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60NADFAS REVIEW / SPRING 2011www.nadfas.org.ukIfirst visited St Petersburg in the1980s when it was still known asLeningrad. Dust seemed to havesettled over Peter the Great's capital. Itspaint was peeling and woodwork wasrotting; it felt as though in a few yearsthe whole city would crumble and slideback into the marshland from whichPeter called it forth in 1703. How wrongAbove: GrandPalace, PeterhofOpposite: Churchof Our Saviour of the SpilledBlood, StPetersburgRomanovresurgenceAdrian Mourbyleads us through St Petersburg, a city of renewedsplendour and luxury, and gives an insight into Peter the Great, whoparadoxically was rarely interested in the finer things in life for himselfThe Hermitage is matched by theRussian Museum in the old MikhailovskyPalace. Here, centuries of nationalpainting are displayed in the home builtfor Tsar Alexander I's brother, GrandDuke Mikhail. The palace is just asbeautiful as the collection it contains. Itwas the prolific Carlo Rossi who createdthis impeccable neoclassical structure.The Italian architect, brought to StPetersburg by Alexander I, wasresponsible for much of the city'sEuropean grandeur.Like Venice, St Petersburg combinesart and history effortlessly. The Churchon Spilled Blood is not only a vibrantexample of 19th-century Russian Revivalstyle, it also marks the spot where TsarAlexander II was assassinated in 1881.His son, the physically giganticAlexander III, reacted by building thischurch and cracking down on reform,thereby laying the seeds for the 1917revolution. Around its base you can stillsee blast damage from the Nazi siege ofSoviet Leningrad.Memories of World War II are alsostirred on St Isaac's Square, where AdolfHitler had chosen the Art Deco AstoriaHotel for his victory celebrations. Thatvictory never came despite nearstarvation of the civilian population.Inside the great neoclassical cathedral inthe middle of the square you'll seephotos of St Isaac's surrounded byvegetable patches during the siege. Thiscathedral is one of the largest religiousbuildings in the world, a dramaticcontrast with nearby baroque cathedralSt Nicholas. A different kind of history iscelebrated at the world famousMariinsky Theatre, which in its 150 yearshas seen premieres of Mussorgsky'sBoris Godunov, Tchaikovsky's Queen ofSpades and Shostakovich's LadyMacbeth of Mtsensk. Across the River Neva, whose capturewas essential to Peter's expansionistplans, stands the Peter and PaulFortress, the oldest building in StPetersburg. The construction of thisfortress in 1703 marks the founding ofSt Petersburg as part of Tsar Peter'scampaign to push back the Swedisharmy and control an ice-free route tothe Baltic. Thus Russia gained its"window on Europe", as Peter called it.The energetic tsar also greatly increasedtrade with the West in this way. HisTRAVEL/TOURSI was. Stand today in front of the WinterPalace and it is as if the Russia ofPushkin and Tolstoy never went away.The Palace itself in its vivid white, greenand gold paintwork dazzles in the sun.Its Hermitage gallery houses a world-class collection of paintings: Rembrandtand Leonardo, Picasso and Matisse. Awhole day will not be wasted here.