Monday, November 14, 2011

ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA: PETER AND PAUL FORTRESS

On our first day in St. Petersburg, we cruised past Peter and Paul Fortress on our riverboat cruise. It was the last place we visited before boarding our cruise ship to leave Russia.
The fortress was the first building in the city and is considered the site of the founding of St. Petersburg.  Peter the Great (surprise!) built the fortress in 1703 as protection from a feared Swedish invasion. The invasion didn't happen, and as noted in a previous post, the fortress soon became a prison and remained one until 1924, when it became a museum. Like so many other important buildings in St. Petersburg, it was severely damaged by bombing during World War II but has since been restored.

There are numerous buildings in the Fortress, with the most famous being the Peter and Paul Cathedral.  With its 404-foot belltower (the tallest point in St. Petersburg) and the Russian Orthodox crosses on the outside, I expected a typical Russian Orthodox interior, but it was much more like a museum inside, which is really what it functions as.  I must say that while the interior was rich and ornate, it couldn't hold a candle to the cathedrals and palaces we had already seen in St. Petersburg, and the overpowering aqua green theme was not my favorite:

So why do tourists--local pilgrims as well as foreigners--make their way by the thousands to the Peter and Paul Cathedral?  It's because it is the burial place for all but one of the Russian emperors and empresses--tsars and tsaritsas--from Peter the Great (who died in 1725) to Alexander III (who died in 1894). I haven't quite figured out the Russian fascination with the Romanovs, who so often seemed to rule with a heavy hand.

The marble sarcophagi lined up in neat rows fill the interior of the Cathedral and are decorated with gold embellishments, fresh flowers, and artistic representations of the individuals:

Of course, there are plenty of double-headed eagles to be seen:
Some of the most recent additions to the Cathedral are the remains of the last tsar and his family, Nicholas II, Alexandra, and three of their five children, whose bodies were exhumed in 1991. After undergoing testing in laboratories for seven years, they were relocated to the Cathedral in 1998 on the 80th anniversary of their assassinations.  In 2007, two additional partially burned bodies were found not far from the original graves of the other members of Nicholas and Alexandra's family, and a year later DNA testing confirmed that they were the remains of the two missing children. Those bodies have yet to be interred.

We really hated to leave Russia, a place we'd definitely like to visit again.  I am sure we had a "sanitized" view of the country, being shielded from its social and economic problems.  However, that it is a country of rich culture and great beauty can not be denied.

Here are some final thoughts from the notes I took while our Russian tour guide was speaking:


• Although Moscow (population 10 million) is twice as large as St. Petersburg (4.8 million), St. Petersburg has twice as many tourists as Moscow.

• Russia is the largest country (area-wise) in the world, with Canada coming in second and China third.

• Education facts:
     - Primary and secondary school are free and required.  
     - After secondary school, students can go to high school for two more years or can get vocational training.
     - Universities were free during the Soviet era, but no longer.  Some scholarships are available to top students; others pay their own way.  The most expensive courses of study are law, banking, medicine, and psychology.

• Medicine:
     -Medical care was free during the Soviet era (but I wonder how many people could actually get care, and what kind of care that was).
     - Citizens now have insurance through work and school, and insurance is provided for pensioners. Those with insurance can get care at facilities closest to their homes.  (Does this mean that poor areas have poor clinics and hospitals?)
     - Medications are free to those with mortal diseases such as cancer.
     - Some doctors still make house calls.

Our guide taught us how to say "See you again some day."  I can only write it phonetically, but here it is:
"Dos-vee-DAHN-yah, Russia!"

4 comments:

  1. I'm sorry your travel posts are over. They've been so fun to read.

    I must agree--the colors of this cathedral just aren't nearly as beautiful as those in other cathedrals, and it seems a bit more ordinary.

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  2. Actually, I have a few more stops to cover, just not in Russia, and nothing quite this extensive. I'm impressed anyone is still reading. Thanks, Chris!

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  3. I was going to say, "I just have to ask, Judy -- do you take notes?!" and then you answered me by mentioning your notes. I would love to travel with you so you could take all the notes for both of us and then give me a copy...yes, I'd be that annoying person in study group I guess. Thanks for even more vicarious travel fun!

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  4. I do like that green, but you have to remember I'm seeing in only via your camera's lens, and maybe in person it was awful. You say so, so I'll take your word for it.

    I am sorry to to not visit Russia, etc. regularly anymore, but will look forward to the smaller posts that you promise are upcoming.

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