ROUTE No. 4
VASILEVSKIY ISLAND: STRELKA – FORMER STOCK EXCHANGE – ROSTRAL COLUMNS – FORMER CUSTOMS HOUSE – FORMER NEW EXCHANGE BAZAAR – ACADEMY OF SCIENCES LIBRARY – ZOOLOGICAL MUSEUM – KUNSTKAMMER – ACADEMY OF SCIENCES – ST. PETERSBURG STATE UNIVERSITY – MENSHIKOV PALACE – RUMYANTSEV GARDEN – ACADEMY OF ARTS – EGYPTIAN SPHINXES – BOLSHOY PROSPECT – LUTHERAN CHURCH OF ST. CATHERINE
Across the Neva River, in the northwest part of central St. Petersburg, lies Vasilevskiy Island, the largest of the city’s islands. This was one of the first areas of St. Petersburg to be built up. Its street plan was laid out by the architect Jean Baptiste Leblond, whose project was approved by Peter the Great in 1716. Because the island could be easily defended, the first town planners considered making it the core of the new city. Shortly after Peter the Great’s death, however, the island was relegated to a secondary role in the development of St. Petersburg, being too frequently subject to flooding and was soon surpassed by the districts on the left bank of the Neva River. With the exception of the area around the southeast tip it became a quiet residential district.
In the early 19th century one of the most elegant architectural ensembles of St. Petersburg, known as the Strelka  emerged on the eastern edge of Vasilevskiy Island. The Neo-Classical building of the Stock Exchange  constructed in 1805-1810 by Jean Francois Thomas de Thomon, became its focal point. In the attic of the main facade stands allegorical sculpture, depicting the Sea God Neptune escorted by the Neva and Volkhov Rivers. Since 1940 the building has been allocated to the Central Naval Museum. Today the museum boasts a collection of over 800 thousand items exhibited in 10 halls on the first floor of the museum.
The former Stock Exchange is flanked by two 34-meter high Rostral Columns . Erected in 1810 in honor of the Russian navy, the columns are decorated with the prows of ships (rostra) like the Roman originals on which they were based. For a long time – until the 1880 – the shore around the Strelka was the main port of St. Petersburg, and the ships’ prows symbolize the port. The seated figures represent four great Russian rivers – the Volga, Dnieper, Neva and Volkhov. The columns were designed to act as lighthouses, and the gas-fired torches are still lit on special occasions.
Two nearly identical buildings with twelve-columned porticoes flank the Exchange and complete the ensemble of the Strelka. These were originally built by Giovanni Lucini in 1826-1832 as Warehouses. The warehouse to the north now houses the Dokuchaev Museum of Soil Science . To the south is the Zoological Museum  – the largest of its type in Russia and one of the largest in the world. The collection, originally part of Peter I’s Kunstkammer, has been expanded to include over 100000 specimens from all over the world.
The former Customs House  stands behind and to the west of the Dokuchaev Museum of Soil Science, on the Makarov Embankment of the Malaya Neva River. The Customs House was built in late Classical style, with Ionic columns, a dome and drum. Statues of Mercury, Neptune and Ceres decorate the roof. Today the building houses the Institute of Russian Literature, also known as Pushkin House. It owns the largest collection in Russia of artistic, documentary and pictorial materials related to the history of Russian literature.
Should you venture this far, it is worth turning the corner to see the former New Exchange Bazaar, a scaled-down version of the Gostinyy Dvor, built by Giacomo Quarenghi in the early 19th century. It is now a service depot belonging to the Academy of Sciences Library , which stands over the road on the corner of Birzhevaya Line. The library was founded in 1714 from private library of Peter the Great and Aptekarskiy Prikaz archives. Nowadays the library contains over 20 million books and rare manuscripts. The library fronts Academician Sakharov Square with a Monument to Andrey Sakharov  – an eminent Russian physicist, human rights activist and Noble Prize winner.
A short walking distance from the Strelka, overlooking the Neva River from University Embankment is a long blue and white building, housing the Kunstkammer . The Kunstkammer’s grand appearance was determined not only by the building’s location but also by its purpose. The building was intended to house the first public museum of natural science in Russia. The astronomical instruments, maps, rare stones and minerals, stuffed exotic animals, anatomical preparations and various curiosities were collected both on order of Peter the Great and by the Tsar himself. Today the Kunstkammer building houses the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, one of the largest of its kind in the world. The collections of the museum include items which illustrate the daily lives and cultures of many different countries, along with their weapons, clothes and religious objects. The Kunstkammer also contains a memorial museum of the 18th century Russian scientist and encyclopaedist Mikhail Lomonosov, who worked here from 1741 to 1765.
Next to the Kunstkammer building is a citadel of Russian science – the Academy of Sciences . The Academy was set up in 1724 and began to function the following year. The present Classical building designed by Giacomo Quarenghi was put up sixty years later (1783-1789). It is embellished with an eight-column portico with a pediment and a double staircase leading up to the main entrance.
A Statue to Mikhail Lomonosov  stands on Mendeleevskaya Line, which separates the building of the Academy of Sciences from the huge edifice that houses the St. Petersburg State University  – one of the most prominent universities in Russia. The building is one of the oldest in the city and its construction is associated with Peter the Great’s desire to have the center of the city on Vasilevskiy Island. Important administrative reforms were put into effect at that time. The numerous state establishments (prikazy) were replaced in 1718 by “collegiums” set up by Peter the Great. The architect Domenico Trezzini was commissioned to design the building for the twelve collegiums, the architecture of which was to reflect the independence of each collegium. The complex of buildings erected according to Domenico Trezzini’s design in 1722-1741 has survived till the present day, consisting of 12 adjacent structures. In 1819 the building erected by Domenico Trezzini was taken over by St. Petersburg University. The glazed second floor is now the corridor of the University and is famed for its length. Visitors are admitted to the museum named after the chemist Dmitriy Mendeleev, who devised the periodic table of chemical elements and lived and worked here from 1866 to 1890.
The Menshikov Palace  next to the University is a very historic building. It was intended for Alexander Menshikov, Peter the Great’s closest associate and an eminent statesman and military figure, and built in 1710-1716 by Giovanni Fontana and Gottfried Schadel. It was the most luxurious building in St. Petersburg at the time. It successfully combines traditional Russian and West European methods and forms of architecture. Dutch and Russian tiles, wooden paneling, carved and gilded decorations, sculptured moulding and monumental decorative painting have been used in its rich and original ornamentation. Today the Menshikov Palace is a branch of the Hermitage Museum, and expositions from collections devoted to Russian culture of the early 18th century are mounted here.
A special building for the First Cadet Corps  was built alongside Menshikov Palace. Its facade looks out on present-day Kadetskaya Line and is perpendicular to University Embankment.
Beyond Kadetskaya Line lies the Rumyantsev Garden . This shady public garden was laid out in the 1866-1867 in honour of the 18th century Field Marshal Rumyantsev (1725-1796), who was very successful in Catherine the Great’s wars against the Turks. The 21-meter high obelisk by Vincenzo Brenna was originally erected in the Field of Mars in 1799. It was moved in 1818 to the present site, next to the Cadet Corps where the Field Marshal studied.
Next to the Rumyantsev Garden on the University Embankment stands the Academy of Arts  erected by architects Alexander Kokorinov and Jean Baptiste Vallin de la Mothe in 1764-1788. The building with a circular inner courtyard occupies a whole block on Vasilevskiy Island. It is one of the vivid examples of early Classicism in Russian architecture. Within the central four-columned portico are statues of Hercules and Flora. The interior is richly decorated, and there is a circular courtyard 40 meters in diameter. The Academy was founded in 1757 and many of Russia’s leading artists and architects were associated with it. In 1947 the Academy was moved to Moscow. The building now houses the Repin Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. Here also is the Research Museum of the Academy of Arts, established in the mid 18th century, at the same time as the Academy itself.
On the embankment in front of the Academy is a granite quay with two Egyptian Sphinxes  on high pedestals. The general design of the quay was worked out by Konstantin Ton. The sphinxes are carved of pink granite obtained from the famous Aswan stone quarries. The hieroglyphic inscriptions on them glorify the Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep III, who lived in 1455-1419 B.C. and whose palace they embellished. It follows from them that the artist gave his sculptures the traits of this ruler. The sphinxes were brought to Russia from Egypt in 1831. The ship which transported the sphinxes, each of which weighs more than 23 tons, took almost a year to reach the banks of the Neva River.
Further north and parallel to the Neva Embankment runs Bolshoy Prospect. It starts from Kadetskaya Line and runs to Marine Glory Square. On the north side of Bolshoy Prospect, at No. 1 stands the former Lutheran Church of St. Catherine , an impressive Classical building with a four-columned portico and a cupola. It was built in 1768-1771 by Yuriy Felten for the Evangelical Lutheran community of Vasilevskiy Island. After years of serving as a recording studio for the Melodiya company, the church was returned to the Lutheran parish in 1992.