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A turquoise building with a central stepped tower is one of the most famous in St.Petersburg. This is the Kunstkamera, the first Russian public museum devised by Peter the Great. Its tower is crowned with an armillary sphere, a model of the ancient astronomy tool for identifying the coordinates of celestial bodies. Today, the Kunstkamera hosts two museums at once, Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography and Museum of Mikhail Lomonosov.
It took a long time to construct the building designed by architect Mattarnovi. The first foundation stone was laid in 1718 and the construction finished only in 1734. Peter’s collections of weapons, coins, stuffed animals and birds were moved to the eastern part of the new building. The tower hosted the first Russian observatory and anatomical theater. The institutions of the Academy of Sciences, including a huge library, moved to the western part of the building. This was the workplace of the great Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov for nearly 25 years.
Today, the museum displays a number of permanent expositions on the ethnography of the peoples of Africa, America, China, and Japan. You can also find here the anatomy department with collections of freaks preserved in alcohol, like the two-headed lamb or Siamese twins.
One of the most famous exhibits of the Kunstkamera Museum is a unique Gottorp planetarium globe made in Germany in the C17th by engineer Andreas Busch based on the design of scholar and traveler Adam Olearius. On the outside, the huge globe, which is more than three meters in diameter, features a map. One can enter the globe through a special door, sit on a bench that can fit up to 12 people, and watch the starry sky. The globe is placed on the axis and rotates around it. The globe thus simulates the rotation of the Earth if you stand outside and that of the celestial dome of you are inside.
This giant globe was a diplomatic gift. In 1713, the guardian of minor Karl Friedrich Duke of Schleswig Holstein Gottorp presented it to the Russian Tsar Peter the Great. It took more than three years to deliver the Gottorp miracle globe to Petersburg. At first, by the sea to Reval, present-day Tallinn, and then on a sleigh to the banks of the Neva. It was impossible to drag the enormous globe into the Kunstkamera building. Therefore, it was lifted and placed on the third floor and only after that they started building tower walls around it.
However, the globe stood in the Kunstkamera not for a long time. In 1747, a fire broke out in the building and a damaged metal frame and a massive iron axle were all that was left of it. A Scottish craftsman whose name was Scott undertook to restore the unique structure. Fortunately, its description and accurate drawings were intact. During the restoration, all the recent geographical discoveries were put on the geographical map on the globe exterior and inscriptions were made in Russian. Seven years later, the giant globe opened its door to visitors again. But it was already not in the tower of the Kunstkamera but in a special pavilion built next to the University.
Yet, this wasn’t the end of the Great Gottorp Globe’s journey. In the early C20th, they moved it to Tsarskoye Selo, a suburb of St.Petersburg, where it was caught by WWII. When in 1944 the Red Army freed Tsarskoye Selo from the Nazi, the globe wasn’t there. It was found only three years later in the German city of Lubeck.
It returned to the Kunstkamera in 1948 only. For that, they had to cut a large opening in the tower and lift the globe there with the help of blocks. Its last restoration in 2003 was funded by the German Ministry of Culture.
Vasilievsky Island is a historical district in St. Petersburg, located in the delta of the Neva River. It is bordered by the Bolshaya Neva and Malaya Neva Rivers in the south and northeast, and by the Gulf of Finland in the west. Two of the most famous St. Petersburg bridges, Palace Bridge and Blagoveshchensky Bridge, connect it with the mainland to the south. Exchange Bridge and Tuchkov Bridge across the Malaya Neva connect it with Petrogradsky Island.
In 1715-25 Peter the Great planned this island to become a city center but those plans were not destined to be fulfilled. There are lots of legends connected with Vasilievsky Island and its buildings. For example, the name of the island Vasilievsky people usually associate with a certain man called Vassily or Basil. The legend says that was the name of one Peter’s foremost gunner officers and military engineers, Vassily Korchmin, who had his artillery battery to ward off the Swedish navy at the spit of the island and got the tsar's letters addressed "To Vassily in the Island".
During the tour you will hear some legends of the island and see all its landmarks. It is better to start the tour from the easternmost tip of the island, called Strelka (or the Spit, literally Arrow) which features a number of museums, including the Old Saint Petersburg Stock Exchange as well as two Rostral columns. The Spit is a place popular for wedding processions and tourists. Nice postcard views on the city are open from here.
The edifices lining the Universitetskaya Embankment along the Bolshaya Neva include the Kunstkamera, The Palace of Peter II, the Twelve Colleges Building, the Menshikov Palace, the Imperial Academy of Sciences, and St. Andrew's Cathedral – all dating from the 18th century.
Museums, State University and the Imperial Academy of Sciences with library tell us the island has been for the recent centuries home to academic life. There is even the House of Academicians.
The island is a very romantic place with many cafes and restaurants, and panoramic views from the embankments. Just download the application “Your Audio Guide” (free) and the excursion. And walk as much as you want. Enjoy the unforgettable views of the northern capital.