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A Guide to Architecture in St Petersburg

Exploring the city's beautiful buildings   |   June 2017

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From Baroque buildings to Soviet structures, here’s our guide to architecture in St Petersburg

St Petersburg Architecture | Smolny Cathedral © walencienne/iStock/Thinkstock

Founded in 1703, the city of St Petersburg and its signature, colourful and eclectic style has evolved over time, creating a marvellous kaleidoscope of construction, ranging from Baroque-style buildings to Soviet architecture, Neoclassical structures to Style Moderne. Start your journey through architecture in St Petersburg with a visit to Peter’s Cabin; the oldest structure in the city, this was the command centre from which St Petersburg was built.

Neoclassical Structures

If you’re hoping for a few cultural pit stops on your tour of architecture in St Petersburg, then exploring the city’s neoclassical structures is a great place to start. This architectural style, harking back stylistically to the age of antiquity (think: columns, statuary, and austere, yet monumental, grandeur), can be seen in some of St Petersburg’s quintessential cultural sights, including Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, Yelagin Palace, the Imperial Academy of Arts and Mikhailovsky Palace, which houses the Russian Museum, to name but a few.

Baroque-Style Buildings

When it comes to Baroque-style buildings in St Petersburg, the Winter Palace is one of the most iconic. Once the home of the Tsars, now the home of the State Hermitage Museum, the Winter Palace is a grand, opulent, green and white structure, built in the mid-18th century.

Designed by the same architect as the Winter Palace, the decadent Smolny Cathedral, with its bright blue and white exterior and gilded onion domes, is another wonderful example of Baroque architecture in St Petersburg. Looks are somewhat deceiving here though; although the Cathedral’s exterior is Baroque in style, its interior is in fact neoclassical. Construction took so long that tastes had changed by the time the project was complete.

St Petersburg Architecture | Gothic Chapel at Peterhof © Evgeniy Pavlenko/iStock/Thinkstock
St Petersburg Architecture | Singer House © ninara/Flickr

Style Moderne

Singer House (the former Russian headquarters of the Singer Sewing Machine Company) and the Eliseyev Emporium are elegant examples of Art Nouveau, or Style Moderne as it was known in Russia. Built within a year of each other on Nevsky Prospekt in the early 20th century, both buildings were constructed using a metal frame, and exemplify this playful, ornamental style with their exuberant copper statuary and curvaceous lines.

Stalinist and Soviet Architecture

Soviet architecture is an acquired taste, but even sceptics have to admit that St Peterburg’sHouse of Soviets is a grand, imposing beast of a building. Constructed in the 1930s with an eye to the area becoming the new city centre (this plan failed) according to architect Noi Trotsky’s specifications, this is a symmetrical, no-nonsense structure, now used as office space. For an example of industrial soviet architecture, look to the 1920s Red Banner Textile Factory – a bold brick and concrete structure, almost ship-like in design, with thin, horizontal windows.

Neo-Gothic

Consecrated in 1780, Chesme Church (also known as the Church of the Birth of St. John the Baptist) is a striking bright pink and white wedding cake-shaped structure with Gothic turrets and spikes pointing skywards. Although the original interiors are long gone, a visit here is worth it for the exterior alone; after all, how often do you get to see a pink Gothic church?

Another attractive church typifying this vaulted, buttressed style is the aptly named Gothic Chapel at Peterhof; a small, but ornate stone church festooned with arches, parapets, and icons.

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