Sunday, June 9, 2013

Oh Hello Again Piter




St. Catherine's Palace and the gardens

One of our first stops was the beautiful Dormition Cathedral on the banks of the Neva River. The Cathedral with its grey and gold domes was built in the Byzantine architectural style and its interior is a smaller replica of the Church on Spilled Blood (imagine paint instead of mosaics). I had noticed this church and its domes from across the Neva before, and had meant to pay a visit. I’m glad I finally had the chance. Dormition Church had been used as an iceskating rink during the Soviet era; it was quite the experience to appreciate the exquisite restoration work on a church that had been used as a recreational facility less than 30 years ago. On another Soviet- church relations note, I learned from our tour guide that the lutheran church that stands on Nevsky Prospekt was used as a swimming pool during the Soviet Union (oh and Kazan Cathedral held the Museum of Atheism). After 70 years of the continual destruction of religion, it’s amazing that we even have these churches to visit today. And one last church fact that I’ve learned: the huge golden dome on top of St. Isaac’s Cathedral is actually made of real gold. Super extravagant and super expensive. So where did they get the money to construct the dome? from the Alaskan Purchase. The Russians used the money they received from America after purchasing Alaska. That’s a fun fact if I do say so myself. 
Dormition Cathedral

While on the tour, I had the fortune of visiting two new locations that I didn’t have the time to see during the semester. The first being an interior tour of the Summer Palace in Peterhoff. The stairs alone in the palace were gold trimmed and entirely ornate (similar to Catherine’s Palace). There were striking similarities between the two grand palaces of the St. Pete suburbs. The most noticeable similarity included the design of the ballrooms. Both were covered with large mirrors and innate gold decorations (though I learned that the “gold” was in fact gilded bronze, but this does not take away any of the brilliance and splendor of the design). Further highlights of the tour included viewing Peter the Great’s tiny bed (he slept sitting up), his toilet (that looked like a throne), and his oak office complete with his quill and office desk. We finished off our royal excursion by watching the fountain ceremony at 11:00 am. There was lovely patriotic music as the fountains slowly burst into life. 

The gardens at Peterhoff
Our second day in St. Pete led us to another new location- Yusopov Palace on the Moika Canal. Distant relatives of the Romanovs, the Yusopov family owned 4 palaces in St. Petersburg alone, but the palace we visited remains the most famous. In the basement of this dwelling, Felix Yusopov poisoned and then shot the infamous Rasputin. We saw the room in which Rasputin was poisoned. The fascinating part of the story is that Rasputin didn’t die after being poisoned and shot; he only died after the Yusopovs threw him into the icy Neva. According to autopsy results, it was determined that Rasputin died due to water in the lungs. It’s unbelievable to think that he could withstand two gun shot wounds and arsenic. One of the most memorable rooms in the palace was the Moor themed room. The room looked as if the Yusopovs had built a mosque right in the middle of the palace. At first I asked myself: why? The Yusopovs were Russian Orthodox just like most people living in Russia before the October Revolution. Well our tour guide explained to us that the Yusopovs were a wealthy Muslim family that had originated from the Islamic Tatar region of Russia hundreds of years before. The moor room honors their heritage as Muslim Tatars even though they actually practiced Christianity. 
Moor Room at Yusopov Palace

It was interesting to glean a new perspective of St. Petersburg by exploring her wonders with my parents. I particularly found it amusing when my parents pointed out certain aspects of Russian life that had taken me more than a week to realize. The most obvious being the perpetual feeling of dehydration. After about 5 hours of tour, my parents began complaining about their thirst because well safe water isn’t readably available in the city. You have to learn to always carry a bottle with you, otherwise you may be out of luck. I feel like that tidbit is only funny to those on my program, but dehydration was a facet of my time in Russia. Now at home I can drink water whenever I’m the least bit thirsty. 
Location of the front between Nazis and USSR during WWII





And now it was finally a good-bye to Russia. Our two days in Russia went by in a flash, but I know my parents appreciated the ability to see and experience the location where I lived for 4 months. They were able to briefly see the street on which I lived and my campus that is situated directly across from the beautiful Kazan Cathedral. Visiting the marvelous sites of the city was an experience of a lifetime, but the cultural immersion and friends I made create even longer lasting memories. As I said До-свидания to St. Petersburg for the second time, my parents and I were able watch as Russia passed. We even happened by Kronstadt island where Russian naval ships and submarines were docked in the small port only a few meters from the beautiful golden domed Kronstadt Cathedral. My four months in St. Pete were truly and officially over, but I know I will return again. 

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