The changing face of St Petersburg: Alexander III – St Petersburg just keeps on growing…

Posted on 0, by Anatoly

There are so many reasons to visit St Petersburg. Some people come in search of culture, others seek inspiration from its literary associations. For some, it’s the architecture that’s top of their list, while others simply come to experience a different way of life.

One thing that’s certainly not in short supply in St Petersburg is history. The city may only have been founded in 1703, but the last 300 or so years provide a fascinating insight into the changes which have shaped this incredible city.

Here, we look at the legacy left behind by Alexander III (1881-1894)…

Although relatively few grand building projects were undertaken during the reign of Alexander III, St Petersburg expanded rapidly, with the population reaching over a million, and huge numbers of industrial facilities and apartment buildings springing up to accommodate the new arrivals.

One significant structure of the epoch which never fails to catch the eye is the Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood, built in memory of the late Alexander II (although the church was only completed in 1907, a decade after Alexander III's death). Also worth a look are the Baron Stieglitz Central School for Technical Drawing on Solyanoy Pereulok (now the Steiglitz Academy of Art and Industrial Design) and, on the Moyka River opposite Palace Square, the beautiful Court Capella, famous to this day for its excellent acoustics. The Von Derviz mansion, built on the English Embankment, would later become the Palace of Grand Duke Andrey Vladimirovich, while the Grand Choral Synagogue – permission for which had been granted by Alexander II – was completed and consecrated under Alexander III.

The enormous Kresty Prison, opened in 1890, was the largest prison in Europe. Equipped with electric lighting, ventilation systems and central heating, it was a thoroughly modern and progressive facility in its time, although 100 years later, it was infamous as the city's dismal, overcrowded pre-trial holding prison.

The growing population of St Petersburg required accommodation, and as well as the workers' slums that grew up to the south of the Obvodny Canal, the city saw a boom in the construction of apartment buildings in the central neighbourhoods, many of which were architectural masterpieces and remain important landmarks to this day.

The memory of Alexander III is honoured by a sculpture created by Paolo Trubetsky, which was originally placed in front of the Moskovsky Train Station on what is now Ploshchad Vosstania. Today, this monument, depicting the monarch on horseback, can be seen in the courtyard of the Marble Palace, now a branch of the State Russian Museum. Opened in 1898, the Russian Museum, which houses the world's most extensive collection of Russian art, was by order of Nicholas II christened the Russian Museum of Emperor Alexander III. His bust now stands on the Museum's main staircase (in the Mikhailovsky Palace).