What do you see when you look at this city? A city of wide canals, of intricately sculpted buildings falling directly into the waters below, of bowed bridges arching across rivers and streams. If you’re imagining you’re in Italy’s aquatic centre, Venice, then you couldn’t be more mistaken.
In fact, you’re looking at over 300 years of Soviet history in Russia’s most westerly-looking city, St Petersburg. Surprising though this may seem at first, St Petersburg has earned itself the moniker of ‘The Venice of the North’, and continues to surprise both in its architectural beauty and its historic defiance of the rest of the country in which it rests.
Tsar Peter the Great founded this eclectic city in 1703, and since its very beginnings, St Petersburg has been the black sheep of Russia’s often bland and concrete cities. Awash with beauty and colour, it demands attention, from the Neoclassical structures of Saint Isaac’s Cathedral to the Baroque grandeur of the Winter Palace, a stroll around this watery wonderland will not disappoint.
The best place to appreciate the city’s grandeur and opulence is of course its most famous landmark, The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, which unsurprisingly sits on the water’s edge at Griboedov Canal. The building’s glossy mosaics overlaying Medieval Russian architecture give it the appearance of a complicatedly iced gingerbread house, ready to be deconstructed and eaten, along with the other architectural wonders of this visually arresting city.
Inside, it’s even better. Towering arches reach to heady heights and are lit primarily by natural light, giving it an impressive, if not a little creepy finish. Thousands of praying pilgrims and eager visitors flock to this imposing structure each day, and for excellent reason. It really is the most gorgeous building to feast your eyes upon.
Back outside, you’ll be battling to find the best viewpoint to appreciate this inspired building which helped to gain St Petersburg’s title as ‘The Venice of the North’, but you need look no further than 400 metres down the canal at Nevsky Prospekt, one of the main thoroughfares in this part of town. Take the best camera you can afford and be prepared to wait for when the light is right – around 30 minutes before sunset, otherwise known as ‘golden hour’. You won’t regret it.