St Petersburg, set along the banks of the Neva River, dates back to the 18th when Peter The Great started to develop it as a major port for Russia. It was at one time the capital of Russia and the tides of history has seen 4 names, St Petersburg, Petrograd, Leningrad and now St Petersburg again.
St Petersburg fascinates and you cant get bored. You can feel that mystical Russian soul, and sense the extraordinary suffering in Russian history, as well as its achievements and pride. St Petersburg inspires thought and hope mixed with the tragedies of history.
The city figures in the great classical Russian novels. You can stand on the Kokushkin Bridge where the hero of Crime and Punishment stood at the opening of that great book, and, given how the city has retained its extraordinary character over time, you imagine yourself there at the moment.
It is a city where you cant escape the embrace of history. You see it all around you and you walk down streets and avenues that are still filled with its atmosphere, all around you the sights that give history a meaning face you.
As well as the great museums The Hermitage and the great buildings, Church of the Blood, the city is filled with small very Russian museums which give a great perspective as to how Russians see history. The Museum commemorating the 900 day siege of the city by the Germans in the second world war gives a painful but fascinating insight into what life must have been like, and the small KGB museum intriguing specially for western people to see how people they thought of as traitors where heroes there.
Some of the vistas of St Petersburg are mesmerising along the Neva; the old refurbished buildings along the banks of the river take you back in time. The centre is great if you like to walk cities, to soak up the atmosphere. Its easy to get around and a new journey every day brings you new experiences.
It is also a very modern cultural city, galleries, museums, restaurants, theatres, clubs, bars, with huge variety. It’s a city that lives inside a lot of the time because of the cold of winter and the interiors reflect that, being warm and inviting Fascinating art and photo galleries are tucked away up staircases in old buildings on narrow streets, filled with intriguing exhibits.
Dispute its overtly historical character the city is very alive energetic, filled with possibility. The people there, are very warm friendly and accommodating despite a somewhat serious demeanour on first meeting.
Of the great Russian poets of St Petersburg Anna Akhmatova experienced and survived the deprivations of war and the Stalinist terror and wrote a great poem Requiem following the arrest of her son in the Stalin era.It says much of the place and its people and the inherent hope and strength that human beings use to survive.
I’ve learned how faces hollow down to bone,
How from beneath the eyelids terror peeks,
How cuneiforms cut by suffering show
Their harsh unyielding texts impressed on cheeks,
How curls that once were black or ashen-tipped
Can turn to palest silver overnight,
How a smile withers on submissive lips
And how a mirthless titter cracks with fright.
Not for myself alone, for all I pray,
All those who stood beside me without fail,
Alike in bitter cold and sweltering haze,
Beneath the brick-red blind walls of the jail.
Once more the hour of remembrance draws near,
I see you, I hear you, I feel you all here,
The one helped to the window—she barely could stand,
And the one who no longer will walk through our land,
And the one who stepped forward and tossed her fair hair—
‘‘When I come here, it’s like coming home,’’ she declared.
I wanted to read off each name in its turn,
But the list has been seized, and there’s nowhere to learn.
For them I have woven a mantle of words
Made up of the snatches that I’ve overheard.
Every day, every place, I’ll remember them all,
I’ll never forget, though new terrors befall,
And if torturers silence me, through whose one mouth
A nation of one hundred million cries out,
Let them all speak for me, mention me when they pray
Every year on the eve of my burial day.
And if ever in Russia I have such acclaim
That a monument’s set up to honor my name,
My consent to a statue I only would grant
With a condition on where it should stand.
Not down by the southern sea where I was born—
My last tie to the seacoast has long since been torn—
Nor in the Tsar’s park by the stump of that tree
Where an unconsoled ghost is still looking for me,
But here, where I stood while three hundred hours passed,
And the gates never budged, and the bolts remained fast.
Because in the blest ease of death I’m afraid
I’ll forget the harsh rumble the prison vans made,
Forget how that door slammed, its harsh banging noise,
And the animal howl of an old woman’s voice.
And as the snow melts from my statue each year,
From my bronze-lidded eyes may it trickle like tears,
And a single dove’s cooing be heard from the jail
As far off on the river the quiet ships sail.
Tr Nancy K Anderson