 and installed before the walls were erected. While the western wing was designed for exhibitions, the rooms on the ground floor in the eastern wing of the New Hermitage, now also hosting exhibitions, were originally intended for libraries. The floor of the Athena Room in the south-eastern corner of the building, one of the original libraries, is decorated with an authentic 4th-century mosaic excavated in an early Christian basilica in Chersonesos in 1854.
The collection of classical antiquities features Greek artefacts from the third millennium – fifth century BC, ancient Greek pottery, items from the Greek cities of the North Pontic Greek colonies, Hellenistic sculpture and jewellery, including engraved gems and cameos, such as the famous Gonzaga Cameo, Italic art from the 9th to second century BC, Roman marble and bronze sculpture and applied art from the first century BC – fourth century AD, including copies of Classical and Hellenistic Greek sculptures. One of the highlights of the collection is the Tauride Venus, which, according to latest research, is an original Hellenistic Greek sculpture rather than a Roman copy as it was thought before. There are, however, only a few pieces of authentic Classical Greek sculpture and sepulchral monuments.
On the ground floor in the western wing of the Winter Palace the collections of prehistoric artefacts and the culture and art of the Caucasus are located, as well as the second treasure gallery. The prehistoric artefacts date from the Palaeolithic to the Iron Age and were excavated all over Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union and Russian Empire. Among them is a renowned collection of the art and culture of nomadic tribes of the Altai from Pazyryk and Bashadar sites, including the world’s oldest surviving knotted-pile carpet and a well-preserved wooden chariot, both from the 4th–3rd centuries BC. The Caucasian exhibition includes a collection of Urartu artifacts from Armenia and Western Armenia. Many of them were excavated at Teishebaini under the supervision of Boris Piotrovsky, former director of the Hermitage Museum.
Jewellery and Decorative Art
Four small rooms on the ground floor, enclosed in the middle of the New Hermitage between the room displaying Classical Antiquities, comprise the first treasure gallery, featuring western jewellery from the 4th millennium BC to the early 20th century AD. The second treasure gallery, located on the ground floor in the southwest corner of the Winter Palace, features jewellery from the Pontic steppes, Caucasus and Asia, in particular Scythian and Sarmatian gold. Visitors may only visit the treasure galleries as part of a guided tour.
The Pavilion Hall
Pavilion Hall, designed by Andrei Stackenschneider in 1858, occupies the first floor of the Northern Pavilion in the Small Hermitage. It features the 18th-century golden Peacock Clock by James Cox and a collection of mosaics. The floor of the hall is adorned with a 19th-century imitation of an ancient Roman mosaic.
Two galleries spanning the west side of the Small Hermitage from the Northern to Southern Pavilion house an exhibition of Western European decorative and applied art from the 12th to 15th century and the fine art of the Low Countries from the 15th and 16th centuries.
The rooms on the first floor of the Old Hermitage were designed by Andrei Stakenschneider in revival styles in between 1851 and 1860, although the design survives only in some of them. They feature works of Italian Renaissance artists, including Giorgione, Titian, Veronese, as well as Benois Madonna and Madonna Litta attributed to Leonardo da Vinci or his school.
The Small Italian Skylight Room
The Italian Renaissance galleries continues in the eastern wing of the New Hermitage with paintings, sculpture, majolica and tapestry from Italy of the 15th–16th centuries, including Conestabile Madonna and Madonna with Beardless St. Joseph by Raphael. The gallery known as the Raphael Loggias, designed by Giacomo Quarenghi and painted by Cristopher Unterberger and his workshop in the 1780s as a replication of the loggia in the Apostolic Palace in Rome frescoed by Raphael, runs along the eastern facade.
Italian and Spanish Fine Art
The first floor of New Hermitage contains three large interior spaces in the center of the museum complex with red walls and lit from above by skylights. These are adorned with 19th-century Russian lapidary works and feature Italian and Spanish canvases of the 16th-18th centuries, including Veronese, Giambattista Pittoni, Tintoretto, Velázquez and Murillo. In the enfilade of smaller rooms alongside the skylight rooms the Italian and Spanish fine art of the 15th-17th centuries, including Michelangelo’s Crouching Boy and paintings by El Greco.
The museum also houses paintings by Luis Tristán, Francisco de Zurbarán, Alonso Cano, José de Ribera and Goya.
The Knights’ Hall, a large room in the eastern part of the New Hermitage originally designed in the Greek revival style for the display of coins, now hosts a collection of Western European arms and armour from the 15th-17th centuries, part of the Hermitage Arsenal collection. The Hall of Twelve Columns, in the southeast corner of the New Hermitage, is adorned with columns of grey Serdobol granite and was also designed in the Greek revival style for the display of coins, is now used for temporary exhibitions.
The Three Graces by Canova
The Gallery of the History of Ancient Painting adjoins the Knights’ Hall and also flanks the skylight rooms. It was designed by Leo von Klenze in the Greek revival style as a prelude to the museum and features neoclassical marble sculptures by Antonio Canova and his followers. In the middle, the gallery opens to the main staircase of the New Hermitage, which served as the entrance to the museum before the October Revolution of 1917, but is now closed. The upper gallery of the staircase is adorned with twenty grey Serdobol granite columns and feature 19th-century European sculpture and Russian lapidary works.
Dutch Golden Age and Flemish Baroque
The Rubens Room
The rooms and galleries along the southern facade and in the western wing of the New Hermitage are now entirely devoted to Dutch Golden Age and Flemish Baroque painting of the 17th century, including the large collections of Van Dyck, Rubens and Rembrandt. They also contain several paintings by Jan Brueghel the Elder (Velvet period), Frans Snyders (for example, The Fish Market), Gerard ter Borch, Paulus Potter, Jan van Goyen, Ferdinand Bol and Gerard van Honthorst.
German, Swiss, British and French fine art
The first floor rooms on the southern facade of the Winter Palace are occupied by the collections of German fine art of the 16th century and French fine art of the 15th–18th centuries, including paintings by Poussin, Lorrain, Watteau.
The collections of French decorative and applied art from the 17th–18th centuries and British applied and fine art from the 16th–19th century, including Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds, are on display in nearby rooms facing the courtyard. This area also holds paintings by German artists, including Hans Wertinger, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Barthel Bruyn the Elder, Caspar David Friedrich (Moonrise by the Sea), Anton Mengs, Hans Thoma, Anselm Feuerbach, Franz Stuck (Two Men Fighting Over a Woman) and Heinrich Campendonk as well as paintings by Swiss painters Angelica Kauffman, Alexandre Calame, Arnold Böcklin and Ferdinand Hodler.
The richly decorated interiors of the first floor of the Winter Palace on its eastern, northern and western sides are part of the Russian culture collection and host the exhibitions of Russian art from the 11th-19th centuries. Temporary exhibitions are usually held in the Nicholas Hall.
French Neoclassical, Impressionist, and Post-Impressionist Art
The only portion of the second floor open to the public is in the Winter Palace. French Neoclassical, Impressionist and post-Impressionist art, including works by Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh and Gauguin, is displayed there in the southeastern corner. It also displays paintings by Camille Pissarro (Boulevard Montmartre, Paris), Paul Cézanne (Mount Sainte-Victoire), Alfred Sisley, Henri Morel, and Degas.
Modern, German Romantic and Other 19-20th Century Art
Portrait of Nikolay Borisovich Yusupov by italian Vincenzo Petrocelli, 1851
Modern art is displayed in the General Staff Building (Saint Petersburg). It features Matisse, Derain and other fauvists, Picasso, Malevich, Petrocelli, Kandinsky, Giacomo Manzù, Giorgio Morandi and Rockwell Kent. A large room is devoted to the German Romantic art of the 19th century, including several paintings by Caspar David Friedrich. The second floor of the Western wing features collections of the Oriental art (from China, India, Mongolia, Tibet, Central Asia, Byzantium and Near East).
Catherine the Great started her art collection in 1764 by purchasing paintings from Berlin merchant Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky. He assembled the collection for Frederick II of Prussia, who ultimately refused to purchase it. Thus, Gotzkowsky provided 225 or 317 paintings (conflicting accounts list both numbers), mainly Flemish and Dutch, as well as others, including 90 not precisely identified, to the Russian crown. The collection consisted of Rembrandt (13 paintings), Rubens (11 paintings), Jacob Jordaens (7 paintings), Anthony van Dyck (5 paintings), Paolo Veronese (5 paintings), Frans Hals (3 paintings, including Portrait of a Young Man with a Glove), Raphael (2 paintings), Holbein (2 paintings), Titian (1 painting), Jan Steen (The Idlers), Hendrik Goltzius, Dirck van Baburen, Hendrick van Balen and Gerrit van Honthorst. Perhaps some of the most famous and notable artworks that were a part of Catherine’s original purchase from Gotzkowsky were Danae, painted by Rembrandt in 1636; Descent from the Cross, painted by Rembrandt in 1624; and Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Glove, painted by Frans Hals in 1650. These paintings remain in the Hermitage collection today.
Empress Catherine II
In 1764, Catherine commissioned Yury Felten to build an extension on the east of the Winter Palace which he completed in 1766. Later it became the Southern Pavilion of the Small Hermitage. In 1767–1769, French architect Jean-Baptiste Vallin de la Mothe built the Northern Pavilion on the Neva embankment. Between 1767 and 1775, the extensions were connected by galleries, where Catherine put her collections. The entire neoclassical building is now known as the Small Hermitage. During the time of Catherine, the Hermitage was not a public museum and few people were allowed to view its holdings. Jean-Baptiste Vallin de la Mothe also rebuilt rooms in the second story of the south-east corner block that was originally built for Elizabeth and later occupied by Peter III. The largest room in this particular apartment was the Audience Chamber (also called the Throne Hall) which consisted of 227 square meters.
The Hermitage buildings served as a home and workplace for nearly a thousand people, including the Imperial family. In addition to this, they also served as an extravagant showplace for all kinds of Russian relics and displays of wealth prior to the art collections. Many events were held in these buildings including masquerades for the nobility, grand receptions and ceremonies for state and government officials. The “Hermitage complex” was a creation of Catherine’s that allowed all kinds of festivities to take place in the palace, the theatre and even the museum of the Hermitage. This helped solidify the Hermitage as not only a dwelling place for the Imperial family, but also as an important symbol and memorial to the imperial Russian state. Today, the palace and the museum are one and the same. In Catherine’s day, the Winter Palace served as a central part of what was called the Palace Square. The Palace Square served as St. Petersburg’s nerve center by linking it to all the city’s most important buildings. The presence of the Palace Square was extremely significant to the urban development of St. Petersburg, and while it became less of a nerve center later into the 20th century, its symbolic value was still very much preserved.
Catherine acquired the best collections offered for sale by the heirs of prominent collectors. In 1769, she purchased Brühl’s collection, consisting of over 600 paintings and a vast number of prints and drawings, in Saxony. Three years later, she bought Crozat’s collection of paintings in France with the assistance of Denis Diderot. Next, in 1779, she acquired the collection of 198 paintings that once belonged to Robert Walpole in London followed by a collection of 119 paintings in Paris from Count Baudouin in 1781. Catherine’s favourite items to collect were believed to be engraved gems and cameos. At the inaugural exhibit of the Hermitage, opened by the Prince of Wales in November 2000, there was an entire gallery devoted to representing and displaying Catherine’s favorite items. In this gallery her cameos are displayed along with cabinet made by David Roentgen, which holds her engraved gems. As the symbol of Minerva was frequently used and favoured by Catherine to represent her patronage of the arts, a cameo of Catherine as Minerva is also displayed here. This particular cameo was created for her by her daughter-in-law, the Grand Duchess Maria Fyodorovna. This is only a small representation of Catherine’s vast collection of many antique and contemporary engraved gems and cameos.
The collection soon overgrew the building. In her lifetime, Catherine acquired 4,000 paintings from the old masters, 38,000 books, 10,000 engraved gems, 10,000 drawings, 16,000 coins and medals and a natural history collection filling two galleries, so in 1771 she commissioned Yury Felten to build another major extension. The neoclassical building was completed in 1787 and has come to be known as the Large Hermitage or Old Hermitage. Catherine also gave the name of the Hermitage to her private theatre, built nearby between 1783 and 1787 by the Italian architect Giacomo Quarenghi. In London in 1787, Catherine acquired the collection of sculpture that belonged to Lyde Browne, mostly Ancient Roman marbles. Catherine used them to adorn the Catherine Palace and park in Tsarskoye Selo, but later they became the core of the Classical Antiquities collection of the Hermitage. From 1787 to 1792, Quarenghi designed and built a wing along the Winter Canal with the Raphael Loggias to replicate the loggia in the Apostolic Palace in Rome designed by Donato Bramante and frescoed by Raphael. The loggias in Saint Petersburg were adorned with copies of Vatican frescoes painted by Cristopher Unterberger and his workshop in the 1780s.
Catherine succeeded in accomplishing a huge achievement in the art world. She collected thousands of impressive pieces of artwork that were numerous in size and value. In her collection, at least 4,000 paintings came to rival the older and more prestigious museums of Western Europe. Catherine took great pride in her collection, and actively participated in extensive competitive art gathering and collecting that was prevalent in European royal court culture. Through Catherine’s art collection, she gained European acknowledgment and acceptance, and portrayed Russia as an enlightened society, another feat that Catherine took great pride in. Catherine went on to invest much of her identity in being a patron for the arts. She was particularly fond of the popular deity, Minerva, whose characteristics according to classical tradition are symbolic of military prowess, wisdom, and patronage of the arts. Using the title, Catherine the Minerva, she personally created new institutions of literature and culture and also participated in many projects of her own, mostly having to do with play writing. The representation of Catherine alongside Minerva would come to be a known tradition of enlightened patronage in Russia.
Portico with Atlantes, Historical Entrance
In 1815, Alexander I of Russia purchased 38 pictures from the heirs of Joséphine de Beauharnais, most of which had been looted by the French in Kassel during the war. The Hermitage collection of Rembrandts was then considered the largest in the world. Also among Alexander’s purchases from Josephine’s estate were the first four sculptures by the neoclassical Italian sculptor Antonio Canova to enter the Hermitage collection.
Eventually the imperial collections were enriched by Greek and Scythian artifacts excavated within the Russian Empire.
The Raphael Loggias
Between 1840 and 1843, Vasily Stasov redesigned the interiors of the Southern Pavilion of the Small Hermitage. In 1838, Nicholas I commissioned the neoclassical German architect Leo von Klenze to design a building for the public museum. Space for the museum was made next to the Small Hermitage by the demolition of the Shepelev Palace and royal stables. The construction was overseen by the Russian architects Vasily Stasov and Nikolai Yefimov in 1842–1851 and incorporated Quarenghi’s wing with the Raphael Loggias.
In 1851, in Venice the museum acquired the collection of Cristoforo Barbarigo, including five more canvases by Titian. Today, all of the paintings but one (Danaë) by Titian in the Hermitage Museum came to St. Petersburg from the Barbarigo collection.
The New Hermitage was opened to the public on 5 February 1852. In the same year the Egyptian Collection of the Hermitage Museum emerged, and was particularly enriched by items given by the Duke of Leuchtenberg, Nicholas I’s son-in-law. Meanwhile, in 1851–1860, the interiors of the Old Hermitage were redesigned by Andrei Stackensneider to accommodate the State Assembly, Cabinet of Ministers and state apartments. Stakenschneider created the Pavilion Hall in the Northern Pavilion of the Small Hermitage in 1851–1858.
Until the 1920s, the museum’s entrance was under the portico supported by five-metre high atlantes of grey Serdobol granite from Finland in the middle of the southern facade of the New Hermitage building.
In 1861, the Hermitage purchased from the Papal government part of the Giampietro Campana collection, which consisted mostly classical antiquities. These included over 500 vases, 200 bronzes and a number of marble statues. The Hermitage acquired Madonna Litta, which was then attributed to Leonardo, in 1865, and Raphael’s Connestabile Madonna in 1870. In 1884 in Paris, Alexander III of Russia acquired the collection of Alexander Basilewski, featuring European medieval and Renaissance artifacts. In 1885, the Arsenal collection of arms and armour, founded by Alexander I of Russia, was transferred from the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo to the Hermitage. In 1914, Leonardo’s Benois Madonna was added to the collection.
After the October Revolution
Immediately after the Revolution of 1917 the Imperial Hermitage and Winter Palace, former Imperial residence, were proclaimed state museums and eventually merged.
A Room in the Winter Palace
The range of the Hermitage’s exhibits was further expanded when private art collections from several palaces of the Russian Tsars and numerous private mansions were nationalized and redistributed among major Soviet state museums. Particularly notable was the influx of old masters from the Catherine Palace, the Alexander Palace, the Stroganov Palace and the Yusupov Palace as well as from other palaces of Saint Petersburg and suburbs.
In 1922, an important collection of 19th-century European paintings was transferred to the Hermitage from the Academy of Arts. In turn, in 1927 about 500 important paintings were transferred to the Central Museum of old Western art in Moscow at the insistence of the Soviet authorities. In the early 1930s, 70 more paintings were sent there. After 1932, a number of less significant works of art were transferred to new museums all over the Soviet Union.
In 1928, the Soviet government ordered the Hermitage to compile a list of valuable works of art for export. In 1930–1934, over two thousand works of art from the Hermitage collection were clandestinely sold at auctions abroad or directly to foreign officials and businesspeople. The sold items included Raphael’s Alba Madonna, Titian’s Venus with a Mirror, and Jan van Eyck’s Annunciation, among other world known masterpieces by Botticelli, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, and others. In 1931, after a series of negotiations, Andrew W. Mellon acquired 21 works of art from the Hermitage and later donated to form a nucleus of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC
With the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, before the Siege of Leningrad started, two trains with a considerable part of the collections were evacuated to Sverdlovsk. Two bombs and a number of shells hit the museum buildings during the siege. The museum opened an exhibition in November 1944. In October 1945 the evacuated collections were brought back, and in November 1945 the museum reopened.
In 1948, 316 works of Impressionist, post-Impressionist, and modern art from the collection of the Museum of New Western Art in Moscow, originating mostly from the nationalized collections of Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morozov and disestablished before the war, were transferred to the Hermitage, including works by Matisse and Picasso. Beginning in 1967, a number of works by Matisse were donated to the museum by his muse Lydia Delectorskaya.
In 1981, the restored Menshikov Palace became a new branch of the Hermitage museum, displaying Russian culture of the early 18th century.
On 15 June 1985, a man later judged insane, attacked Rembrandt’s painting Danaë, displayed in the museum. He threw sulfuric acid on the canvas and cut it twice with his knife. The restoration of the painting had been accomplished by Hermitage experts by 1997, and Danaë is now on display behind armoured glass.
The Hermitage Since 1991
In 1991, it became known that some paintings looted by the Red Army in Germany in 1945 were held in the Hermitage. Only in October 1994 the Hermitage officially announced that it had secretly been holding a major trove of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings from German private collections. The exhibition “Hidden Treasures Revealed”, where 74 of the paintings were displayed for the first time, was opened on 30 March 1995, in the Nicholas Hall of the Winter Palace and lasted a year. Of the paintings, all but one originated from private rather than state German collections, including 56 paintings from the Otto Krebs collection, as well as the collection of Bernhard Koehler and paintings previously belonging to Otto Gerstenberg and his daughter Margarete Scharf, including world-famous Place de la Concorde by Degas, In the Garden by Renoir, White House at Night by Van Gogh, and some other collections. Some of the paintings are now on permanent display in several small rooms in the northeastern corner of the Winter Palace on the first floor.
In 1993, the Russian government gave eastern wing of the nearby General Staff Building across the Palace Square to the Hermitage and the new exhibition rooms in 1999. Since 2003, the Great Courtyard of the Winter Palace has been open to the public providing another entrance to the museum. Also in 2003, the Museum of Porcelain opened as a part of the Hermitage on the basis of the Imperial Porcelain Factory.
In December 2004, the museum discovered another looted work of art: Venus disarming Mars by Rubens was once in the collection of the Rheinsberg Palace in Berlin, and was apparently looted by Soviet troops from the Königsberg Castle in East Prussia in 1945. At the time, Mikhail Piotrovsky said the painting would be cleaned and displayed.
The museum announced in July 2006, that 221 minor items, including jewellery, Orthodox icons, silverware and richly enamelled objects, had been stolen. The value of the stolen items was estimated to be approximately $543,000 but by the end of 2006 several of the stolen items were recovered.
Thursday 13 September
Today we began with a tour of the Yusupov Palace
The Moika Palace or Yusupov Palace (the Palace of the Yusupovs on the Moika) was once the primary residence in St. Petersburg, Russia of the House of Yusupov. The building was the site of Grigori Rasputin’s murder in the early morning of December 17, 1916.
The palace was built around 1776 by the French architect Jean-Baptiste Vallin de la Mothe. Over the years a number of architects worked on the palace including the famous Italian sculptor Emilio Sala, producing a variety of architectural styles. Andrei Mikhailov reconstructed the building during the 1830s when the Yusupovs became owners of the building. This was the period that the palace achieved its present-day appearance.
From 1830 to 1917, the palace belonged to the House of Yusupov, an immensely wealthy family of Russian nobles, known for their philanthropy and art collections. Thus in the time of Imperial Russia, the palace became known as the Yusupov Palace.
The luxurious interiors of the palace were similar to those of contemporary royal palaces. More than 40,000 works of art, including works by Rembrandt, jewellery, and sculptures decorated the palace. Following the Russian Revolution, the Yusupov art collections were nationalised and relocated in the Hermitage and other museums. Ernst Friedrich von Liphart, who was the curator of paintings at the Hermitage, had earlier painted the curtain and ceiling of the palace theatre.
The palace was the scene of the assassination of Grigori Rasputin by a monarchist group which included Prince Felix Yusupov, heir to the vast Yusupov family estates. These included four palaces in St. Petersburg. The palace on the Moika was reportedly the prince’s favourite residence in the capital.
The exact events surrounding Rasputin’s death are still in dispute. What seems clear is that on 30 December 1916, Felix Yusupov, along with Vladimir Purishkevich and Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich invited Grigori Rasputin to the Moika Palace. He took Rasputin to a small but lavishly furnished cellar room of the palace. There he served Rasputin red wine. When Rasputin was affected, Yusupov retrieved a revolver and shot Rasputin from the side. Taking him for dead, Yusupov went upstairs to where the other conspirators waited in a ground floor study/drawing room. Rasputin succeeded in fleeing through a side door into a gated courtyard which opened onto the street outside. Purishkevich then shot Rasputin in the back, on the doorstep. The body was taken inside and a third bullet, fired at close range, entered his forehead. The conspirators wrapped Rasputin in a broadcloth, drove outside the city and threw the body into the Malaya Neva.
The Russian Revolution followed shortly after Rasputin’s death and once the Soviets came to power, they confiscated the property of the nobles. In 1925, the palace was handed over to the city’s Education Commissariat. While most nobles’ palaces were converted to mundane use, the Education Commissariat decided to preserve the mansion as a public museum. Today the palace serves as a “Palace of Culture for Educators”. Second floor reception areas and that part of the building associated with Rasputin’s murder, are maintained as a museum open to public tours. The courtyard where Rasputin attempted to flee from his killers is now occupied by a kindergarten playground adjacent to the main building.
After a 45 minute bus ride from the ship, our tour of the palace began down a very steep flight of stairs that had a small doorway part way down where Rasputin supposedly escaped after the initial assassination attempts. The rooms downstairs had been furnished for Prince Felix to entertain his friends away from the main palace; these room are set up with furniture and life-size wax models of the would-be assassins (all rather realistic) Our guide for the tour was Elena (one of of Cruise Directors), she recounted the current version of the murder of Rasputin who, at the time, had enormous influence on the Tsarina (wife of Nicholas II). The Tsar’s family, the nobility well as the government were unhappy with this situation and Prince Felix was convinced to participate in the murder. Rasputin was lured to the castle on the pretext of meeting Princess Irina; while supposedly waiting for the Princess to join them, Rasputin was entertained in Prince Felix apartment, given Madeira to drink that reportedly had arsenic added – when the poison didn’t work, the group decided to shoot Rasputin and Prince Felix was sent to carry complete the murder. Thinking they had succeeded, the group returned to dispose of the body, only to find it missing; they found Rasputin wandering out in the courtyard and fired more shots into him and then threw the body into the river. Photos taken of the body, when retrieved later, showed bullet holes in the forehead and the autopsy report said there was water in his lungs.
Following this rather macabre presentation, we went back upstairs and toured through several rooms of the Palace. The photos will give you an insight to our morning.
Lunch at another restaurant in town before returning home for the afternoon because our canal boat ride had to be cancelled as the water levels were too high and we could not pass under the bridges. This is caused by westley winds blowing up the Finnish straight and holding the canal waters at a high level.
Friday 14th September
This morning we headed north of St Petersburg to visit Cathrine’s summer palace.
The Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo is a masterpiece of Russian Baroque architecture of the mid-18th Century.It was created by outstanding architects such as Mikhail Zemtsov, Andrei Kvasov, Savva Chevakinsky, Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli and Charles Cameron. The architectural image of this grand edifice was based on decorative contrasts and light effects. It’s interiors combine different styles, mainly Baroque and Classicism.
The majesty of artistic decor of the facades with its elaborate trimmings and gilding of architectural and sculptural elements perfectly match’s the glistening gold of the interiors. The gilded caricatures, the allegorical statues, the garlands of flowers, the whimsically intertwining ornaments, and the impressive pictorial ceilings, all adds to the beauty of the palace halls and rooms.
A special poetic and festive atmosphere reigning the Catherine Palace makes this architectural monument particularly attractive.
After a short bus ride we stopped at the Podvorye (Coach House) Restaurant as our venue for lunch. A Russian wood cabin, built in 1993, serving typically Russian food. Our lunch consisted of several courses: fresh salad and pickled vegetables, mushroom soup, borscht, fricasseed chicken and mashed potato then finished with berry crepes with ice cream; I wasn’t sure how we would eat the ice charm with a knife and fork, but it stayed frozen long enough to achieve that task. Lunch was accompanied by the Podvorye Ensemble who filled the time between courses with Russian Folk Music; for the final items, the diners were given wooden clackers to add another (noisy) dimension to the music
Back to the ship for the afternoon as the Faberge Museum was closed today. That gave me time to commence packing before heading out for the ballet concert.
Gala Concert of Ballet – Palace of Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich
The Vladimir Palace was the last imperial palace to be constructed in Saint Petersburg, Russia. It was designed by a team of architects (Vasily Kenel, Aleksandr Rezanov, Andrei Huhn, Ieronim Kitner, Vladimir Shreter) for Alexander II’s son, Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia. Construction work lasted from 1867 to 1872.
Like the Winter Palace and the Marble Palace, the Vladimir Palace fronts Palace Embankment; water frontage on the Neva was extremely prized by the Russian aristocracy. The façade, richly ornamented with stucco rustication, was patterned after Leon Battista Alberti’s palazzi in Florence. The main porch is built of Bremen sandstone and adorned with griffins, coats-of-arms, and cast-iron lanterns. Other details are cast in portland cement.
The palace and its outbuildings contain some 360 rooms, all decorated in disparate historic styles: Neo-Renaissance (reception room, parlor), Gothic Revival (dining room), Russian Revival (Oak Hall), Rococo (White Hall), Byzantine style (study), Louis XIV, various oriental styles, and so on. This interior ornamentation, further augmented by Maximilian Messmacher in 1880-1892, is considered a major monument to the 19th-century passion for historicism.
After the October Revolution, the palace became the home of the ‘Academics’ House’ (named after Maxim Gorky) and as a consequence its interior has been preserved to a greater extent than other Romanov family residences. Much attractive tiling, and many internal architectural details have been retained. Also preserved has been much of Vladimir’s collection of late 19th-century porcelain, most of it manufactured in the Imperial Porcelain Factory, and painted or decorated by its leading artists. The collection has been extended to include interesting porcelain from the early Soviet period, including figures of Chaliapin and Nijinsky, as well as vases and dinner services inspired by constructivism.
Our delightful evening began by entering the Palace and ascending the grand marble staircase to the first floor reception room for champagne and canapés listening to a string quartet before watching the ballet performance in their theatre. We were treated to: Overture from Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake – White Adagio; The Nutcracker – Adagio; Chopiniana – Waltz; Le Corsair – Adagio; Swan Lake – Black Adagio; Sleeping Beauty – Pas de Deux; Giselle – Adagio; The Dying Swan and finished with Don Quixote – Pas de Deux.
Saturday 15 September
The Peterhof Palace is a series of palaces and gardens located in Petergof, Saint Petersburg, Russia, laid out on the orders of Peter the Great. These palaces and gardens are sometimes referred as the “Russian Versailles”. The palace-ensemble along with the city center is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Grand Peterhof Palace and the Grand Cascade.
The dominant natural feature of Peterhof is a 16-m-high bluff lying less than 100m from the shore. The so-called Lower Gardens (Nizhny Sad), at 1.02 km² comprising the better part of Peterhof’s land area, are confined between this bluff and the shore, stretching east and west for roughly 200m. The majority of Peterhof’s fountains are contained here, as are several small palaces and outbuildings. East of the Lower Gardens lies the Alexandria Park with 19th-century Gothic Revival structures such as the Kapella.
Atop the bluff, near the middle of the Lower Gardens, stands the Grand Palace (Bolshoi Dvorets). Behind (south) of it are the comparatively small Upper Gardens (Verhnyy Sad). Upon the bluff’s face below the palace is the Grand Cascade (Bolshoi Kaskad). This and the Grand Palace are the centrepiece of the entire complex. At its foot begins the Sea Channel (Morskoi Kanal), one of the most extensive waterworks of the Baroque period, which bisects the Lower Gardens.
The Grand Cascade and Samson Fountain
The Grand Cascade is modelled on one constructed for Louis XIV at his Château de Marly, which is likewise memorialised in one of the park’s outbuildings.
At the centre of the cascade is an artificial grotto with two stories, faced inside and out with hewn brown stone. It currently contains a modest museum of the fountains’ history. One of the exhibits is a table carrying a bowl of (artificial) fruit, a replica of a similar table built under Peter’s direction. The table is rigged with jets of water that soak visitors when they reach for the fruit, a feature from Mannerist gardens that remained popular in Germany. The grotto is connected to the palace above and behind by a hidden corridor.
The fountains of the Grand Cascade are located below the grotto and on either side of it. There are 64 fountains. Their waters flow into a semicircular pool, the terminus of the fountain-lined Sea Channel. In the 1730s, the large Samson Fountain was placed in this pool. It depicts the moment when Samson tears open the jaws of a lion, representing Russia’s victory over Sweden in the Great Northern War, and is doubly symbolic. The lion is an element of the Swedish coat of arms, and one of the great victories of the war was won on St Sampson’s Day. From the lion’s mouth shoots a 20-metre-high vertical jet of water, the highest in all of Peterhof. This masterpiece by Mikhail Kozlovsky was looted by the invading Germans during the Second World War; see History below. A replica of the statue was installed in 1947.
Perhaps the greatest technological achievement of Peterhof is that all of the fountains operate without the use of pumps. Water is supplied from natural springs and collects in reservoirs in the Upper Gardens. The elevation difference creates the pressure that drives most of the fountains of the Lower Gardens, including the Grand Cascade. The Samson Fountain is supplied by a special aqueduct, over four km in length, drawing water and pressure from a high-elevation source.
The Lower Gardens
The expanse of the Lower Gardens is designed in the formal style of French formal gardens of the 17th century. Although many trees are overgrown, in the recent years the formal clipping along the many alleys has resumed in order to restore the original appearance of the garden. The many fountains located here exhibit an unusual degree of creativity. One of the most notable designs is entitled ‘The Sun’. A disk radiating water jets from its edge creates an image of the sun’s rays, and the whole structure rotates about a vertical axis so that the direction in which the “sun” faces is constantly changing.
The same bluff that provides a setting for the Grand Cascade houses two other, very different cascades. West of the Grand Palace is the Golden Mountain, decorated with marble statuary that contrasts with the riotous gilded figures of the Grand Cascade. To the east is the Chess Mountain, a broad chute whose surface is tiled black and white like a chessboard. The most prominently positioned fountains of Peterhof are ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’. They occupy symmetric positions on either side of the Sea Channel, each at the conjunction of eight paths.
The fountains of the Grand Cascade are located below the grotto and on either side of it. There are 64 fountains. Their waters flow into a semicircular pool, the terminus of the fountain-lined Sea Channel. In the 1730s, the large Samson Fountain was placed in this pool. It depicts the moment when Samson tears open the jaws of a lion, representing Russia’s victory over Sweden in the Great Northern War, and is doubly symbolic. The lion is an element of the Swedish coat of arms, and one of the great victories of the war was won on St Sampson’s Day. From the lion’s mouth shoots a 20-metre-high vertical jet of water, the highest in all of Peterhof. This masterpiece by Mikhail Kozlovsky was looted by the invading Germans during the Second World War; see History below. A replica of the statue was installed in 1947.
The Grand Palace
French style interior: The largest of Peterhof’s palaces looks truly imposing when seen from the Lower or Upper Gardens, but in fact it is quite narrow and not overly large. Of its approximately thirty rooms, several deserve mention.
The Chesma Hall is decorated with twelve large paintings of the Battle of Chesma, a stunning naval victory of the Russo-Turkish War, 1768-1774. These were painted between 1771 and 1773 by the German artist Jacob Philipp Hackert. His first renderings of the great battle scenes were criticised by witnesses as not showing realistically the effect of exploding ships — the flying timbers, great flames, smoke, and fireballs. Catherine II assisted the artist by exploding a frigate in the harbour of Livorno, Italy, for the benefit of Hackert, who had never seen a naval battle first-hand. Hackert also did not research the actual positions of the Russian and Turkish forces during the battle, so the scenes depicted are somewhat fanciful, but do effectively convey drama and destruction of naval warfare.
The East and West Chinese Cabinets were decorated between 1766 and 1769 to exhibit objects of decorative art imported from the East. The walls were decorated with imitation Oriental patterns by Russian craftsmen, and hung with Chinese landscape paintings in yellow and black lacquer. Another room, positioned at the centre of the palace, bears the name of the Picture Hall. Its walls are almost entirely covered by a series of 368 paintings, mostly of variously dressed women, differing in appearance and even age, yet most were drawn from a single model. These were purchased in 1764 from the widow of the Italian artist P. Rotari, who died in St. Petersburg.
The Grand Palace is not the only historic royal building in Peterhof. The palaces of Monplaisir and Marly, as well as the pavilion known as the ‘Hermitage’, were all raised during the initial construction of Peterhof during the reign of Peter the Great. The Lower Gardens also contain a large greenhouse and in the Alexandrine Park stands the palace of Nicholas I
Like the Lower Gardens, the Upper Gardens contain many fountains, distributed among seven broad pools. The landscaping, though, is entirely different; unlike the Lower Gardens (which are strictly geometric), the Upper Gardens are not. A few of the fountains have sculptures.
In the time of Peter the Great, the sea floor just north of the Peterhof site and to the east toward St. Petersburg was too shallow for either commercial ships or warships. However, to the west of Peterhof, the sea floor dropped off to be deep enough for sea vessels.
Accordingly, when Peter the Great decided to build St. Petersburg at the eastern end of the Gulf of Finland, he first captured the Kotlin Island clearly visible from the Peterhof site just to the northeast in the middle of the Gulf. At Kotlin Island he would build the commercial harbour for St. Petersburg as well as the Kronstadt fortifications across the 20 kilometres of shallow sea to provision and defend the Navy that he would build.
The Ozerki Pavilion (1840s), by Yegor Meyer
Peter the Great first mentions the Peterhof site in his journal in 1705, during the Great Northern War, as a good place to construct a landing for use in travelling to and from the island fortress of Kronstadt. And in 1714, Peter began construction of the Monplaisir (“my pleasure”) Palace based on his own sketches of the palace that he wanted close to the shoreline. This was Peter’s Summer Palace that he would use on his way coming and going from Europe through the harbour at Kronstadt. On the walls of this seacoast palace hung hundreds of paintings that Peter brought from Europe and allowed to weather Russian winters and the dampness of the sea without heat. In the seaward corner of his Monplaisir Palace, Peter made his Maritime Study, from which he could see Kronstadt Island to the left and St. Petersburg to the right. Later, he expanded his plans to include a vaster royal château of palaces and gardens further inland, on the model of Versailles. The initial design of the palace and its garden was done by the French architect Jean-Baptiste Le Blond. Each of the tsars after Peter expanded on the inland palaces and gardens of Peterhof, but the major contributions by Peter the Great were completed by 1725. Peter had also entertained plans of a similar palace at Strelna, a short way to the east, but these plans were abandoned.
Peterhof originally in the early 1700s appeared quite different from today. Many of the fountains had not yet been installed. The entire Alexandrine Park and Upper Gardens didn’t exist. (The latter was used to grow vegetables, and its ponds, then numbering only three, for fish.) The Samson Fountain and its massive pedestal had not yet been installed in the Sea Channel, and the channel itself was used as a grand marine entrance into the complex.
Olgin Pond (1840s), by Yegor Meyer
Perhaps the most important change augmenting Peter’s design was the elevation of the Grand Palace to central status and prominence. The Grand Palace was originally called simply ‘Upper’, and was hardly larger than any of the other structures of the complex. The addition of wings, undertaken between 1745 and 1755, was one of the many projects commissioned from the Italian architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli by Elizabeth of Russia. Likewise, the Grand Cascade was more sparsely decorated when initially built. The augmentation of Peterhof’s original fountains and the addition of new ones continued well into the 19th century.
Peterhof, like Tsarskoye Selo, was captured by German troops in 1941 and held until 1944. In the few months that elapsed between the outbreak of war in the west and the appearance of the German Army, employees were only able to save a portion of the treasures of the palaces and fountains. An attempt was made to dismantle and bury the fountain sculptures, but three quarters, including all of the largest ones, remained in place. On 23 September 1941 German troops captured Peterhof. Two weeks later, on 5 October 1941, Soviet troops tried to recapture the town and block the highway by naval landing. 510 marines of the Soviet Baltic Fleet landed on the beach of the neighbouring park of Alexandria but they faced a heavy fire from the Germans. The commander of the operation was killed, all landing troops became disorganised, one landing craft was sunk and another one missed. Despite Soviet attempts to cover the landing forces by coastal artillery from Kronstadt, they were quickly suspended because of lack of connection with the landing troops. Evacuation attempts also failed due to heavy German artillery shelling (only one marine was picked up from the water). Peterhof landing operation failed and all landing troops were blocked from the shore and surrounded. Some of them reached the Lower Gardens and fought until the bitter end, including hand-to-hand combat. The last pockets of resistance were destroyed on 7 October. Several dozen German Shepherd dogs were released into the gardens to find the hiding marines. Many of the wounded marines were bitten to death and several were captured. In 1980 a memorial was erected near the pier of the Lower Gardens.
Monument of the naval landing in Lower Gardens of Pet
The occupying forces of the German Army largely destroyed Peterhof. Many of the fountains were destroyed, and the palace was partially exploded and left to burn. Restoration work began almost immediately after the end of the war and continues to this day. The Lower Park was reopened to the public in 1945.
The name was changed to “Petrodvorets” (“Peter’s Palace”) in 1944 as a result of wartime anti-German sentiment and propaganda, but the original name was restored in 1997 by the post-Soviet government of Russia. In 2003, Saint Petersburg celebrated its 300th anniversary. As a result, much of the building and statuary in Peterhof has been restored and new gilt-work abounds.
The “purpose” of Peterhof was as a celebration and claim to access to the Baltic (while simultaneously, Peter the Great was also expanding on the Black Sea littoral). Thus Peterhof commemorates the imperial expansion (and modernisation of Russia). Inside the Peterhof there are many paintings of sea battles by the famous Ivan Aivazovsky.
When we were finished at Peterhof we walked to the wharf to board a hovercraft for our return to the city and our ship.
After lunch we headed into town for our river & canal cruise which was delayed from a couple of days ago.
The reason for the delay was because the river was too high for our boats to pass under the many bridges along the canal. The high river levels are caused when there are strong south westerly winds which blows the waters from the Baltic Sea back into the main river which in turn increases the water levels in the canals.
All seven bridges across the river are only lifted between 1am & 5am to allow shipping to pass upstream and return after loading/unloading. If you miss the time slot then you wait another day. Likewise if you do not cross the river by 1am than you wait until they reopen at 5am.
After the Cruise we returned by bus to our ship for our last dinner & pack for our fast train trip on the next leg of our journey to Helsinki.
This is the end of our Russian Cruise, we now head to the Baltic States.