St.Petersburg Visitors Guide
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Vasileostrovsky District of St. Petersburg

Guide to one of the four central districts of St. Petersburg, where more than two hundred thousand inhabitants live
Vasileostrovsky District of St. Petersburg
Guide to one of the four central districts of St. Petersburg, where more than two hundred thousand inhabitants live
Vasileostrovsky District
Vasileostrovsky District is one of the four central districts of St. Petersburg, where more than two hundred thousand inhabitants live. The district occupies three islands: Vasilievsky, Decembrist Island and a small Sernyi Island. The islands are separated by the Smolenka River.

Starting from the time of Peter the Great the history of the Russian state, with all its ups and downs and in all its diversity, found its reflection in this seemingly small and insignificant piece of land. Every corner of Vasilyevsky Island is literally saturated with the spirit of the past. Peter the First, admiring the beauty of this place, even wanted to create some kind of Venice there, but the plan of the emperor for a number of objective reasons did not come true.
Vasilyevsky Island is really very interesting and even an extraordinary place. Though you step on this land for the first time, you will never be able to get lost: the linear layout is impeccable, and this ingenious simplicity can not but produce an admiration. It is full of myths and mysteries like no other area of the northern capital. It is often called the "island of unsolved mysteries," into which tourists, who come here in great numbers from Russia and abroad, are trying to peek.

The beauty, uniqueness and power of attraction of Vasilyevsky Island is reflected in many works. It is enough just to recall the immortal lines of Joseph Brodsky: "I do not want to choose either a country or a churchyard. I will come to Vasilyevsky Island to die."
Initially, Vasilyevsky Island was designed as the center of St. Petersburg and all the most important government bodies were supposed to be located within its boundaries. However, it quickly became clear that, the wrong place was chosen for such purposes — although this did not prevent many famous architects and sculptors from turning the island into one of the most beautiful places of St. Petersburg.

The land connection of Vasileostrovsky district with other districts of St. Petersburg is completely interrupted for several hours during the lifting of the bridges over the river Neva.

Strelka (Spit) of Vasilyevsky Island

The arrowhead shaped part, protruding into the water, on the eastern end of Vasilyevsky Island, is called the Spit. It is the brightest architectural ensemble, fascinating even for the most sophisticated connoisseurs of the beautiful, because here the city architecture and the unique landscapes of the Neva banks are intertwined in amazing harmony. The island has the narrowest Repin street (its width is about six meters) and also 6th and 7th lines run here, forming the most beautiful street of Northern Palmyra.
The Exchange building is central to the entire architectural ensemble. It was built in 1805−1810 according to the project of Toma de Thomon. It roughly divided empty area on which it was situated, into two parts, which became separate squares — the Exchange and Kollezhskaya (Collegia). Its construction fully answered the needs of the booming economy of Russia then. The building is remarkable by itself: it was made as an imitation of an ancient temple. Rostral columns, which we have already mentioned above, are located just in front of the Exchange.

Beside Zoological and Kunstkamera museums, Strelka also has the Central Museum of Soil Science named after V. V. Dokuchaev and the Literary Museum, better known as Pushkin House or the Institute of Russian literature of Russian Academy of sciences.

The history of the area began simultaneously with the founding of St. Petersburg. The plots of land on the banks of the Bolshaya Neva and the embankments of the supposed canals (on the site of modern lines) were assigned to the wealthiest nobles and monasteries with the obligation to build two-story stone houses according to the "exemplary" project. But the utopian nature of the project became apparent very quickly — the dug channels were filled up. The subsequent restructuring in the XVIII — XIX centuries almost wiped out the internal pathways in the district. As a reminder of those times, only Repin Street and Dneprovsky Lane remained. Gradually, on Vasilyevsky island, a whole complex of administrative buildings was formed, including the University, the Stock Exchange building, the Twelve Collegiums, the Academy of Sciences, the Kunstkamera, the Mining Institute, the Academy of Arts, the Marine Corps and many others .

The promontory in the east of Vasilyevsky Island, which divides the Neva into the Small and Large ones, is called the Arrowhead, or Spit of an Island. For a long time, from the 1730s to 1885, there was a city port there, but today Strelka is an idle and careless place: here the newlyweds drink "Soviet champagne" and tourists, let out of their buses for a minute, click their camera's shutters. The widest and most picturesque panorama of the city opens for your view from this vantage point: right ahead of the course — Trinity Bridge, on the left hand — the Peter and Paul Fortress, on the right — the Hermitage and other solemn facades on Palace Embankment, and behind you there is another classic ensemble of Birzhevaya (Stock exchange) Square. It was formed in the first third of the XIX century. First, French architect Toma de Thomon built the Exchange (1810) in the form of an ancient temple with a Doric colonnade, then he also designed descents to the Neva and installed two Rostral columns with ship's prows (rostra) protruding from them, the pedestals are decorated with sculptural allegories of rivers: closer to the Palace Bridge are the Neva and Volkhov, on the opposite side — the Volga and the Dnieper. A little later, Italian architect Lukini built two warehouse buildings (1832), that is, a warehouse on each side of the Exchange. Zoological Museum is open for visitors in the southern warehouse. Until recently, the stock exchange was also a museum — Naval, but it was moved to Labor Square; Hermitage is going to place an exhibition dedicated to heraldry in the empty halls of the building.

Torches on the Rostral columns are now lit only on special festive occasions, but anyhow during the summer time there's a constant festival at the Arrowhead: various Latin dancing, salsa, boogie-woogie and tango enthusiasts hold their open-air parties there.

Universitetskaya (University) Embankment

The grand embankment stretch between the Palace and Blagoveshchensky (Annunciation) bridges is an exhibition of architectural achievements of the 18th century, which could be conveniently viewed all at one glance not from the Vasilyevsky Island, but from the other side of the Neva, let’s say, from the pier near the Bronze Horseman. It is better to read these facades from right to left, starting from Strelka. The turquoise baroque building with an armillary sphere on top of the tower is Russia’s first public museum, the Kunstkamera (1734).
In addition to the Peter's collection of freaks of nature, there was an anatomical theater and an observatory there. Next, the strict yellow facade with eight-column portico on it, is characteristic of high classicism: the building of the Academy of Sciences was built on the embankment in 1780s by Giacomo Quarenghi. Further along, a bright red stroke of color in the calm embankment color palette, erected by Domenico Trezini on the order of Peter I, is a building of the Twelve Collegiums (1742), that is, the ministries; and now it is the main building of the university. It faces the Neva with its short side, and it is famous for its 400-meter corridor running along the entire length of the main facade. The next one is also Baroque in style and by the same Tresini, is former Palace of Peter II, but rebuilt latter and which is now occupied by philology and eastern departments of the St. Petersburg State University. You can try to get past the security and into the university territory, to have a look inside of the courtyard of the philology department, which is filled with various sculptures. The light yellow building next door, with a balcony, is the Manege of the Cadet Corps (1759), now a place for concerts, banquets and fashion shows. Menshikov Palace (1727), adjacent to it, with crowns on the roof, after the disgrace and exile of the Most Illustrious Prince, became the Cadet's property also. Almost all of its interiors were lost, but due to the efforts of the Hermitage restorers, the halls again look like they did in the first third of the 18th century. To the left of it, is the Rumyantsev Garden and the Academy of Arts (1788), crowned with sculpture of Minerva, goddess, accidentally much resembling Catherine II. In addition to students, there is also a museum inside with the collection of authentic models of the most iconic St. Petersburg's buildings. Sphinxes on the embankment near the Academy of Arts have nothing to do with Peter's or Catherine's times: they are brought here under Nicholas I and are about 3,500 years old. But they fit the ensemble like a glove. University Embankment is considered to be one of the most memorable highlights of the city's and is "a must" to visit at any time of the year. Time here seems to stand still.

Gavan (Harbor)

Marine facade of St. Petersburg. Here are the Sea port, hotel "Pribaltiyskaya", the exhibition complex "Lenexpo" and much more.

You can find more interesting places in Most Petersburg visitors guide:
St.Petersburg Visitors Guide
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