Thursday, January 9, 2014

Those Places or "Travel Thursday" (January 9, 2014) -- St. Petersburg, Russia

The former Winter Palace now The Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg, Russia
 as seen from across the Neva River (November 2006)

As Geneabloggers informs us, today* is the anniversary of the 1905 "St. Petersburg Massacre" in Russia. In January 1905 demonstrators marched to what was then the Winter Palace to present a petition to Czar Nicholas II.  Soldiers opened fire on the demonstrators not at the palace itself in Palace Square, but rather as they approached the palace from various points in the city center. Both sides disputed how many people were killed or injured during the shootings, but today most estimates agree that about 1,000 were either killed or wounded from shots and from being trampled by the panicked and fleeing crowd of demonstrators. The utter disregard for the ordinary people who were killed and injured simply trying to present a petition to the Czar shocked and angered the country and a strike spread throughout Russia.  Over 400,000 people refused to work during January 1905 and when the movement persisted authorities eventually shot or hanged 15,000 peasants and workers, injured another 20,000 and sent 45,000 into exile. It is generally considered that the massacre of Bloody Sunday and the disaster of World War I for Russians led to the Russian Revolution of 1917 -- which began in St. Petersburg on October 25, 1917 (Old Style calendar, November 7th New Style calendar) with a blank shot signal fired from the cruiser Aurora to announce the storming of the Winter Palace. 

The cruiser Aurora docked in St. Petersburg (November 2006)

In November 2006, a friend and I took a quick trip to Russia when excellent airfare rates suddenly presented themselves.  We flew into Moscow on Delta Airline and then on a Russian domestic plane to St. Petersburg. Our arrival in Russia was significantly impacted by flight delays and cancellations getting out of the U.S. and so our planned two days in St. Petersburg was trimmed down to one very long and jam-packed day. We then took a late overnight train back to Moscow where we spent a few days before flying home. The night train looked almost brand new and the sleeper compartment and service were excellent.  We were awoken with a tray of hot tea and a light breakfast of some biscuits and fruit just before we pulled into the Moscow train station!

Because our time in St. Petersburg was cut in half from what we had planned, our itinerary was quickly adjusted with the driver and tour guide we hired prior to arriving. The cost for the driver and guide was amazingly inexpensive and proved to be well worth the expense in any event. Our guide, Tatiana, was a Ph.D. engineer who had to support her pensioned elderly parents.  She told us that since the fall of the USSR, she could make more money doing tour guiding than she could in her former position with the government and the pension her parents had was entirely inadequate for them to attempt to live on alone.  Tatiana spoke excellent English and was very knowledgable about the city and its history. She and the driver, Yevgeni, took us to local restaurants, places to do some shopping, to a Russian folk dancing and singing show, and to various historic sites in the city.  In addition to seeing the site where Rasputin was killed, St. Isaac's Cathedral and the Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood, the Peter and Paul Fortress, the cabin of Peter the Great, the cruiser Aurora where the start of the October Revolution was signaled with a blank shot, and other sites, we spent several hours at The Hermitage museum (pictured at the top of this post), which is the old Winter Palace -- the destination of demonstrators on Bloody Sunday 1905.

The Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood (Church of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ) built on the site of the assassination of Czar Alexander II by terrorists.  It is considered St. Petersburg's answer to Moscow's famous and ornate St. Basil's Cathedral, which sits in Red Square. 

St. Petersburg is a beautiful city built on some 100 islands nestled within canals in the Neva River delta on the eastern shore of the Gulf of Finland (Baltic Sea).  There are 342 bridges in St. Petersburg and it is not surprising that the city is often called "The Venice of the North." The founder of the city was Peter the Great and he named the city in honor of St. Peter, but the city's name has changed many times.  From 1703 until 1914 it was known as St. Petersburg ("The City of St. Peter").  In 1914 the name was changed to Petrograd and then in 1924 it was renamed in honor of Vladimir Lenin and it was  known as Leningrad until the fall of the Soviet Union when it returned to the name St. Petersburg in 1991. St. Petersburg is the most northern city in the world with a population of over 1 million (5 million as of 2012). St. Petersburg, Florida was named in honor of the Russian city by Piotr Dementyev (Peter Demens), a Russian-born railroad builder in the U.S. 

Aerial view of St. Petersburg, Russia -- "The Venice of the North" -- looking at The Hermitage museum (the former Winter Palace) top center below the water and then across the water to the Peter and Paul Fortress. 
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All photographs by the author (November 2006) except the aerial view of the city, which is from and you are encouraged to visit that website if you are ever contemplating a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia.

* Actually, today is the anniversary under the "Old Style" Julian calendar.  Under the "New Style" Gregorian calendar the anniversary date is January 22 -- so if you follow any links to the anniversary today you might be confused if you see the site stating the anniversary of the massacre is January 22nd and not today -- January 9th.  For a reminder of how calendar dates for historical events and milestones in our genealogies can be different than we expect if the calendar used is not specified, see the more detailed information on the differences between event dates under the "Old Style" Julian calendar versus the "New Style" Gregorian calendar, here 

For more detailed background on the "Bloody Sunday" St. Petersburg massacre, see
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Copyright 2014, John D. Tew
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  1. Talk about travel pictures, these were lovely and how fortunate you had a great guide, and energy to see everything she planned. Seems to me, it was a trip in the lifetime. On a side note, my mother and sister went many years ago, sis fell in love with the tour guide. Eventually, they married, he came to the US to live, then they div., and he returned back to his wife and 3 kids! I'm glad you didn't have an adventure like that!

  2. Great colour photos, John! St. Petersburg is on my husband (of Russian ancestry) and my wish list of places to see one day.