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article imageSt Petersburg And Its Palaces: A City For All Seasons

By Tatjana Flade     Apr 21, 2003 in Travel
St. Petersburg (dpa) - The Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin was a true son of St Petersburg, Russia's second largest city and former capital. "I love you, Peter's creation," he once wrote of his home city.
Not everyone always felt the same way. When Czar Peter the Great founded his new capital city on the Neva in 1703, he met resistance from the aristocracy who were unwilling to leave Moscow. They hated Peter's city, which looked westwards for cultural inspiration, exactly the opposite of Moscow, and indeed Italian and German architects have left their mark on the city.
In 2003, St Petersburg celebrates its 300th anniversary and preparations are under way. The facades of the university and other great buildings are being renovated. The czarist palaces in Peterhof, Zarskoye Selo, Pavlovsk and Gatchina, as well as the Hermitage Museum, the Russian Museum, the Yusupov Palace have always been well preserved, after all, they are the city's best resource.
The Hermitage, one of the world's best-known art galleries, is the former winter palace of the czars. It holds 15,000 paintings, 12,000 sculptures, 600,000 sketches, as well as a million coins and medals in its 350 rooms.
They include works by Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh, Titian and Rembrandt. The collection was founded by Catherine the Great in 1764 and was made into a museum in the 19th century.
The Yusupov Palace on the Moyka Canal is the only building in St Petersburg which has been fully preserved, with just a few alterations. The rooms and halls give an indication of how one of the richest noble families must have lived.
The summer residences in Peterhof and Zarskoye Selo are the most famous in the St Petersburg region. Czar Peter spent the summers in Peterhof on the Finnish Gulf. Visitors are always impressed by its park with perfect cascade fountains which are only turned on in summer.
In Zarskoye Selo a former Finnish farmstead was converted into one of the most splendid palaces in the world. The Catherine Palace is named after Peter's wife who took up residence here in 1708, but it was czarina Elisabeth who, between 1752 and 1756, had the imperial palace built to what it is today.
This was also home to the Amber Room, a gift from King Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia to Peter the Great, which was looted by Nazi Germany. The reconstruction is not enirely complete. Only recently, a mosaic and a chest of drawers belonging to the original room surfaced in Germany and was returned.
The imperial residences in Pavlovsk and Gatchina are far less spectacular. Gatchina's once precious interior has still not been fully restored. But both are worth a visit, mainly for their classical giant parks and lakes.
St Petersburg itself has plenty to offer visitors at every time of year. The tourism high season is early in the European summer, from late May to July, when the white nights lend it a special magic. It stays light until very late evening, when a strange, milky light rests over the city until daybreak.
This is the best time to watch the bridges over the Neva being opened to let the large ships pass. In autumn the parks unfold their charm. In winter, when the golden cupolas of the churches glisten with snow, St Petersburg becomes a winter wonderland.
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