Vasilyevsky Island Walking Tour, St. Petersburg

Vasilyevsky Island Walking Tour (Self Guided), St. Petersburg

Situated just across the river from the Winter Palace, Vasilyevsky Island constitutes a large part of Saint Petersburg's historic center.

There are various versions of the origin of the island's name suggesting either Vasily-related etymology or perhaps just a corruption of the previous Swedish or Finnish name, e.g. Vasikkasaari (“Calf Island”). Legend has it, however, that some Vasily Korchmin indeed served under Peter the Great as one of his foremost gunner officers and military engineers, and had an artillery battery deployed at the spit of the island to ward off Swedish navy. A lively statue commemorating the man is now found in a pedestrian street on the Vasilyevsky.

The easternmost tip of the island, called Strelka (“spit”), features a number of attractions, such as primarily the Old Saint Petersburg Stock Exchange. Other noteworthy edifices lining the Universitetskaya Embankment along the Bolshaya Neva include the Kunstkamera (the museum of natural and human curiosities and rarities), the Twelve Collegia (headquarters of St. Petersburg University), the Menshikov Palace (hosting a branch of the Hermitage Museum), the Imperial Academy of Arts, and St. Andrew's Cathedral – all dating from the 18th century which have long attracted tourists in their numbers.

If you wish to explore these and other prominent sights of St Petersburg's Vasilievsky Island, take this self-guided walking tour.
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Vasilyevsky Island Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Vasilyevsky Island Walking Tour
Guide Location: Russia » St. Petersburg (See other walking tours in St. Petersburg)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 Miles
Author: emily
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Pushkin House Literary Museum
  • Old Saint Petersburg Stock Exchange
  • Zoological Museum
  • Kunstkamera
  • Twelve Collegia
  • Lomonosov Monument
  • Menshikov Palace
  • Imperial Academy of Arts
  • St. Andrew's Cathedral
Pushkin House Literary Museum

1) Pushkin House Literary Museum

Located near the Malaya Neva and Exchange Bridge is the Pushkin House. The building is also known as the Institute of Russian Literature and is home to a collection of over 120,000 Russian literary items that encompass the 13th century to the present. Named after one of Russia’s greatest poets and the founder of modern Russian literature, Alexander Pushkin, the museum’s origins began in 1905 when a commission that was erecting a Pushkin monument recommended a permanent institution be created to house his works. Today, the museum not only houses the works of Pushkin, but those of many other Russian writers such as Tolstoy, Blok, and Remizov.

Russian literature aficionados and museum visitors will enjoy the detail and wealth of material devoted to the history of Russian written word and the many exhibitions and lectures that occur quite often. Old Russian Literature, Russian Folklore and Records Archive, New Russian Literature, Pushkin Studies, Correlation of Russian and Foreign Literature, Bibliography and Sources, Manuscript Division and Archive of Ancient Relics, and the Literature Museum are the Institute divisions. Of special note are the rare photos, book illustrations, and autographs of Russian writers.

Why You Should Visit:
A beautiful academic museum with the richest collection of unique relics and artifacts that belonged to outstanding Russian poets and writers of the late 18th and early 20th centuries: Pushkin, Derzhavin, Zhukovsky, Dostoyevsky, Gogol, Lermontov (largest Lermontov collection in the world), Leo Tolstoy, Turgenev, Goncharov, Blok, Akhmatova, Gumilev and many others!
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Old Saint Petersburg Stock Exchange

2) Old Saint Petersburg Stock Exchange

Old Saint Petersburg Stock Exchange is the main building in the architectural complex sited to fill the majestic sweep of The Spit (Russian: Strelka) of Vasilyevsky Island, just opposite the Winter Palace. A significant example of the Greek Revival architecture, it was designed by French architect Thomas de Thomon, inspired by the Greek Temple of Hera at Paestum, and was constructed between 1805 and 1810.

The institution itself was founded by edict of Peter the Great, inspired by the stock exchange in Amsterdam. The vacant space on the spit of Vasilevsky Island was developed over six years, from 1783 to 1789, to a design by Giacomo Quarenghi. A range of buildings was constructed on the shores of the Bolshaya Neva River, including the main building of the Academy of Sciences and the concave portion of the northern warehouse (1795–1797). These buildings enclosed the left and right sides of the tip of the spit, the projected location of the Stock Exchange building. Construction of the latter itself began in 1783, but was suspended in 1787. It restarted in 1805, overseen by architect Thomas de Thomon.

Thomon's design called for a peristyle of forty four Doric columns resting upon a massive stylobate of red granite and supporting an entablature of triglyphs and slotted metopes. A monumental sculptural group similar in form to a quadriga featuring Neptune, and symbolizing maritime commerce, is mounted above the portico. Both inside and outside the Bourse, a motif of the semicircle is recurrent. The interior features a large colonnaded trading hall, now divided into eight exhibition halls. The central rooms are illuminated by an oblong skylight. The surrounding ceiling features double-sunk coffers.

Originally constructed for the Stock Exchange, the building was subsequently used for a different purpose. Up until 2011, it had hosted the Central Naval Museum. Today, the municipal authorities intend to return the historic building its original mission, i.e. to host the St. Petersburg International Mercantile Exchange.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Zoological Museum

3) Zoological Museum

The Zoological Museum of the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences is the oldest zoological museum in Russia, founded in 1832, stemming from the nearby Kunstkamera. In 1896, it moved to its present location in the former warehouse.

It is also one of the ten largest natural history museums in the world. The total number of exhibits on display exceeds 30,000, and the total area is 6,000 m².

In the front hall of the museum, by the entrance, is a monument to Karl Ernst von Baer – the first president of the Russian Entomological Society, as well as skeletons of cetaceans, including the enormous 27-metre-long (89 ft) blue whale, and mounted pinnipeds.

In the gallery above the front hall, the entomological collection is displayed. The second and third halls form a long passage with systematic collections and dioramas dating back to the early 20th century such as “Fur seal rookery”, “Lion pride resting”, "Giraffes in the savanna" and "The Tien Shan Highland". The second hall hosts the collection of fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds and invertebrates (about 3,000 species), mounted or preserved in formalin, and their skeletons or shells.

The collection of mammals is displayed in the third hall. Here you can see some truly unique exhibits of the already extinct animals, like the Tasmanian wolf (stuffed animal and skeleton), Steller's sea cow (well-preserved skeleton), as well as a rare collection of woolly mammoths: the so-called "Berezovsky Mammoth", mammoth calves (male "Dima" and female "Masha"), and "Mammoth Adams" (the oldest and largest to-date skeleton of a mammoth).

Exhibitions occur on a regular basis. The museum receives thousands of visitors per year and is open Sunday through Saturday from 11 am to 6 pm; Tuesday - closed. Also closed during public holidays.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

4) Kunstkamera

A place for the scientifically curious, the Kunstkamera (aka the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography) was founded by Peter the Great in 1704 to preserve "natural and human curiosities and rarities" in a bid to acquire full knowledge of the world.

The Kunstkamera building was designed by Georg Johann Mattarnovy and completed in 1727.

Over 2,000,000 items make up the museum collection: anatomical specimens, preserved animals and human fetuses, body parts, and other curiosities. One of the more bizarre displays is the head of Willem Mons, who was executed for embezzlement by Peter the Great.

Peter encouraged the research of deformities all along trying to debunk the superstitious fear of monsters that was widespread throughout Russia at that time. He issued a decree ordering malformed, still-born infants to be sent from all over the country to the imperial collection, and subsequently had them showcased in the Kunstkamera as examples of accidents of nature. The Emperor thus laid the foundation for creating the institutions that produced leading scientists of the day.

A must-see is the photo collection featuring prints, glass plates, negative and positive films, postcards, and sketches from the past to the present. The museum also contains a display of coins and other artifacts from around the world. Visitors must have special permission to videotape or photograph and are not allowed to touch the exhibits.

Why You Should Visit:
While the museum is probably most famous for its First Scientific Collection, don't miss the opportunity to view the amazing collection of original ethnic items from around the globe, ranging from the Eskimos to Africans.

The display of malformed human and animal fetuses on the top floor may not be suitable for young children or the fainthearted.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Twelve Collegia

5) Twelve Collegia

The Twelve Collegia, or Twelve Colleges, is the largest edifice from the Petrine era remaining in Saint Petersburg. It was designed by Domenico Trezzini and Theodor Schwertfeger, and was built from 1722 to 1744.

The enormous (400–440 meters long) three story-, red-brick complex comprises 12 buildings which were originally separate, but were then merged into one.

The Twelve Collegia was commissioned by Peter the Great, who wanted a place for the Russian government, at the time divided into 12 branches, including: The Senate, The Synod and nine colleges – of Foreign Affairs, Revenue Collection, Justice, Expenditure, Financial Control, War, Admiralty, Commerce, Mining and Manufacturing, and the additional tenth college/ministry of Trade. These colleges were replaced by ministries in 1802 under the rule of Alexander I.

Presently, the complex houses the headquarters of St. Petersburg university founded in 1819 (succeeding the Academy of St. Petersburg established in 1724). The university's noteworthy alumni include Nikolai Chernyshevsky, Ivan Turgenev, Alexander Blok, Pyotr Stolypin, Alexander Kerensky, and Vladimir Lenin. The institution features one of the longest hallways in the world.

Saint Petersburg State University has two campuses, 22 specialized faculties, and 13 research facilities. It boasts over 20,000 students, eight Nobel Prize winners, and a four million volume library.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Lomonosov Monument

6) Lomonosov Monument

Located near St. Petersburg State University, at the intersection of the Mendeleevskaya Line and the university embankment, is the monument to Mikhail Vasilyevich Lomonosov.

Truly one of the great minds of his day, Lomonosov was a Russian polymath, scientist, naturalist, poet and lyricist, who made important contributions to literature, and education, as well as academic and applied sciences. Part man and part genius, he was a physicist, astronomer, chemist, historian, and mosaic artist. Some of his accomplishments include hypothesizing that Venus had an atmosphere, writing a book that helped to standardize Russian by combining Old Church Slavonic with the local language, being the first person to record the freezing of mercury, inventing sea tools that made calculating distances and directions easier, suggesting the existence of Antarctica, restoring the art of mosaics, and organizing an expedition to find the Northwest Passage.

Blended quite well into the surrounding landscape, the site for the monument was not chosen by chance – Lomonosov himself was a student of the Academic University, forerunner of the modern St. Petersburg University, and years later was appointed its rector. The monument was unveiled on November 21, 1986 to mark the 275th anniversary of Lomonosov which also coincided with the 250th anniversary of the Russian Academy of Science.

The three-meter bronze statue was designed by sculptors Valentin Sveshnikov and Boris Petrov; the red marble pedestal – by architects Igor Shakhov and Eduard Tyakht. Lomonosov is depicted seated with an open manuscript on his lap, seemingly a bit tired. His face is radiant with creative thought; it seems as if he is on the verge of a new scientific discovery. His gaze is fixed on the Neva River.

Since the opening of the monument, there has been a tradition to greet here freshmen upon their admission to the university by members of the local authorities and the university administration.
Menshikov Palace

7) Menshikov Palace

Menshikov Palace is a Petrine Baroque-style edifice situated on Universitetskaya Embankment of the Bolshaya Neva on Vasilyevsky Island, and is one of the oldest palaces in St. Petersburg. It is also the first stone building in the city.

Alexander Menshikov, the former owner of the palace, was a prominent Russian statesman and a close friend of Peter the Great. Although a commoner by birth, he eventually received the title of Serene Highness, became governor of Ingermanlandia, and achieved the rank of General Field Marshall. Unfortunately, Menshikov was also known for his deceitfulness, which eventually caused his demise.

Built as a residence for the then Governor General of Saint Petersburg, which is yet another title Menshikov held, the luxurious property reflects a combination of influences. The Dutch cobalt tiles, Italian marble, Russian stove tiles, leather, textiles, and tapestries decorate the palace interior in full splendor and perfectly accentuate the 17th- and 18th-century sculptures, paintings, and artwork displayed throughout the building.

The construction lasted from 1710 and was overseen first by the Italian architect Giovanni Maria Fontana, and, later, by the German architect Gottfried Johann Schädel. The palace opened for residents in 1711, whereas finishing works on it continued until 1727, when Menshikov and his family were exiled to Siberia and the property was confiscated.

Formerly the political, cultural, and social center for Peter the Great and his associates, the Menshikov Palace later housed the First Cadet Corps and, as of 1981, has served as a branch of the Hermitage Museum, showcasing a collection of Russian art of the late 17th-early 18th centuries. In addition, many of Menshikov’s belongings are also available for viewing.

Check out the Dutch cobalt-tiled rooms – quite a site, well worth seeing.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Imperial Academy of Arts

8) Imperial Academy of Arts

The Russian Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg, commonly known as the Saint Petersburg Academy of Arts, was founded in 1757 by Ivan Shuvalov under the name Academy of the Three Noblest Arts. Initially located in the Shuvalov Palace on Sadovaya Street, the academy moved to its current Neoclassical edifice only 25 years later, in 1789.

In 1893, the Imperial Academy of Arts was divided into the Academy of Arts itself and the Higher Art School of the Academy of Arts. Both institutions shared the same building of the Academy of Arts.

After the Revolution of 1917, the Imperial Academy passed through a series of transformations. It was formally abolished in 1918 and replaced with the Petrograd Free Art Educational Studios (Pegoskhuma) which was further renamed the Petrograd Svomas (Free Art Studios) in 1919, then the Petrograd State Art-Educational Studios of the Reconstructed Academy of Arts in 1921, Vkhutein in 1928, the Institute of Proletarian Fine Arts in 1930, the Russian Academy of Arts in 1933, and then the Academy of Arts of the USSR in 1947. After the Academy was moved to Moscow that year, the building was renamed the Ilya Repin Leningrad Institute for Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, in honor of one of its well-known alumni.

Today it is known officially as the Ilya Repin St. Petersburg State Academic Institute for Painting (or Fine Arts), Sculpture and Architecture. The Academy museums boasts one of the world's largest collections of books, music and historic documents, some dating back as far as the 1400s. Some of the museum’s collections came from the Royal Family. Particularly impressive are the authentic 3,000 year-old Egyptian sphinxes. Among the rare treats awaiting visitors here are the canvases by Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh and many other international grands. An average of six million visit the museum each year.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
St. Andrew's Cathedral

9) St. Andrew's Cathedral

Located on Vasilevsky Island, this pink and white church is one of the last Baroque cathedrals constructed in Russia. It was conceived at the time of Peter the Great as the chapter church of Russia's first chivalric order, of Saint Andrew, whom Peter considered to be his guardian.

The initial architect, Nicodemus Tessin the Younger, was to design a church resembling Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome. He did not, however, get to complete the grand project due to the death of Peter, and two years later, Giuseppe Trezzini, a city architect to St. Petersburg, took it up. He built a modest timber church behind the Twelve Colleges, rather austere with few stylistic pretensions, to which Empress Anna donated furnishings, and the icon screen was taken from a chapel in the neighboring Menshikov Palace.

On 4 July 1761 the wooden temple was struck by lightning and burnt to the ground. The architect Alexander Whist subsequently designed a new cathedral of stone, which took 22 years to complete. So it was not until 21 March 1780 that the five-domed pastel pink cathedral was finally consecrated. The pyramidal bell-tower, attached to the church by a refectory, was built in two tiers in 1784-86.

After the Revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks confiscated many valuables from the temple. On 24 April 1924 a crowd of several hundred worshipers attempted to defend the icons and clashed with the members of the "expropriation committee". On 16 May 1938 the cathedral was closed down, its priests arrested and the bells destroyed. However, the impressive Baroque iconostasis was rescued, while a 17th-century icon with the portraits of Patriarch Nikon and Tsar Alexis was taken to the Russian Museum. During the Siege of Leningrad, the dome was equipped with anti-aircraft cannons to protect the area from the enemy bombers.

In 1992 the cathedral of St. Andrew was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church. In 2001, an obelisk was unveiled in front of the building to commemorate the tercentenary of the restored Order of St. Andrew.

Why You Should Visit:
Ancient carved iconostasis. Elegant architectural beauty. Rare antique icons. Cozy pedestrianized street.

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