Note to self, do not bother to bring sunglasses to St Petersburg. It has been gray and overcast with snow flurries all week. St Petersburg only gets 45 days of sunshine per year. This is not one of those days. The good news is that we are able to do a little site-seeing and there are no lines. During the summer there are many cruise ships and the lines wrap around the block to see the tourist attractions. Our tour guide mentioned that it is not uncommon for cruise ship passengers to stand in line for hours and have to return to the ship before it sailed without getting inside the cathedral or museum.
We were exposed to great insight into Russian history. It was quite violent. There are the czars and czarinas, the Yusupovs who are the richest family in Russia, the mystical faith healer Rasputin and the Bolsheviks. Here is an extremely abbreviated lesson on Russian history based on the sites we visited.
Peter the Great – 9 June, 1672 – 28 January 1725 – ruled the Czardom of Russia and later the Russian Empire from 7 May April 1682 until his death, jointly ruling before 1696 with his elder half-brother, Ivan V. Through a number of successful wars he expanded the Tzardom into a much larger empire that became a major European power. He led a cultural revolution that replaced some of the traditionalist and medieval social and political systems with ones that were modern, scientific, westernized, and based on The Enlightenment. Peter’s reforms made a lasting impact on Russia and many institutions of Russian government trace their origins to his reign. We visited his summer and winter palaces and the Hermitage museum which is attached to the winter palace. His descendants ruled Russia until 1917 when the Bolshevik’s lead by Lenin murdered the entire family of Nicholas II.
Peter the Great
Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin – 21 January, 1869 – 17 December] 1916 was a Russian peasant, mystical faith healer, and trusted friend of the family of Nicholas II, the last Tzar of Russia. He became an influential figure in Saint Petersburg, especially after August 1915, when Nicholas took command of the army fighting in World War I. Rasputin then became an easy scapegoat for Russian aristocrats, nationalists and liberals.
On 6 April 1907, Rasputin was invited to Alexander Palace to see Alexei, the heir to the throne. The boy had suffered an injury which caused him painful bleeding. By then it was not known that Alexei had a severe form of hemophilia B, a disorder that was widespread among European royalty. The doctors could not supply a cure, and the desperate Tsarina Alexandra invited Rasputin to cure her son. He was able to calm the parents and their son, standing at the foot of the bed and praying. From that moment Alexandra believed Rasputin was Alexei’s savior. One of theories regarding why Rasputin was able to cure Alexei is because he was a faith healer. The doctors kept giving Alexei high doses of aspirin to cure him. The aspirin was a blood thinner and exacerbated the hemophilia. Rasputin stopped giving Alexi aspirin.
The Yusupovs were a Russian noble family descended from Ghengis Khan, renowned for their immense wealth, philanthropy and art collections in the 18th and 19th centuries. Most notably, Prince Felix Yusupov II was famous for his involvement in the murder of Grigori Rasputin. The Yusopovs had four palaces in St Petersburg and two palaces in Moscow as well as additional palaces throughout Europe. Their religion was originally Muslim but they converted to Catholicism. As a result an Inman put a curse on the family that only one child would survive during each generation. The curse has continued until this time.
Yusupov palace in St Petersburg
Felix Yusupov was a member of the socialist group planning to take over control of Russia from Nicholas II and his family. Felix conspired to murder Rasputin. He invited Rasputin to his palace and tried to kill him with wine and cakes containing poison. After a long while Rasputin finally drank the poison wine and ate the poison cake but he did not die. Felix borrowed a gun from a friend that was part of the conspiracy. He shot Rasputin four times in the back. Rasputin fell to the floor. When Felix reached down to drag the body away Rasputin tried to choke Felix. Felix fled upstairs to get reinforcements. Rasputin crawled up another staircase and tried to escape through the garden. One of the other Bolsheviks found him and shot him in the head. They wrapped Rasputin’s body in a rug and dragged it to the river. It was winter so they had to chop a hole in the ice to dispose of the body.
Soon after the murder of Rasputin the Bolsheviks rounded up Czar Nicholas II and his family and killed them all. They burned the bodies and buried the remains in a swamp. The charred remains of Czar Nicholas II and his family were found in 1998 and buried in a cathedral in St Petersburg.
Tsar Nicholas Romanov II
Another cheery fun fact about St Petersburg is that at the start of WWII the Nazis tried to capture the city. They attempted a blitzkrieg but ended up holding a siege for 872 days while they bombarded the city and starved the residents. Over 1.2 million residents perished before the Nazis were finally beaten back at the end of WWII.
So ends the Russian history lesson.
Bonus photo – This marvelous Russian-style church was built on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in March 1881.