Take a trip through French St Petersburg
Photo: Alex Florstein Fedorov, Wikimedia Commons
People from all round the world have left their mark in St Petersburg, be it in terms of its history, architecture or cultural life.
So what has the French nation given to this most European of Russian cities? Here are a few examples…
- Vasilyevsky Island is where the first French settlers in the city established a community back in the 1720s, not long after the city was founded. Among them were Jean-Baptiste Le Blond, an architectural genius who designed the first plan of St Petersburg, and the astronomer and cartographer Joseph-Nicolas de L'Isle.
- The Academy of Arts building on Universitetskaya Naberezhnaya was built by the great French architect Jean-Baptiste Vallin de la Mothe, who also taught a whole generation of Russian architects the principles of neoclassicism as a professor at the Academy.
- Several French scientists worked in the nearby Academy of Sciences building, including the astronomer Maurice Henri and the classical scholar Jean-François Vauvilliers, who had been president of the Commune de Paris during the French Revolution.
- Just around the corner is the Strelka of Vasilyevsky Island, with the Old Stock Exchange and Rostral Columns – one of the most famous panoramas in the city – designed by Jean-François Thomas de Thomon.
- The Trinity Bridge – probably the most beautiful of all the bridges across the River Neva – was built by the French company Société de Construction des Batignolles (1897-1903).
- Part of the Winter Palace and Hermitage ensemble, the so-called Small Hermitage, was built by Vallin de la Mothe, but probably more significant for most visitors is the wealth of French art to be seen inside the museum, which contains masterpieces by Nicolas Poussin and Antoine Watteau, as well as its world-renowned collection of impressionists and post-impressionists, including Cézanne, Renoir, Gauguin and Matisse.
- On the other side of the building, Palace Square is dominated by the Alexander Column, erected by Auguste de Montferrand.
- Nearby Bolshaya Morskaya Ulitsa contains several buildings with French connections. The house at No 11 was built by the French architect Paul Jaquot. The site had previously contained the home and workshops of Maurice Etienne Falconet, the renowned French sculptor who designed the Bronze Horseman statue which stands on Senate Square. From the 1840s to the 1880s, the first floor of the building was home to Dussault, one of St Petersburg's most famous French restaurants.
- Just around the corner once stood the French Operetta Theatre, attached to another renowned French restaurant, the Restaurant Paris.
- In the 1740s, the house and workshops of Benedict Gravraux, court jeweller to Empress Anna Ioannovna, was located nearby. His apprentice, the Swiss-born Jeremia Pauzie, became one of the greatest jewellers in Europe.
- St Isaac's Cathedral, the life's work of Auguste de Montferrand, is one of the city’s most famous landmarks. The architect was also responsible for the nearby Demidov Mansion and the Princess Gagarina Mansion.
- Maximilian Joseph Eugene Auguste Napoleon de Beauharnais, Duke of Leuchtenberg and grandson of Empress Josephine, married Maria Nikolayevna, daughter of Nicholas I, and lived in the Mariinsky Palace, opposite St Isaac's Cathedral.
- At No 4 Angliyskaya Naberezhnaya stands the pink neoclassical mansion of Duchess Alexandra Laval. She was the wealthy Russian wife of Jean Charles François de Laval de la Loubreriede, a refugee from the French Revolution who became a prominent statesman in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Their home, reconstructed by Jean-François Thomas de Thomon, became one of the most fashionable addresses in the city – Alexander Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov both read their verses there, and even Alexander I was among the guests.
There are plenty more locations with French connections throughout the city, all waiting for you to discover … and there’s no one better to discover them with than RNTO! Visit the website today for all your travel and accommodation needs.Photo: Alex Florstein Fedorov, Wikimedia Commons