PALACE SQUARE

Palace Square: Heart of St Petersburg

Short description

Palace Square is one of the most beautiful architectural ensembles in the world. It is formed by monuments of cultural heritage: the Winter Palace, the Headquarters Building of the Guard Corps, the General Staff Building with the Triumphal Arch and the Alksandrovskaya column. The square is a witness of the most important historical events in the history of Russia, such as Bloody Sunday in 1905 and October Revolution of 1917.

Palace Square is a pedestrian area. You can ride here only in the carriage. The area is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Palace Square is the centre of the tourist St. Petersburg. Nearby is a large number of shops, restaurants and cafes. Famous Astoria Hotel is located a few steps from the Palace Square.

History

The territory of the Palace Square previously represented a vast open space – glacis. It was formed after the laying of the Admiralty Shipyard in 1704, and according to the laws of wartime, it was necessary for artillery.

When the Admiralty lost the function of a military fortress, the original value of the glacis was also forgotten. Gradually the territory was overgrown with grass and turned into the Admiralty Meadow. There were celebrations and public festivals. Pavilions and wine fountains were built on the area. In 1743, by order of Queen Elizabeth, part of the Admiralty meadow was sown with oats.

The formation of the Palace Square ensemble began in 1753 when the architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli with the final version of the Winter Palace presented simultaneously the design of the square in front of it.

 

The main historical stages of the formation of the square, which took place for almost a century and provided during the several Russian emperors’ reign:

  • 1754 – 1762: construction of the Winter Palace
  • 1819 – 1829: construction of the General Staff building
  • 1830 – 1834: installation of the Alexander Column
  • 1837 – 1843: construction of the Guard Corps

Architecture

The boundaries of the Palace Square are determined by:

  • Winter Palace, the main facade of which is facing the square
  • The General Staff Building with the Triumphal Arc is opposite the palace
  • In the eastern part – the building of the Guard Corps. The architectural style is classicism, the author of the project is Alexander Bryullov
  • At the western part which is free from architectural buildings, there is a view of the Alexander Garden and the Admiralty

Winter Palace

The Winter Palace, which gave the name of the square, is the main imperial palace of Russia, the official winter residence of the Russian emperors until 1904.

The decoration of the palace’s facades gives the impression of solemnity. There are avant-corps, columns, sculptures and vases on the cornice around the perimeter of the building. The main facade of the palace is cut by an arch for the main entrance.

Anatoly Lunacharsky, People’s Commissar of Education, declared the Winter Palace and the Hermitage State Museums in October 1917

The General Staff Building

The building corresponds to the proportions of the Winter Palace, the width of the arc, height, position of the centre, but it is the complete opposite in architectural style. The General Staff Building is a complex with two wings connected by an arch.

The eastern wing of the General Staff Building was transferred to the Hermitage. The command of the Western Military District is in the western wing.

Triumphal Arch

The majestic arch of the General Staff Building is the main entrance to the Palace Square. It was built in honour of the victory in the Patriotic War of 1812 and was called the Triumphal. It is an independent architectural object which consists of three interconnected arched structures.

Arch walls are decorated with high reliefs depicting trophies and wreaths from the side of the square. The construction is crowned by a chariot drawn by six horses, ruled by the goddess of victory Nike. She holds a laurel wreath and a military standard in her hands. Two horses are held back by warriors in antique armour with spears.

Alexander Column

The famous architectural work of Auguste Montferrand is in the centre of Palace Square. Installed by order of Emperor Nicholas I in honour of the victory of his brother, Alexander I, in the war with Napoleon.

Monolithic granite construction is held on a pedestal only by its own weight. People were afraid that it might fall. Its creator, Auguste Montferrand, promised to walk around the column every day to allay their fears. He made such daily walks until his death.

Events

Palace Square in St. Petersburg is a traditional place for public festivals, sporting events, holding large-scale parades and concerts.

New Year

The main Christmas tree is set on the square every winter. In 2019, it was artificial 25-meter spruce, decorated with gold and blue garlands and topped with a star. A stage for performances was built in the form of a winter castle.

Parades

A military parade takes place on the square twice a year:

  • On the 27th of January – day when the Siege of Leningrad was lifted
  • On the 9th of May – The Victory Day and the end of the Second World War.
These events involve military, military equipment, aeroplanes and helicopters. Victory Parade accompanies the performance of military marches and melodies by the orchestra battalion.

Musical Concerts

Palace Square became the place of performance of many famous artists: Placido Domingo, Paul McCartney, Scorpions, Elton John, Madonna. A traditional classical concert of classical music is held on the City Day.

Interesting facts

A game of “Live Chess” held on the square in July 1924. The military served as chess pieces: the Navy sailors were white, the soldiers of the Red Army were black. The playing field was the entire space of the square, the paving stones of which were laid on 64 squares. Grandmasters Ilya Rabinovich and Peter Romanovsky were commanders of this unusual game which lasted 5 hours and ended in a draw at the 67th move.

Private tours that show you Palace Square

hermitage
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Alexandra
Hi! I'm an editor of PetersburgExpert blog. We look for the most interesting places in St. Petersburg and tell you about them.
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