Saint Petersburg was built along the marshlands of Neva Bay, and is interlaced with hundreds of canals within Russia. Indeed, there are over 300 bridges in Saint Petersburg, and, lined by neoclassical and baroque palaces, they make for quite a sight – whether you’re cruising the waterways or ambling through the twilit streets.
The temperature of Saint Petersburg is moderated by the Baltic Cyclones, so it is distinctly humid through the year. That being said, the summers are an exceptional time to visit, not only because of the warmer weather but because of the White Nights phenomenon, when the sun doesn’t set from spring to mid-summer, and the city erupts with festivities.
From imperial capital to cultural metropolis, Saint Petersburg has seen tumultuous transformations throughout its history. It was once the heart of the revolutions that brought down the Russian oligarchy, and even today radiates with the energy of artistic experimentation, cultural revival and political progressiveness. Rich with heritage and bursting with life, Saint Petersburg is the focal point of modern Russia.
Around The World On Kryukov Kanal
Appropriated out of an old building on the banks of the Kryukov Kanal, Alexander House is a unique little boutique hotel in the heart of Saint Petersburg. The owners of the hotel were careful when they first began to renovate the structure, to keep the parts that felt distinctly European – the wooden shutters, for example, and the simple neoclassical façade that doesn’t look remotely out of place in Saint Petersburg’s city centre.
Upon entry as well, one is met with comfortable, soft lighting, fireplace lounges, and leather sofas – an air of rich, European heritage.
What makes the Alexander House so special, however, is that each one of the 19 rooms has been designed to represent a major international city. The rooms feature small design details – the pattern of the bedspread, for example, the lining of the lamp shades, or the artwork on the walls – that signify the country of their inspiration.
In ‘Nairobi’, for example, one will see earthy monochromes alternated with pop-colour tribal prints, while ‘Bali’ offers more floral prints, softer tones and a more open, tropical air.
Alexander House has, in its own unique way, found a niche within the historic opulence and heritage of Saint Petersburg, and carved out a corner for the world to reside.
A Glint On The Horizon
Considered one of the city skyline’s most iconic details, St Isaac’s cathedral boasts a massive domed structure that only hints at the richness of the artwork within. The gold dome – which was painted grey during WWII to avoid attracting the attention of enemy aircraft – sits aloft a façade of pink and grey stone, held up by 112 red granite columns with Corinthian capitals.
This elegant, yet formidable structure stands as a steady testament to its many transformations over the years – from being stripped of its religious significance, being turned from a place of worship into a museum that promoted atheism, and having the central dove sculpture be replaced by the more symbolically secular pendulum. Even today, it stands despite the trials of time, and continues to be a place of awe-inspiring workmanship, for visitors of any faith.
The Heart Of Russian Ballet
The Mariinsky Theatre is one of the most eminent public spaces in Saint Petersburg. Built in the late 18th century as a space for equestrian and circus performances, the décor of the theatre itself – with its rich sculptures, frescoes and ornamentations – would have given its performing artists a run for their money. It wouldn’t surprise a visitor who was gazing up at the vaulted, frescoed ceiling, to learn that this was the space that inspired the choreography of Swan Lake and The Nutcracker.
In 2013, a new Mariinsky Theatre, covering over 79 thousand square meters, was opened across the Kryukov Kanal. Although its façade does not compare to the rich neoclassical décor of its predecessor, it is a design marvel in its own right: the acoustic quality of the space is unparalleled, and what it may lack in outward embellishment, it makes up for in significantly heightened audience experience.
A Feast Fit For A King
Housed within the Taleon Imperial Hotel, which is again housed in a former tsarist-era palace, the Taleon Club keeps up with the qualities that Saint Petersburg is best known for – opulence, extravagance and an unparalleled attention to detail. The restaurant is as much a treat for the eyes as the palate – inspired by the reign of Louis XVI, the space is very much what one would picture the banquet hall of the erstwhile Tsars to look like in the heydays of the Empire.
The ornate walls are adorned with renaissance paintings, and coupled with the regal upholstery and rich, opulent lighting it wouldn’t seem surprising to hear that Catherine the Great herself might have once dined within these very walls.
Text By Avantika Shankar