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The Winter Palace is a vast baroque residence, having 1057 rooms, 117 staircases and more than 2000 windows. The cornice along the building's exterior measures 2 kilometres. The palace we see today is the fifth to stand on the spot – its four predecessors survive only in historical records. Empress Elizaveta Petrovna gave the commission for the original palace to the Italian architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli. However, she did not live to see its completion, and Rastrelli's work on the new palace was inherited by the new Tsar, Peter III. The opening ceremony nearly became a fiasco – the workers had used the whole of Palace Square as a building yard, and it was covered in piles of bricks, barrels of lime, rubble, timber, and logs. The Emperor's ceremonial procession to his new palace would lead through this mess, and past the warehouses and barracks accommodation for the site workers. The day was saved by a wily Chief Of Police. He put out an announcement to all citizens of the city, that they could come along and help themselves to anything that took their fancy – and for free. Within twenty-four hours the whole square had been stripped clean of anything that could be lifted.
A fearful blaze in December 1837 swept the Winter Palace, entirely destroying the external decorations. The conflagration had begun in a chimney-flue, from whence the flames spread into the attic. The window-panes burst from the heat of the flames, fanning the fire with fresh air that caused things to grow much worse. The flames licking the Royal Palace could be seen from 35 miles away, and took three whole days to extinguish. The palace furnishings perished almost completely in the blaze, but servants managed to save most of the royal possessions. Old masters, marble figures, clocks, mirrors, and bronzes were all piled up on Palace Square around the Alexander сolumn. Yet amazingly there wasn't a single case of looting reported, and during the entire period of fire the only items reported missing were a silver coffee-pot and a gold ornament belonging to Her Majesty. And in fact both these items subsequently turned up when the snow melted on the Square later.
Fifteen months to the day after the great fire, the Winter Palace was reopened in all its splendour. It proved impossible to recreate Rastrelli's baroque interiors, and thus most of the rooms of the palace were arranged anew, in the newly-fashionable classical style.
The Winter Palace was the scene of another dramatic incident on the 5th of February 1880 – an assassination attempt on the Emperor's life, the fifth attempt in a row. The would-be assassin gained employment at the palace as a cabinet-maker, and used this identity to smuggle some forty kilograms of dynamite into the Royal dining-room. The floor and walls were entirely blown-out by the strength of the blast, but the Emperor avoided injury by lucky chance. Although he normally took his supper at 6pm sharp, on the particular day his wife's brother had arrived, and the family were delayed dressing for supper. It was a delay that saved not only Tsar Alexander's life, but his entire family too. Instead the incident claimed the lives of 11 soldiers of the Finland Regiment and injured 35 more, who were the Royal Guard regiment that day. The regiment had just returned from the relief of Bulgaria in the Russo-Turkish wars.
It was from the balcony of the Winter Palace in 1914 that Tsar Nicholas II announced the outbreak of hostilities by which Russia became enmeshed in the First World War. When military action began the Winter Palace was converted entirely into a hospital for the wounded, whilst remaining a royal residence in name only until 1917. After Tsar Nicholas II abdicated in February 1917 the Winter Palace became the official headquarters of the new Provisional Government. The former Royal residence had become home to its own replacement.
Yet just a few months later, on the night of the 25th and 26th October 1917, soldiers and sailors entered the Winter Palace and arrested the government ministers of the Provisional Government in the White Dining-Room. A myth began later – greatly aided by soviet-era film-making – that the palace had been stormed by Bolsheviks. In fact, no such storm ever took place. The guard on the Winter Palace was made up by the Ladies Battalion and cadets from military schools – who put up no resistance whatsoever.
The Winter Palace was in a sorry state after it was ceded – the floors were strewn with books and some of the pictures were torn. The Royal cellars were particularly ransacked. Luckily the art collections of the Provisional Government were redistributed soon after, and mostly sent to Moscow, to the Kremlin.
The Winter Palace complex today provides the exhibition space for the State Hermitage Museum. The number of objects in the collection is so great that it would take 8 years to spend just one minute on each. It therefore makes good sense to preplan your visit to the Hermitage collections and decide in advance what you most want to see – the Royal staterooms, the Italian Renaissance collection, the Rembrandts, the Scythian Gold Treasury, and so forth.
St. Petersburg is known as Russian cultural capital. It is also called “Northern Palmira” or “Northern Venice” as it was founded on islands in the delta of the Neva River and has a lot of architectural masterpieces.
Nevsky Prospect is the main avenue and one of the best-known streets in Russia. It is a real treasury of Russian culture. The street was planned by Peter the Great as beginning of the road to Novgorod and Moscow. It goes through the historical center of the city, firstly - from the Admiralty to the Moscow Railway Station and then, after making a turn at Vosstaniya Square, to the Alexander Nevsky Lavra.
Life on Nevsky Prospect has always been the object of attention of writers. For example, it was described by Nikolai Gogol in his story "Nevsky Prospect". Fyodor Dostoevsky often employed the Prospect as a setting within his works, such as Crime and Punishment and The Double: A Petersburg Poem.
It is best to start your walk from famous Palace Square where you can visit one of the most prominent world museums – the Hermitage. In the center of the square you will see the Alexander Column, a very popular among tourists place. With Your Audio Guide you will listen to the history of the square and all its attractions (The New Hermitage, The Winter Palace, the Alexander Column and The General Staff Building).
During the tour you will walk through the Alexander Gardens, past the Admiralty, see a lot of historical houses – real architectural “pearls” - Wawelberg's Mansion Apartments, The Sivers-Treiberg House, The Chaplin Brothers House, Chicherin's House, etc. The chief sights of the Prospect include palaces, churches and cathedrals, shopping centers and department stores. Among palaces are the Rastrelliesque Stroganov Palace, the Anichkov Palace, The Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace, Grand-Princess Yusopova's Residence and the Mikhailovsky, or Michael Palace.
Nevsky Prospect deserves the name "the street of religious tolerance". Religious buildings are presented by the huge neoclassical Kazan Cathedral, the picturesque Russian-style Cathedral of Our Savior on Spilt Blood – a place where terrorists exploded the Emperor Alexander II, the Alexander Nevsky Lavra, St.Catherine's Cathedral - the oldest Catholic Church in Russia, and The Armenian Church.
Nevsky Prospect is also the city’s central shopping street and the hub of the city’s entertainment and nightlife. For that You can visit the Art Nouveau Bookhouse,Elisseeff Emporium, half a dozen 18th-century churches, , an enormous 18th-century shopping mall “Gostinny Dvor”, a mid-19th-century department store “The Passage” and The Alexandrinsky Theatre, in the yard of which a monument to Catherine the Great is standing.
Your audio guide is glad to present you a wide audio tour of the Nevsky Prospeсt with map and descriptions. With this map, you will never get lost and you will always know what surprise awaits you ahead.