Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Momboisse Family Adventures Baltic Sea - Tallinn, Estonia - (June 10, 2011)

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Momboisse Family Adventures Baltic Sea
Norwegian Cruise Tour
 Self-Guided Tour
Tallinn, Estonia
Partly Cloudy 76F

Sunrise 4:08 am - Sunset 10:32 pm
June 10, 2011

Our Video of Tallinn
Our last stop on the Gulf of Finland is Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.  Tallinn, the old city which is surrounded by walls and towers began around 1050 with the first fortress built on Toompea Hill. 



The picture above is of the old town, which we took from our suite on the Norwegian Sun as she pulled into port.  




An Itsy Bitsy History of 
who Occupied Tallinn, 

Estonia and When 

The position of Tallinn on the Gulf of Finland made neighboring nations envious to the point of warfare.  In 1219 the Danish occupied the land, but they tired of internal rebellions and the continuing need to defend it from warring neighbors.  So they sold the land to the German Teutonic Order in 1346 for 19,000 silver Marks.  The Germans lost Tallinn to the Swedes in 1561, who then integrated their Swedish dominions of Estonia and Livonia into the Russian Empire in 1710.  After the Russian Revolution in 1917, Estonia declared its first independence February 24, 1918.  BUT, in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Bolshevik (Russian) government gave Germany - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.  February 25, 1918 German troops entered Tallinn, independence short lived; Tallinn, Estonia was back under German occupation.  Actually, Estonians consider themselves independent but occupied from 1918-1991. 

In November 1918, after the end of World War I, the German Revolution caused the replacement of Germany's imperial government with a republic.  At the same time, Germany formally handed over political power of Estonia to the Estonian Provisional Government.  Yeah, Estonia is not occupied.  Not quite. Russia begins a westward offensive to take back the lands (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, etc.) that they gave up under the Treaty of Brest-Lotovsk.  After all, apparently Germany doesn't want them anymore. 

The Estonians do not give up easily and on February 2, 1920, with the Tartu Peace Treaty, signed with Soviets, Russia finally acknowledges Estonia as an independent Republic with Tallinn named as the capital.  




BUT, alas poor Estonia, the Soviet Union after the start of World War II marched back occupying them in 1940.  The Soviets used #59 Pikk Street in Tallinn as the KGB headquarters for torture and interrogation and the tower of St. Olav's Church to block TV and radio signals. 

But wait, Nazi Germany countered by invading the Soviet Union June 22, 1941, reaching Estonia by July.  The Nazi's occupy Estonia until they retreat in 1944, after the Soviets having stood up to the German army at the Siege of Leningrad, push Germany back and take over Estonia once again. 

On August 20, 1991 (20 years ago), after the fall of the Soviet Union, Estonia declared its independent.  And that is Tallinn's history in a nut shell. 

We now set out to explore the quaint medieval Old Town of Tallinn, which has been attacked, sold, sacked, rebelled, razed, pillaged, conquered, and bombed.  In the course of the past 20 years they have managed to crate a lovely environment filled with history, adventure and lots of things to climb.  

Today is a bit overcast with a promise of clearing by midday.  We arrived in port to the sound of an Om Pa Pa band on the dock playing "Michael Row Your Boat Ashore." 


We have a short ten minute walk from the dock across Rannamae tee a main highway to the entrance of the Old Town and the Fat Margaret Gate.  Inside the walls look up, each corner features a camera. Smile someone is watching.  

We followed cobbled narrow streets to the foot of St. Olav's Church on Lai Street and looked straight up the 440 foot steeple.  During Soviet occupation the KGB used this steeple and spire as a radio tower and surveillance point to block non-soviet radio and television.  The steeple is so tall that it has been hit by lightning at least eight times, and the entire church has burned down three times since it was built in the 12th century.  The tower can be climbed, but was not open for another hour.  

We move on to the main street Pikk.  In one short city block we will pass historical buildings dating from the 15th to 20th century. 

#26 Pikk is the Blackheads society, used from 1440 to the 1900's by the members of the Blackhead Society.  These were the unmarried men of Estonia and Latvia.  If there was a fire in town it was the unmarried Blackheads who were responsible to fight the blaze. 

Across the street at #17 is the door of the Great Guild.  Once a member of the Blackhead Society married a local woman, he moved on up to the big time and membership in the Great Guild, no longer having to fight the fires of the town, except those under his own roof.  

#59 Pikk is the former KGB Headquarters.  The basement windows were bricked-up because, we are told, the KGB did not want anyone on the outside to see their methods of torture.  It was in the basement of this building that enemies of the state were interrogated.  From here, if they were still alive, they were sent to Siberian gulags. A plaque on the outside of this building reads "This building housed the headquarters of the organ of repression of the Soviet occupational power." 

We make a short stop inside the Lutheran Church of the Holy Ghost.  It has a distinguishing octagonal tower steeple, visible from our climbs throughout the day.  A painted clock on its outside wall is the oldest timepiece in Tallinn dating to the late 17th century.  Inside this church is decorated and constructed with carved wood.  

Down Dunkri we pass the Wheel Well also called the Cat's Well.  During Medieval time, residents came here to get their water.  Legend states that the well was inhabited by spirits who required regular animal sacrifices.  Sheep, cattle and yes, cat's were thrown into the well.  The well is plugged now.  Look down the shaft and all that is visible is garbage.  Nearby a cat wanders. 

Left on Rataskaevu to Niguliste Kirk (St. Nicholas Church) a 13th century Gothic church, was partially destroyed in 1944 (when Tallinn was occupied by the Germans) and the Russians bombed the Upper Town.  Today after renovation it became - you guessed it, a museum. 

We turn left up Luhike Jaig a really skinny street, one half stairs the other a steep climb.  At the top of Luhike Jaig is a fork in the road.  Straight ahead through the oak door is one of two gates that separates the Lower Town from the Upper Town.  This gate is still the ritual meeting point of the mayor of Tallinn and the prime minister whenever there is an important decision to be made between town and country.  


Danish King's Garden 

We take the fork and turn left entering a gate into the Danish King's Garden.  This are is the legendary birthplace of the Danish flag.  In 1219, King Valdemar II of Denmark and his troops were camped in this location before conquering Toompea Hill.  Both Estonian and Danish folklore recall that Valdemar's forces were losing their battle when the sky opened and a red flag with a white cross floated down from heaven.  King Vlademar took this as "a sign from heaven" that they were to win and spurred them on to eventual victory.  The Danish flag is called the Danneborg (meaning fell from the sky).  The restaurant at the top of the city wall here is also called the Danneborg.  



We use a rope lining the wall of the narrow stairway and climb pulling our weigh up four flights of extra tall stairs to the top of the wall overlooking the Danish Kings Garden below. 



To the horizon over the Lower Town are the cruise ships.  A very narrow area with tables and chairs lining a portion of the wall is the Dannenborg Restaurant.  

Slowly we maneuver back down the stairs out the side gate and we have arrived at the top of Toompea Hill outside the city wall.

To the left down Komandandi tee is Kiek in de Kok Tower, which means Peek in the Kitchen.  This is our next destination.



The tower gets its name from its location overlooking the Lower Town.  Apparently guards would "peek" out the windows of the tower into the "kitchens" of the houses below. What they were peeking at is anyone's guess.  Today it is a museum housing cannons, body armor, a floor map of the original location of all the towers and walls and lots of medieval items of body reconstruction (torture). 



This is also the location of the bastion passages.  Unfortunately the tour of the bastion passages below the tower takes two hours, more time than we can donate to this location.  

Back down Komandandi tee and right on Lossi plats brings us to the front of a large pink building that looks a bit out of place and much like the castle's of St. Petersburg. 



There is a reason for that.  During the Russian occupation of Estonia, Catherine the Great (of Tsarskoye Selo and Hermitage fame) had this built to the east side of the existing wooden tower and fortress in 1773.  Today it houses Riigikogu or Parliament of Estonia.  



Across the street is the ornate Estonian Orthodox Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.  This church was built while under Russian occupation between 1895 and 1900 by Preobrazhnesky.  From 1918 to 1944 while Estonia went back and forth between Soviet and German occupation the Orthodox Church did its best to survive and perform divine services.  But priests and bishops were arrested and executed; it was a difficult time of persecution.  

In 1955 orthodoxy was still under persecution by Khrushchev, who prohibited baptizing and distribution of Sacraments.  Some churches were destroyed; Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was threatened with destruction, but thankfully was not.

Today this beautiful church is a fully functioning Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate under the guidance of the sixtieth Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, Kirill and falls under the umbrella of Eastern Orthodoxy. 

We lit candles here for our prayer petitions.  The only book we could find was written in Russian.  So the background of the mosaics that make up the facade  and the iconostasis screen that separates the nave from the sanctuary will remain a mystery.  This would be the last fully functioning Orthodox Church we would visit on our Baltic trip.  Our last chance until we return  home to be completely in the physical presence of Jesus. 



There are two viewpoints with actual names in Upper Town, Patkuli and Kohtuotsa.  We believe that we found both of them.  Take any short little unmarked side street off the main cobbled lane and you find yourself at a viewpoint looking out over the city wall to the modern town to the west or the medieval lower town to the east.  It is difficult to get lost in this area. Eventually we ended up on Pikk Jaig that leads back down to Town Square, just in time for lunch.  

Town Hall Square was once a place where traders sold their wares, knights showed off, and criminals were chained.  



Today it is a lovely marketplace with street performers, people in period dress, and numerous restaurants.  



After lunch we stop at what claims
to be the oldest functioning pharmacy
 dating back to 1422.  



Look through a decorative jar of blue liquid sitting on the window ledge and the Town Hall Tower across the street appears to be upside-down.  




This is our next destination, a climb of the 15th century Town Hall Tower.  

To climb, just push yourself one extra tall step in front of the other winding up a narrow stair case with a periodic barred window until you reach the end of the stairs and the top.



Your reward, a 360 degree view of all of Tallinn. Worth every step and all the pain we will feel tomorrow when our muscles remind us how many walls and towers we climbed.  We are greeted by the sun finally breaking through the clouds as we arrive at the top.  Okay, about face, reverse and carefully climb down holding the rope secured into the rock wall. 

From Town Square we head over to Vene Street and St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church.  It is closed but next door is the old Dominican St. Catherine's Monastery.  Founded by the Dominican monks around 1246 this monastery was built in Gothic Medieval style  After 1517, the Reformation spread through the Baltic and Estonia, and in 1524 the Dominican monastery was destroyed.  Years went by, German occupation, Soviet occupation, and finally in 1954 the former garden and cloister of the Dominican monastery were restored. The inside is lit only by candles, with very few windows and those that do exist covered with years of soot, dirt and paint, it was difficult to get clear pictures.  Still it had a contemplative feel. 



Our final stop is Epping Tower on Laboratooriumi in Lower Old Town.  This town wall tower has been preserved as a medieval interactive exhibition. 

Climb four flights of extra tall stars in a narrow passageway and  your reward is to try on chain mail, armor, gauntlets, helmets and hold weapons of medieval torture such as a mace.  No the spray kind.  

After this fun interactive experience we head back to our ship.  Tallinn is worth a second day, there is much more to see.  The video at the beginning of this post covers all the sites we visited.  Tomorrow Stockholm.      


__****
For an interactive map and guided walking tour covering many of our tours please be sure to download the GPSmyCity App from the iTunes store. The App covers an extensive library of articles and walking tours from over 470 cities worldwide, and now features articles from Adventures of a Home Town Tourist covering Carmel and Monterey (with more cities on the way).
___


All photography or video by L A Momboisse and R M Momboisse unless listed below: 

Kiek in de Kok Tower - Use License 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Momboisse Family Adventures Baltic Sea - Saint Petersburg, Russia - Cathedrals (June 9, 2011)

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Momboisse Family Adventures Baltic Sea
Norwegian Cruise Tour
 
Partly Clear Skies 75
Sunrise 4:43 am - Sunset 11:13 pm


Tour Saint Petersburg, Russia
Cathedrals 
June 9, 2011



Spire of the Peter and Paul Cathedral rises above the
 
Peter and Paul Fortress on the Neva river

We woke to another unusual weather day for the Baltic, partly clear skies, mild temperatures and a calm breeze.  Today we will tour three Russian Orthodox Cathedrals in St. Petersburg using the Norwegian Cruise Tour Cathedrals of St. Petersburg.  We will visit the Peter and Paul Cathedral, The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, and St Isaac's Cathedral. 

After navigating Passport Control we met our guide, who issued the required stickers for our cameras, $10 for pictures, and or $8 for video. Two of the cathedrals required stickers, one was "free." 

An itsy bitsy history of Russian Orthodoxy in Russia and St. Petersburg from Peter I to present.  

Prior to Peter I the empire had only some influence on church functions  Peter I reformed the Russian Orthodox Church, placing church operations under the authority of the state. 

Instead of being governed by a patriarch (highest ranking bishop) or metropolitan (regional bishop), the church was controlled by a committee called the Most Holy Governing Synod, made up of bishops and lay people appointed by the Emperor.


Tikhon of Moscow

The church remained this way until shortly after the Russian Revolution in 1917 when the decision to restore the patriarchy was made with the election of Tikhon as the 11th Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.  

But the new ruling party of Russia declared in 1918, a separation of Church and State and freedom from "religious and anti-religious propaganda."  Orthodox priests and believers were tortured, sent to prison or labor camps, or executed. Some were subjected to mind control experimentation.  Thousands of churches and monasteries were taken over by the government and either destroyed or converted to secular use.   No new churches were built.  Practicing Orthodox citizens were prevented entry into prominent careers. 

In 1921, the Soviet government demanded that church valuables be given to the state to aid the starving population, eventually this demolished Eastern Orthodoxy in the Soviet Union.  By the beginning of World War II destruction of beautiful, ornate, Orthodox cathedrals, churches and icons became the norm.

By 1935 only 4 bishops remained in the Soviet Union, and of the 50,000 Russian Orthodox priests registered in 1918, only 500 remained.  

Under attack by the Germans in 1941, Stalin used the Russian Orthodox Church to increase support for the war.  A new Patriarch was elected and thousands of churches were allowed to function again.

By 1957, approximately 22,000 Russian Orthodox Churches were open, to have almost 1/2 of them closed two years later by Khrushchev.  In 1985 only 7,000 churches were active. 

Finally, during the rule of Mikhail Gorbachev, in 1988 on the 1000th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus', there was a marked shift in Soviet policy toward the church and many church buildings were restored to religious use. 

Over the course of the persecution between 1918 and 1988, numerous Orthodox churches in St. Petersburg were destroyed.  By divine providence, some were allowed to stand.



The Kazan Cathedral was transformed into an Atheism and Religion Museum, St. Isaac's Cathedral into a City Museum and used to hide the art from the Hermitage during 1941, and the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral became a museum. 

For whatever reason some of the churches in St. Petersburg were spared, we are very glad they were.  With the old city now surrounded by stark concrete Soviet style buildings, they give a uniqueness, beauty and spiritual witness to this charming city.  

Today the Russian Orthodox Church is again a self headed (autocephalous) church under the jurisdiction of Kirill, the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia and falls under the umbrella of Eastern Orthodoxy. 


The Peter and Paul Fortress 

Our tour starts at the first and oldest landmark in St. Petersburg, The Peter and Paul Fortress, built between 1712 and 1733 on Hare Island along the Neva River. 

Both the cathedral and the fort were built at the request of Peter the Great. 

Our bus parked on Petrogradskaya Island by the Artillery Museum.  We would walk past families sunning themselves in the tall grass, cross the Kronverkskiy Bridge, and along one of the six curtain walls that links six massive bastions together forming the parameter of the stretched hexagon fortress. 


The guard tower is empty and we pass through the gate onto the grounds of the fort.  At the top of the 404 foot spire one can barely see the shape of the flying angel holding a cross, an important city landmark and symbol of St. Petersburg.  

Built unlike traditional Orthodox churches, the Peter and Paul is similar to the shape of a ship with the tail spire the mast.  Also unusual the large windows that line the walls allowing the sun to pour into the nave.  The style is called early Baroque with Dutch influence.  It was built to Peter the Greats specifications.  Who could argue? 

Inside the cathedral the iconostasis (a flat wall of icons) is unique to the Orthodox churches we will visit. This one is more three dimensional incorporating 43 icons and rising into a canopy over the sanctuary.  It is patterned after Bernini's canopy in St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome.  



Video Saint Peter and Paul 

A carved pulpit (also unusual for an Orthodox Church) stands in the nave in front of the iconostasis; next to it is the Tsar's place, a carved wooden canopy with drapes where the Emperor or Empress would stand during services. 


The Royal Doors Saint Peter and Paul's

The pilasters throughout the church are painted to look like marble, and the vaults are adorned with fresco paintings of angels.  Inside the cathedral is the burial vault of many in the house of Romanov, including Peter I, Alexander II and Nicholas II.  the cathedral was closed in 1919 and turned into a museum in 1924.  Today it is still officially a museum with a few religious services resumed in 2000. 

Outside we pass art classes of students young and old.  Actors dressed in period costume. Haven't we learned yet, no pictures without dollars?  I guess not, the "empress" shakes her finger at us and scowls. 

Stopping at the old monument to Peter the Great we take a few pictures and then exit out the Neva Gate to the Commandants landing.  From this vantage point is a spectacular view across the Neva to the Hermitage.  Along the curtain and Tsar's Bastion is another popular "beach" for sunbathers, packed today with families.  The area of the Neva is reminiscent of San Francisco Bay with colorful sail boats. 

Back on the bus we cross the Troitskiy Bridge to the Palace Embankment and drive around the Mikhaylovskiy Garden and the Russian Museum to the church called Savior on the Spilled Blood, also known as the Church of the Resurrection of Christ.


Savior on the Spilled Blood

The massive, ornate, colorful, exquisite Russian Orthodox Church is built over the sight of the assassination of Alexander II on March 1, 1881.  The site of the murder is marked by a special chapel, where part of the carriageway and rail that was stained with blood can be seen. 


Every inch of the church is a work of art.  But there is not one single painting inside, all the walls are almost entirely covered with mosaics. 

The initial construction took 24 years with the church opening in 1907.  Before the Revolution of 1917, the only services that took place there were memorial services.  On October 30, 1930, Stalin closed the church for services, after which it was ransacked, looted and the interior icons terribly damaged.  It served briefly as a museum housing an exhibition of revolutionary propaganda, it held the props from the Maly Theatre of Opera and Ballet for a time, was a warehouse for food, and even a temporary storage space for the dead.

The church was scheduled for demolition, as it was deemed an unsuitable symbol of Christianity in the midst of an atheistic country. It suffered damage and disrepair during Soviet rule, but miraculously survived.  In 1997 it was reopened after 27 years of restoration but has not been reconsecrated so for the time being it is a museum of mosaics.  



Starting from the outside, the area around the base of the church is grey granite interspersed with twenty slabs of dark (blood) red granite topped with red brown Siegersdorf brick.  Against this background amid casings, gables and arches are hundreds of mosaics of differing shapes and sizes depicting various biblical themes, saints, coats of arms or heraldry emblems.  Atop the square body of the church are eight onion domes, topped with bright colored enameled sheets, or tiles, some of brass, and gold.  This is just the outside.  




We enter the church from the north-west portico next to the Griboyedov Canal on the very edge of the embankment, crossing under the bell tower which stands over the spot where the emperor was assassinated.

In order to erect the tower, the body of the church was extended beyond the line of the embankment into the canal.  We pass the exact spot of the murder which is covered by a canopy and look forward into the vastness of the mosaic covered nave. 


Savior on Spilled Blood

Every inch of the inside is covered ceiling, archers, vaults, domes, walls, floor, nooks and crannies.  Colorful marble, semiprecious stones of all kinds, bronze, silver, and gold form the mosaics, and not a single painting.  

Under the guidance of architect Alfred Parland the mosaic designs were commissioned to be sketched and created by Viktor Vasnetsov, Mikhail Nesterov and others.  

We exit the back and notice the bricks riddled with bullet holes, a reminder of a time when the Soviet leaders wanted this spectacular church brought to the ground.  

Back on the bus, we turn onto Nevskiy Prospekt pass the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan and the Admiralty Gardens before parking in St. Isaac's Square by the statue of Tsar Nicholas I. 

St. Isaac's Cathedral is named in honor of the patron saint of the Romanov family, St. Isaac of Dalmatia.  It is the fourth largest domed cathedral in the world.  The first three St. Peter's in Rome, St. Paul's in London and St. Maria del Fiore in Florence we had the pleasure of climbing in August of 2001.  Would have loved to make it four for four, but St. Isaac's was not open for climbing. 



Video St. Isaac's Cathedral



St. Isaac's Cathedral was designed by August de Montferrand and constructed on swamp land which required some ingenious engineering.  10,000 twenty foot tree trunks were sunk into the ground to make a foundation for the base of the cathedral.  The porticos, pediments and main center dome were supported by 112 enormous red granite columns that were raised with an equally enormous wooden framework.  The outside doors and pediments are decorated with bronze reliefs of the life of Christ.  This massive church took 40 years to built, mainly by the efforts of the serfs who worked under dangerous and difficult conditions sometimes in excess of 13 hours a day. 




The cathedrals main dome raises 333 feet is plated with pure gold and surrounded by 24 statues.  The technique used to cover the dome with gold was similar to spray painting; unfortunately the "spray" emitted toxic mercury vapors which caused the death of numerous workers.  


Inside we appear as ants looking upwards at the soaring pilasters, vaults and dome.  The inside design is made of about 800 pounds of gold, 1000 tons of bronze, 35,000 pounds of malachite along with untold pounds of lapis, slate and marble. 


The main iconostasis is designed with Carrara marble, lapis, and malachite. Columns which separate individual icons, have five levels to the top mural of The Last Judgment by Fiodor Bruni. 


Look all the way to the top of the center dome to view the dove, a symbol of the Holy Spirit, in the lantern.  


Decorated with over 382 works of art, sculpture, painting and mosaic, the walls, vaults and domes bear works made by Russian artists, Bruillov, Bruni, Basin and Shebuyev among others.  

The bottom level of the iconostasis is traditional:  to the right is Christ the Pantocrator, next to Him, the patron of this church, St. Isaac the Dalatian, to the left is the Teotokos and Child, next to her is "Made Without Hands," and St. Catherine, most of these designs by Timoleon Karl von Neff. 


This cathedral that stands out for its grandeur was sanctified in 1858 and became the main church in Saint-Petersburg.  In 1859 a miracle-working icon of The Tikhvin Mother of God was found in the city's outskirts, and transferred to St. Isaac's. 

During the early years of Soviet rule, St. Isaac's functioned as one of the first anti-religious museums in the country.  The dove in the dome was covered by the Fourcault pendulum which demonstrated the earth's rotation.  

During World War II the church was hit by an artillery shell.  During the Siege of Leningrad, the church was used to hide art from the Hermitage and Summer Palace of Tsarskoye Selo.  Finally in the 1960's the church began to be renovated and today is a state museum dedicated to Russian architecture and fine art.  it is also a venue for special Orthodox occasions and Orthodox music.  In time this magnificent Orthodox masterpiece may be returned to its original grandeur of 1858.  

Now it is time to return to the ship and say goodbye to this beautiful city.  Tomorrow Estonia

__****
For an interactive map and guided walking tour covering many of our tours please be sure to download the GPSmyCity App from the iTunes store. The App covers an extensive library of articles and walking tours from over 470 cities worldwide, and now features articles from Adventures of a Home Town Tourist covering Carmel and Monterey (with more cities on the way).
___
All photography or video by L A Momboisse and R M Momboisse unless listed below: 

Picture of Peter and Paul Fortress - Wikimedia Free Documentation License
Picture of Tikhon of Moscow - Wikipedia Public Domain 
Aerial View of St. Peter and Paul Fortress - Use License
Picture of the Royal Doors Saint Peter and Paul's - Use License

Picture of Savior on the Spilled Blood - Use License

Friday, April 20, 2018

Momboisse Family Adventures Baltic Sea - Saint Petersburg, Russia - Palaces (June 8, 2011) Part 2

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Momboisse Family Adventures Baltic Sea
Norwegian Cruise Tour
 Tour Saint Petersburg, Russia
Palaces Part 2

June 8, 2011



Continuation from Part 1.  Empress Elizabeth Petrovena requested Rastrelli, the builder of Tsarskoye Selo (Summer Palace) to built the Winter Palace.  Rastrelli began the palace in 1754, completing it the year of Elizabeth's death in 1762, consequently Elizabeth never moved in.  Starting with Catherine the Great in 1762, all Russian rulers spent time living in the Winter Palace until 1917. 

In 1764 Catherine the Great commissioned the Small Hermitage (for her growing art collection and her need for privacy) to be built next to the Winter Palace. The hermitage, from French word meaning "a hermit's abode," or "lonely place," was a place where Catherine would go to eat supper in seclusion without servants.  She also arranged "small hermitages," or parties for her closest "A List" friends there. 

As Catherine's art collection continued to grow an addition to the Small Hermitage was built between 1771-1787 and was called the Old Hermitage.  Before this building was finished, Catherine developed an interest in theater and commissioned the Hermitage Theater to be built in 1783.  Finally all of these "hermitage's" were linked together with passageways to the Winter Palace.  

Then came the fire in 1837 under Nicholas I's watch.  Though not all was lost there was still need for another building, and the New Hermitage was built between 1839-1842.  



The Hermitage Museum complex. From left to right: Hermitage Theater – Old Hermitage – Small Hermitage – Winter Palace (the "New Hermitage" is situated behind the Old Hermitage).

All of these buildings form the existing Hermitage on the Palace Embankment.  How does one see the Hermitage, the largest museum in Russia, with a collection that numbers around three million pieces, in three hours?  We don't, but our guide will take us to the majority of the most famous pieces.  Armed with our camera and the precious sticker necessary to allow us picture privileges, ready, set, and off we go. For a virtual visit visit this site


We enter the ground floor of the Winter Palace a long 1/4 mile corridor designed by Rastrelli lined with massive columns supporting the vaults of the nave that extends the width of the palace ending in front of Justice by Tagliapietra in the Jordan Gallery, which leads to the openings of the Main Staircase.


Main Staircase

In the era of the Empresses of Russia (the 18th century), this is the same way guests would enter the palace.  

Small Throne Room 

From the Jordan Gallery we climb the Main Staircase and walk through the Field Marshals' Hall past a large ornate carriage, into Peter the Great's Small Throne Room.  The walls are lined with red velvet embroidered with silver double-headed eagles and crowns, the monogram of Peter the Great.  Don't sit in the chair and pose for a picture.  Remember someone is watching your every move!!! 

Pavilion Hall

Enter the Small Hermitage and the Pavilion Hall which apparently is designed with three architectural elements intertwined, Classical Antiquity, Renaissance, and Asian, by Andrei Stakenschneider.



In the center of the room is a copy of a floor mosaic unearthed in a Roman bath (Classical Antiquity) featuring characters of ancient myths around the head of Medusa.

The walls are lined with Fountains of Tears (Asian), and the ceiling with twenty-eight crystal chandeliers.  The biggest attraction in this room is the Peacock Clock designed by English clock-maker James Cox.  


Once a week the Peacock Clock is put into action. Watch the video above from the Hermitage Museum.  

From the Council Staircase we enter the Room of Italian Art of the 13th to early 15th century.  Many of the pieces in this room were former sections of altarpieces. 

Leonardo Room 

Straight ahead is the Leonardo Room, originally a guest room now houses two masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci, Madonna and Child with Flowers (The Benois Madonna) and the Madonna and Child (The Litta Madonna). 


Madonna and Child with Flowers 

Every room has so much detail.  This one is no exception, jasper columns with lapis inlays, crystal chandeliers, tortoises shell and copper inlay on the doors.  When I look down, I notice we are walking on a piece of art on the floor.  

The Raphael Room holds the magnificent Conestabile Madonna also behind glass.  Our pictures do not show the beauty of this piece.  The Hermitage web site has clean clear files of some of their most famous pieces which I have added to the video when our pictures are unclear.  


The Hall of Raphael Loggias is a reproduction of Raphael's Loggias in the Vatican. Catherine the Great contracted this project to Giacomo Quarenghi and a group of artists led by Christopher Unterberger to make copies of the frescoes based on Biblical stories and arrange them on the vaults of this hall.  Catherine obtained permission from Pope Clement XII to make the Raphael Loggias reproduction.
Small Italian Skylight Hall 

The Small Italian Skylight Hall is anything but small.  It is huge, with high vaulted ceilings and walls covered from top to bottom with canvases of different sizes.  For accent there are two tables and two vases made of midnight blue lapis. 

Cabinet Room with Crouching Boy 

The Cabinet Room of Italian Art features one small piece that everyone wants to see, Crouching Boy by Michelangelo.  This piece is the Hermitages Little Mermaid.  It was impossible to get a picture of the Crouching Boy without twenty of his closest friends.  

The Large Italian Skylight Hall is twice as large as The Small Italian Skylight Hall.  It features the same high vaulted ceilings with skylights and walls covered from top to bottom with canvases of different sizes.  For accent, instead of blue it is green; instead of tables it has benches. 

The Room of Netherlandish Art of the late 16th and early 17th century featuring the art of the Dutch and Flemish Schools.  Favorites were Biblical works of art by Dutch painter Hendrick.  

Return of the Prodigal Son 

The Rembrandt Room houses 23 works of art by 17th century Dutch artist Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn and my favorite piece at the Hermitage, The Return of the Prodigal Son.  Many times I have imagined myself kneeling before Our Lord, His hands on my shoulders comforting me with absolution.  Honorable mention to Descent from the Cross.  

Running out of time, our guide skipped a few rooms - one the Grand Church which I would have like to have seen, but this is no place to leave the guide.  Next was the St. George Hall, also called the Large Throne Room.  The parquet floor is made from sixteen different valuable kinds of wood. Over the "Large Throne" is a marble bas-relief depicting St. George Slaying the Dragon.  The purpose of this hall was to serve for official ceremonies and receptions.  

From the Throne Room to the War Room, a gallery devoted to the War of 1812 created by Carlo Rossi in 1826 in commemoration of Russian victories in the Napoleonic Wars.  On these walls are 332 portraits of generals who were heroes of the Patriotic War of 1812 and Russian Army's foreign campaigns of 1813-1814.

The Armorial Hall in the Winter Palace was used for official ceremonies.  The shields with coats of arms and emblems of all the provinces of Russia are arranged on the chandeliers.  

A fast run through the Renoir, Monet, Rodin, Gauguin, and Matisse Room, will get us back to the bus on time.  So much to see but not enough time.  The following is a great video made in English of the State Hermitage Museum. 


Back on our bus our driver made a pass around the Winter Palace/Hermitage and the Palace Square, the sight of Bloody Sunday, a massacre on January 22, 1905.  

On that day, striking unarmed workers bringing a petition to give to Nicholas II marched toward the Winter Palace.  Led by Father Gapon they carried religious icons and sang patriotic songs and hymns.  The army gave warning shots in the air and then fired directly into the crowd.  Though the Tsar was not in residence, but residing at Tsarskoye Selo, he received the blame for the massacre.  The number killed is uncertain but palace officials listed 96 dead.  Anti-government leaders claimed more than 4,000 dead from both shots and being trampled during the panic. 

We are in port in St. Petersburg tonight.  Many of those on our cruise went back to St. Petersburg for the evening to take in a ballet.  We decided to forgo another pass through Passport Control and stay on board for peace and quite and enjoy the White Night.  

Saint Petersburg is located at such a high latitude that the sun does not go under the horizon deep enough for the sky to get totally dark for about six weeks a year, June 1 - July 14 (give or take).  The sky really does look white after the sun goes down until the sun rises.  Our unusually clear sky allowed for a perfect White Night.  

Tomorrow we are back in St. Petersburg to tour the cathedrals.  
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For an interactive map and guided walking tour covering many of our tours please be sure to download the GPSmyCity App from the iTunes store. The App covers an extensive library of articles and walking tours from over 470 cities worldwide, and now features articles from Adventures of a Home Town Tourist covering Carmel and Monterey (with more cities on the way).
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All photography or video by L A Momboisse and R M Momboisse unless listed below: 

Winter Palace Panorama - Wikipedia  
Hermitage Museum Complex - Wikivisually Hermitage
Peter the Great Small Throne Room - Wikipedia
Pavilion Hall - Wikipedia  By Dezidor - Self-photographed

Peacock Clock Video - The State Heritage Museum
Madonna and Child with Flowers - Public Domain

Video The State Hermitage - The State Hermitage Museum
Cabinet Room with Crouching Boy - The State Hermitage Museum Site
The Return of the Prodigal Son - The State Hermitage Museum Site