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The Admiralty

 
Picture and Hyperlink - Admiralty post card.

Just like the city of St. Petersburg itself, the original Admiralty was also created by Peter the Great. Situated directly across the Neva from the treasured Peter and Paul Fortress, SPb's oldest construction, the Admiralty began life as a fortified shipyard in 1704. Then it was surrounded by a moat and had four bastions at its corners. In 1711, a tower was added to the centre of the front facade and then a spire was built atop of that.

Peter was obsessed with creating a navy even though Russia only had one seaport at the turn of the 18th century; Archangel in the frozen north. This desire more than anything else, prompted the Great Northern War against Sweden and its king, Charles (Karl) XII.

 
In those early days up to 10,000 tradesmen laboured around the clock in this guarded enclave of docks and canals, to build Peter his navy and the first warship was lowered into the Neva in 1706. Peter himself a proficient carpenter and ship designer (amongst his many talents) could often be seen toiling in the shipyard.

Built mainly of wood in its original form, the central gate tower with its golden spire was born of Ivan Korobov's design in 1730. The 'High Classicism' building of the Admiralty as we see it today was reconstructed during the reign of Alexander I between 1806 & 1823. The chosen designer was one of Russia's most inspired architects, Andreyan (Adrian) Zakharov who was then a professor at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. Today the tiered tower is covered with statues and the attic level frieze portrays Neptune, the Roman god of the sea, handing Peter the Great his trident of power. On the next level up we can see four statues of ancient military leaders, Achilles, Ajax, Pyrrhus and Alexander the Great. Higher still, the tower is encased behind 28 slender stone columns which support a cornice having 28 sculptures. These figures symbolize the elements, Air, Earth, Fire and Water, plus the seasons of the year, and winds of each compass point.

Sadly, the sculptures one can view today are but a part of the original decorations which adorned the building. In 1860 many others were mercilessly destroyed when the clergy allegedly insisted upon all so called pagan statues be removed. This was carried out with the approval of Tsar Alexander II and 22 ornate figures which had adorned the porticoes were religiously crushed and used as rubble under new buildings.

Even though Zakharov is credited with drawing up the blue prints for this new Admiralty he died in 1811 long before the Admiralty was finished in 1823. The remodelling of the Admiralty was his greatest and most successful project. It is one, if not the most beautiful public monument of the Neoclassical period in St. Petersburg.

The architecture and decorative sculptures have definite naval themes and glorify the greatness of Russia. The remarkable façade is well over 400 meters in length and its golden spire is 73 m tall. Atop this gilded spire is the weather vane korablik ("the little ship") that is in the shape of the Great Peter's personal ship. In 1886 the original ship-vane was removed from the spire for display in the Naval Museum and a replica was put in its place. The silhouette of this vessel had another purpose during the days of sailing ships. Branding irons with this design were used to mark trees scheduled to be cut down for shipbuilding.

The naval theme continues at ground level also. Like three tines from a giant trident belonging to Neptune, three of St. Petersburg's great avenues, including Nevsky Prospekt, radiate out from a point in front of the admiralty. The others being Gorokhovaya Ulitsa and Voznesensky Prospekt.


By the 1840s, shipbuilding had moved downstream and the Admiralty was taken over by the Navy. Around 1870 all the internal docks and canals were filled-in and by the end of the century the recovered land up to the side of the Neva was soon occupied by new palaces and mansion houses. Both the Ministry of the Navy and the Naval Museum were housed here up to 1917 when it became the last rallying point for Tsarist forces prior to the Revolution. Since 1925, the Naval Engineering school has occupied the site, whilst the Naval museum was relocated across the Neva in the former Stock Exchange. The Admiralty sustained grave damage during the blockade of Leningrad. In total the ensemble had 26 high-explosive as well as hundreds of incendiary bombs dropped on it. Plus it was regularly bombarded by long range artillery from the German lines, suffering well over 50 direct hits.

Alexandrovsky Garden (Admiralty Garden) [Александровский сад]
This heavily wooded garden is situated along the south and the west facades of the Main Admiralty and has an area totalling over 10 hectares. In 1805-06, gardener W. Guld laid out a boulevard of four rows of limes on the site of the southern rampart of the Admiralty fortress to the designs of architect Luigi Rusca. In 1819, the boulevard was enlarged at the cost of filling in the fortress ditch and it became a popular walking place (mentioned in Alexander Pushkin's novel Eugene Onegin). Regular festivals were organised on a square near the garden during Shrove-tide and Easter holidays.

In 1824 the boulevard was continued in the direction of the eastern facade of the Admiralty. Replica marble statues of Hercules and Flora (copies of antique sculptures) were placed in the corners of the central alley after a project by architect L.I. Charlemagne in 1833. A landscape garden, with 52 species of trees in it, was laid out to the plans of gardener Eduard L. Regel in 1872-74 (it was called Alexandrovsky Garden after Emperor Alexander II).

A fountain was opened in the centre of the garden in 1879 (architect Alexander Romanovich Geschwend), a bust of the poet Vasily Andreevich Zhukovsky was installed near the Palace Square in 1887, and a monument to geographer Nikolai Mikhaylovich Przhevalsky on the opposite side in 1892. Busts of N.V. Gogol and M.Y. Lermontov (on the square near the fountain in 1896), M.I. Glinka (1899) and in 1998, Prince Alexander Mikhailovich Gorchakov (sculptor A.S. Charkin by a model of K.K. Godebsky) where also installed.

The territory near the Bronze Horseman was reconstructed in 1902-03 (architect N.T. Stukolkin), three alleys were laid out in 1923, opening a view to the Admiralty from Nevsky Prospekt, Voznesensky Prospekt and Gorokhovaya Street. In 2001-02 the whole garden was restored and reconstructed
 

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