Field of Mars, Summer Garden, and Periphery

Andrew Andell | Zachary Moore | Benjamin Oelberg

East of the Hermitage along the river Neva are two of St. Petersburg’s oldest and most well known public sites – the Field of Mars and the Summer Garden. Part of Czar Peter’s original plan for the city, they remain iconic and essential elements for any native. However, though they border one another, the Field of Mars and Summer Garden are aesthetically and functionally quite different. The region and its periphery contain a diverse set of designs, each a reflection of its period and each meant to serve some function. Indeed, the most common vein within this truly distinct region is the power reflected in their foundations, in the sense of wonder inspired by their designs. The Field of Mars and Summer Garden, as well as several notable buildings nearby, stand out as testaments to the czars who commissioned them. Even today, as the power of the monarchy in Russia has long faded, St. Petersburg continues to be overshadowed by those whose ambition built it. These sites remain expressions of power, both by the state and the public, over a constantly evolving city; though their significance and meaning have changed over time, they continue to stand as monuments of the prestigious Russian state.

The Field of Mars – Zachary Moore

The Field of Mars, like its surrounding periphery, is the very ideological fingerprint of the Tsars who helped craft it. The spaces in that region of Saint Petersburg are monumental, both literally and in terms of scale. Monuments, commissioned by the Tsars, provide a window into their ideology and ideas about what Russia is and should be. The military might of the Russian Empire is on full display in the Field of Mars, and the glorification of Russia’s military is visible to all who visit the space, and this is part and parcel of its design. The Field of Mars is open and free to all who would come to visit and contemplate Russian military power. This space helps spread and engender the idea of Russia’s glory in its people, and generates pride in their rich military history and the sacrifices made in the name of the motherland. Each Tsar and Tsarina who added to the space left an imprint of their own personal views of Russia’s history and its future.

Though now called the Field of Mars, this historic area of St. Petersburg has been through as many name changes as the city itself. It was initially called the Grand Meadow. Initially drained and created from the swamp in 1712, the then Grand Meadow was a large public meadow (Amery and Curran). It was initially used as any enormous grassy field in the middle of a city would be, as a place for merriment and festivities. Fairs and gatherings were held here during the warm months. The field’s genesis under Peter the Great was modest and pointedly functional, like Peter’s own preferences. It was merely an unadorned grassy field upon which the citizenry of his new capitol would go about their business.

View Field of Mars, Summer Garden, and the Periphery in a larger map

In this era it was a free and open space, and itself a reflection of Peter’s new westernized Russia. It was a blank slate dredged from the brackish swamp waters around Petersburg by force of will, akin to Peter’s new Russia. Upon this tabula rasa would be carved the new empire of commerce and enlightened metropolitanism, or so Peter envisaged.

Photo taken by Zachary Moore


Under the Tsarinas who followed, the space became more regimented and militaristic to reflect the changes in Peter’s empire. Under Catherine I the space was partly sunk to create the Krasny Canal which was then slated for noble and mercantile residences, curtailing the public use of the space (Amery and Curran). The 1740′s saw the creation of the Promenade, for the private use of Empress Elizaveta Petrovna’s relaxation. As a result, the field earned a new name, the Tsarina’s Meadow. In the 1770′s, the canal was drained and the meadow was re-opened for public use. 1782 saw the completion of the 20 year construction of the Marble Palace and its annexes and attached structures (Amery and Curran). Also to the north of the actual field were the houses of various nobility and Suvorov Square, in honor of the general Aleksander Suvorov.

Catherine the Great had different ideas about the meadow. Her alterations to the garden would seek to capture the militarism and national pride which she sought to engender during her reign. The most notable addition of her reign, the Suvorov Monument, was constructed to memorialize the service of General Aleksander Suvorov, noted for his perfect record of victory in battle (Cummins). This achievement puts him within the company of the likes of Alexander the Great, Ghengis Khan, and Lucius Cornelius Sulla. For this monumental achievement in military command, Suvorov is roundly considered to have earned his image being cast in that of Mars himself in the monument. The monument now lies to the north of the Field of Mars, in Suvorov Square. After her reign it was further altered to memorialize the sacrifice of the Russian Imperial Army against Napoleon’s forces and their heroic turnaround of the war. This coincided with the construction of the Pavlovsky Grenadier Guards Regiment’s official barracks on the edge of the field. Their exceptional service in the Napoleonic war earned them a place of reverence in the services and the personal favor of the Tsarina (Reese). They, and the other Imperial Guard regiments, would drill on the field for the common folk to see. The people were allowed again onto the field to facilitate this purpose. Then, the monuments to Catherine’s favorite generals were constructed on the field, before being moved to more appropriate locations to make more room for the Guards to drill and parade. While not in use by the Guards, the people were free to use the field. As a result of its contemporaneous monumentalization, the field acquired the popular moniker of “The Field of Mars,” owing to the statue of Suvorov which once adorned the field, which was later moved to its own pavilion north of the field (George and George).

No major changes would be made to the Field of Mars after Catherine, only to its skyline in the form of the Church on Spilled Blood and Engineer’s Castle. As the Communists took control, they left their own mark on the Field in the form of the monument and burial ground dedicated to those who fell in the service of the people against the oppressors (Fitzpatrick). Specifically, the field would become a monument specifically to the 1905 Revolution, in which pro-constitution protesters forced the Tsar to establish a constitutional monarchy, and 1917 Civil War in which the Bolsheviks solidified the central authority of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union over the pro-democracy and pro-Tsarist elements within the new provisional government. The further monumentalization of the space was meant to alter the focus towards the power of the proletariat and the common, rank and file soldiers rather than the elites and Imperial military glory. This evolution is in line, too with the evolution of the Pavlovsky Regiment Barracks. During this era, the barracks were re-purposed – due to the dissolution of the unit during the 1918 restructuring of the armed forces (Reese) – and changed to become office space for apparati of the Party. This re-purposing served to contrast the simplicity of the monument to the grandeur and decadence of the Imperial celebrations of military power and the power of the Tsars. During the Siege of Leningrad during World War II, the Field was repurposed into an enormous vegetable garden to feed the starving citizens of the city (Glantz). After the Siege of Leningrad was broken, a salute was fired at the center of the Field to signify the retreat of the Germans to those still in the city. After the war, in 1957, the Field of Mars and its surrounding structures were repaired and the Eternal Flame was first lit on the Field (Brooke).

To the north of the Field of Mars lies Suvorov Square and its attached buildings. To the east was the Adamini House, which initially housed the merchant Antonov. The Adamini House would go on to house the Art Bureau and now currently houses the Building of the University of Culture and Arts. To the west of Suvorov Square lies houses which were historically the homes of the nobility. After the revolution the buildings were repurposed several times as houses (George and George). These apartments are now privately owned by a variety of private owners and businesses. The Soviet period would see the paving and building of automotive roads through the city. Suvorov Square would find itself transformed into a major thoroughfare, not unlike Trafalgar Square. This evolution shows the Soviet’s refocusing on victory: Victory in the future in the garden and victory in the hallowed past after the war was won. This also showed the switch in ideology from simple glorification of the people to the all-out remonumentalization of the state and state power.

Frankly, the people hardly ever consider the space beyond its practical purpose, which was made apparent in interviews taken with St. Petersburg residents, Ilya and Renea.

For all the pomp and circumstance which surrounded most of its history, the people did and still do regard it as a field. Certainly it is hallowed ground, this much can be seen in the quality of its upkeep and lack of graffiti and typical urban detritus. However, the message is lost on those who use it. It is cherished but not symbolic. Especially notable in our various interviews conducted on-site is the fact that most people remember it for their own personal memories rather than some lofty ideal of military or proletarian might. They remember happier times with their families and loved ones, not who died in what war against what enemy. They remember dates in the park with loved ones, or hanging out after work with friends, or taking a quiet moment away from the hustle and bustle of Nevsky. This disconnect is emblematic of the historic disconnect between Russia’s rulers and its ruled.

The Summer Garden – Ben Oelberg

Photo taken by Ben Oelberg

The Summer Garden of Peter the Great serves as a particularly luxurious emblem of his determination to mark his imperial reign as one that redefined the aesthetic tastes of the Russian monarchy. It is Peter’s tribute to the beautiful French gardens that seventeenth and early eighteenth century European monarchs were ever so fond of. The Garden stands as a symbol of the changes that were coming to Russia under Peter I – of his new city of Saint Petersburg becoming a cosmopolitan “window to the west.” When his court entered the Summer Garden, Peter could pride himself on convincing them that they were entering a garden of Versailles. Peter would demonstrate to his entourage and especially to foreign visitors that Russia was becoming a sophisticated Western society. Even after its loss of prestige after Peter’s death, the Summer Garden still reminds visitors of the majesty of what the Russian state has accomplished.

In the introduction to City A-Z, Fran Tonkiss mentions how urban planning reflects desired paths through cities on the part of the authorities. Yet, people do not always follow the “official” paths of a map because it is not always “sensible.” Tonkiss provides the example of crossing through a park instead of “skirt[ing] its edges” which is only meant to prevent walking on the grass. She states that the “local council is paving the desire path that countless walkers have beaten diagonally across my local park.” She argues that while this might appear to be “democratic,” the walkway is a “means of organising desire” (Tonkiss 1).

In my interview with David and Laura, two American tourists visiting Saint Petersburg, Russia, I first asked them what their opinions were on the Summer Garden of Peter the Great. Reflecting what Tonkiss wrote, David stated that it was “interesting” and “unusual” how the Garden featured “these turn-styles you had to go through to enter and exit the park.” He also found it strange that one could not “deviate from the pathways due to the fencing” (“David and Laura,” 0:48 – 1:06). Later on in the interview, Laura said that the gates of the Summer Garden made her impressed with the Russians’ management of “crowd control” (“David and Laura,” 14:28 -14:39).

Some of the statements made by David and Laura demonstrate Iain Borden’s comments in his entry for City A-Z, titled “Boundaries.” He describes urban boundaries as a “series of opportunity constraints,” as opposed to a “free association of emotional, political and cultural desires translated into spatial vectors” (Borden 20-21). He further discusses the more-or-less authoritarian nature of boundaries because they “prevent horizontal movement across the city” and “deny, control and release spatial movement” (Borden 21). David mentioned that the fencing forced visitors in the Summer Garden to stay on the established paths – to keep people in line, best reflected in Laura’s remark about the Garden’s gates affectively enforcing “crowd control.”

Photo taken by Ben Oelberg

I must agree with David that despite the Garden’s beauty, the paths did seem rather restrictive, making movement through the Garden too rigid. The Summer Garden is certainly not a free and open public space like the nearby Field of Mars. Visitors are obviously not able to run around and play or just lay down on the grass. The Garden had somewhat of an atmosphere of conformity: you have to stay on the designated paths and remain relatively quiet as you stroll along. This certainly reflects the Summer Garden’s role as a place of relaxation only for the elites.

I also had no idea why the fences were necessary. The fencing prevents visitors from seeing these elegant plots of grass surrounded by thick shrubbery. After peaking through the fences to see what was being covered up, I thought, what are these fences for? What is it that has to be hidden? It is only grass and shrubbery. For all that was covered up, I was still very impressed with Peter’s ability to give Russia a taste of Western Europe with countless Italian statues, gorgeous fountains, and a Dutch Baroque palace. I really felt at times as if I were walking through an elegant garden in France or Italy. Based on an interview with two locals, Ilya and Renea, they did not seem to be bothered by the fencing and nor did they feel that the Garden made them “conform.” They simply contemplated its beauty and acknowledged how much of a change it was for Russia, as Peter intended the Garden to be. They also remembered the Summer Garden on a personal level as a place of fond memories.

Renea, a tour guide, said that the Summer Garden is important because it is where the “history of parks” began in Russia and that she has tourists “move slowly along it” and gives them “a chance to see more at the Summer Garden.” Ilya, a graphic design student, walks through the Garden everyday on his way to the university and said that it gives him “inspiration” (“Ilya and Renea,” 2:00 – 3:00). The Summer Garden appeared to be of personal significance to the two locals. Renea described it as a “great place” and a “part of [her] personal life” and that it is “more connected to [her] childhood memories” (“Ilya and Renea,” 3:34 – 3:53). During Andrew Andell’s interview with them, he asked Renea and Ilya about any “significant visits” they had experienced in the Garden. Renea recalled a classical music concert with “marble stages” inside the Garden. When she was at this concert in the Summer Garden, she felt that she was experiencing the “essence of beautiful in the world.” Ilya mentioned how he loved the white swans that lived there during a childhood visit with his parents (“Ilya and Renea,” 3:56 – 5:07).

Andrew then asked Ilya and Renea how the “current use” of the Summer Garden “relates to its history.” Renea replied that like any other park the Garden has merely become a place where people “spend their time” and “hide from the heat.” Yet, she explained that this “current use” of the Summer Garden is essentially the same as it has been in the past. When Peter the Great traveled to Europe, he noticed that “in every city, there was a park for people just to walk, just spend their time,” but there were no parks in Russia. Peter decided to build one so that Russians could experience the leisures of a park (of course it is very important to note that the Summer Garden was used only by Peter and the nobility during his reign). Ilya agreed with this and added that some students from the nearby universities and academies come to the Summer Garden to hang out and celecbrate the end of the year. He mentioned that it is “significant that young people come to such cultural places to celebrate some moments in their life” (“Ilya and Renea,” 5:10 – 7:15).

When asked about any changes she had noticed in the Summer Garden during her lifetime, Renea stated that the last time she saw the Garden was during her childhood as the Garden had been closed for many years. Now that the Garden has opened again, she intends to visit it again during the summer. However, Renea also said that she was a little afraid that seeing it again would “ruin [her] personal memories” and therefore she is “delaying this moment of meeting the new Summer Garden.” Renea mentioned that she is glad that new statues and new fountains have been placed in the Garden. Ilya said that the Summer Garden has become a “modern place.” He thought that before the Garden was restored, it was the “Soviet Summer Garden,” but now it is a “modern contemporary Summer Garden” in the European style (“Ilya and Renea,” 7:19 – 8:38).

In response to being asked how easy it is to travel through Saint Petersburg, Ilya replied that if someone “love[s] a place (especially a place such as the Summer Garden or the Field of Mars), [he or she] will get there anyway.” He recommended walking as the true way to “see” Petersburg, so that you can quite literally see everything and “have a good time.” Renea noted that there were no metro stations near the Summer Garden that required less than fifteen minutes of walking to get there. Therefore, unless one is looking for the Summer Garden, it can be difficult to find (“Ilya and Renea,” 11:45 – 12:53).

Photo taken by Ben Oelberg

The Summer Garden can be hard to notice, considering that you really cannot see much of anything until you walk through one of the gateway entrances. The surrounding gates and numerous tall trees cover up the
fountains and the statues, making the Garden look somewhat secretive despite its current status as a public park. This difficulty of noticing the Garden may perhaps reflect the original purpose of the Summer Garden, which was to be a private park for the elites to take peaceful walks and hold elaborate holiday parties; a place for Peter the Great to illustrate his progress at creating a Western-style city for Russia. Why would Peter need to keep this beautiful garden closed off from the general public? He must have been afraid that the commoners might disturb the peaceful setting of the Garden. Then again, the inability to get a good look at the Summer Garden from the outside serves to enhance the mystery of what one will find when he or she enters the Garden. Once you enter, you notice that the trees cover up the sky and it is as if you have entered a portal into another world – a peaceful escape from the hustle-and-bustle of urban life.

Photo taken by Ben Oelberg

Indeed, the Summer Garden of Peter the Great provides a peaceful green haven for those who might be easily overwhelmed by the noisy concrete jungle. The trees are so tall and thick that they hide the surrounding city. There are benches for people to sit and contemplate the French garden and Italian statues that Peter was so intent on giving his entourage a taste of in order to prove that he could be just as stylistically sophisticated as any other European monarch. One can also find several small vine-covered “huts” with a small bench inside – the perfect private corner to read a book or give your soulmate a smooch.

Once again, we turn to Iain Borden’s essay on “boundaries.” His mentioning of boundaries as “momentary portals” is a perfect description for the Summer Garden (Borden 21). When you enter the garden, one might have the feeling that he or she is not “good enough” to enter such a magical world. Borden writes that boundaries are “manifestations, not just origins.” A boundary is the “outcome of a need and desire for social control, as the pervasive extension of power across the city” (Borden 21). The beauty of the Summer Garden masks the reality that Peter wanted a private space for himself and his entourage so that they could engage in activities that only the wealthy and the powerful could enjoy. Peter the Great and later Empress Elizabeth as well as Catherine II (Catherine the Great) would hold receptions and celebrations in the Sumer Garden (George 63). Peter held parties in the Garden for special events such as “his name day or the anniversary of Poltava” (84). It was a social space safely protected from the supposed savagery and disorder of the poor toiling masses.

Photo taken by Ben Oelberg

One must keep in mind how much effort Peter put into the construction of this garden. He was so committed, that he “issue[d] orders on minute details from afar” while at war with Sweden. He ordered exotic trees, flowers, and “other plants from faraway places,” and even brought them himself on occasion from his travels and campaigns (George 61). During his tours of Western Europe, Peter was impressed with the French-style gardens of Versailles, Dresden, Greenwich, and elsewhere. So he ordered French architect Jean-Baptiste Alexandre LeBlond to “lay out the garden in the formal French style, featuring carefully pruned trees and shrubs and intricate, curving lines” (61). Peter also took LeBlond’s advice and had about fifty fountains built in the Summer Garden. Many of these fountains featured sculptures of gods, mythical creatures, and animals. To provide water for the fountains, a canal was “cut from the Liga River to a small man-made reservoir near today’s Nekrasov Street.” This became the Ligovsky Canal, which is now the route of Ligovsky Prospect (61-62). If this was not enough, Peter even built another popular feature of European gardens of his time – a grotto. This grotto was supposedly “second to none in Europe,” but it is no longer standing and has been replaced by the Coffee House (62).

Peter greatly admired Venetian sculptures. So, not surprisingly, he “lined the Garden’s pathways with their works.” There were originally about 250 sculptures in the Summer Garden, but only about 90 still remain. The most notable statue of the Summer Garden was a nude statue of Venus (now standing in the Hermitage), which was obtained by Peter making a deal with the Vatican (George 62). Peter even had a menagerie that was originally positioned across the Post Office, relocated to the Summer Garden. There were artificial ponds with “exotic fish, swans, other water birds, and a seal.” The menagerie remained until it was moved to Mokhovaya Street in 1737 (62).

Peter also had a Baroque palace built in the Summer Garden. He intended for this palace to be the “ideal home” that was “modest in size with unpretentious interiors in the Dutch manner” (Amery & Curran 26). The palace was to be a “model house for ’eminent people'” (Saint Petersburg Encyclopaedia). The Summer Palace’s ground floor was “decorated according to maritime themes” and one room “served both as his workshop and meteorological observation post” (George 61).

Photo taken by Ben Oelberg

The richness of the Summer Garden is certainly to be admired. Nevertheless, the fences, gates, and fixed pathways still remain. To make it worse, there are now security cameras throughout the Garden.

The Holy Resurrection Cathedral or Cathedral of Our Savior Built on Spilled Blood – Andrew Andell

Photo taken by Andrew Andell

Standing in the Field of Mars, one sees a peculiar building to the south-west – with colorful onion domes and an elaborate exterior, it stands apart from the rest of the city. The Church of Our Savior Built on Spilled Blood, also known as the Holy Resurrection Cathedral, was constructed from 1883 to 1907.

Tsar Alexander II, who reigned from 1855 – 1881, was a great reformer and patron of progressive ideals; having freed the serfs, among other massive legislation, he landed on the radar of the more conservative figures in Russian society – those with a stock in maintaining the status quo. As a result, he became the object of several assassination attempts, with the final one taking place not far from the Field of Mars after he was surveying troops. Alexander III, who succeeded his father, was a much more conservative ruler, blaming radical reform for the death of his father and for the turbulent state of Russia at the time. Though the Duma commissioned a small wooden chapel to be erected on the site of Alexander II’s assassination, the new Tsar found this inadequate. Instead, he had a new cathedral built which reflected his return to the values of old Russia – constructed in the Muscovite Revival style, it was based on St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow and stands in stark contrast to the rest of St. Petersburg. (Amery & Curran, 120) After a long hiatus under the Soviets and renovation since WWII, the Church on Spilled Blood has become a museum and functions as a major tourist attraction. A more in-depth history of the Cathedral can be found here, detailing the deliberations on its construction and evolution over time.

Photo taken by Andrew Andell

In the present day, the Holy Resurrection Cathedral remains distinct from the surrounding buildings. Looming over the south end of the Field of Mars, its colorful cupolas and ornate exterior identify it as notably non-Petersburgian in nature, making it a major element of one’s experience on the Field of Mars. However, the Cathedral continues to exist only faintly in the minds of St. Petersburg residents, its presence a long established fact and thus often overlooked in the bustle of daily life. Built as a private monument and chapel for the royal family, it was never a public space. Even during the Soviet period, it sat empty of visitors, being forbidden to the public until the end of Communism in Russia. In 1970, ownership of the site passed to St. Isaac’s Cathedral, after which it was renovated and converted to a public museum of mosaics. In this role, it instead now hosts thousands of tourists each day, who come to see a major piece of Russian architecture. Many of these tourists, who arrive by busload from their ships on the Gulf of Finland, stay long enough to walk through the museum and to browse the wares outside. As such, the area surrounding the cathedral houses a number of stalls which parallel the Griboyedov Canal. These stalls sell trinkets and souvenirs ranging from novelty shot glasses to Russian hats of many different styles and colors, catering to the mass of tourists passing through the area. The images on these trinkets, however, are notable in that they typically depict various expressions and expressers of Russian authority, both Tsarist and Soviet; matryoshka dolls of Nicholas I, Stalin, and Putin all stand together, the significance of this often forgotten by those who buy them. Indeed, an extensive tourist market has sprung up outside the building, achieving official recognition in recent years. This market is now one of the most heavily trafficked and largest souvenir stations in St. Petersburg, often hosting more than 40 stalls selling a huge variety of wares. In a sense, the relatively new master in Russia, a free market, has overtaken any singular expression of power. However, while a high volume of foreigners visit this area every day, their impact on the surrounding area is minimal. Benches and trashcans, as well as public restrooms (which close after hours), adorn the site only sparsely, and established stores in buildings are not to be found. Because the tourists arrive and depart by bus, their agenda precludes travelling to the nearby Field of Mars. As a result, many of the hallmarks of other tourist sites, such as cold drink and hotdog stations, are absent from the Field, which itself seems to remain an almost purely Russian public space. This segregation between the Field and the Cathedral is most clearly marked by a fairly busy intersection at the Southwest corner of the Field itself – once this point is crossed, the crowds thicken and noise level increases manifold, helping to divert anyone, such as local pedestrians, who might pass through the Cathedral space. The Field of Mars, being a fair distance from any nearby metro station, is inhabited by those who seek it out, less for its history or magnificence and more for its function as a place of relaxation. In our interview with Ilya and Renea, they allow that the distance and trouble in getting to the Field of Mars is checked by its uniqueness and significance as an eye in the storm.


This dichotomy between the Field of Mars, a generally relaxing public space, and the Cathedral, now a tourist trap of the highest magnitude, sets a clear distinction between locals and foreigners, and perhaps more abstractly, between those who come to marvel at Old World power and those who are content to let it fade into the background.

The Mikhailovsky or Engineer’s Castle – Andrew Andell

Photo taken by Andrew Andell

Turning directly south, viewing from the Summer Garden, one sees a large, reddish structure across the span of a canal. Tsar Paul I, a deeply paranoid and fearful man, turned much of St. Petersburg’s architecture toward a more militaristic theme; numerous monuments to military triumphs were commissioned for the newly christened Field of Mars and a number of new barracks were built along this theme. Paul’s favored project was Mikhailovsky Castle, built on the site of Empress Elizabeth’s old summer palace in which he had been born. Paul famously stated that, “On that spot I was born and there I wish to die,” a wish he would be granted in his 1801 assassination. (George, 233) The castle that he constructed would reflect his paranoia, featuring a moat, several drawbridges, and secret passages throughout. It was all for naught, however, as Paul was killed in his bedroom less than a month after he and the royal family moved in. Paul’s power and influence over the city died with him, and so too did the castle’s significance. From this point, it came to house a number of different engineering academies, suiting the city as the public needed it; since 1994, the castle has contained an exposition of the State Russian Museum and the central Naval Library with a fairly extensive art gallery supplemented by many of the original sculptures from the Summer Garden. (St. Petersburg Encyclopedia)

Even from its forgotten position and current obscurity, the building cuts a powerful figure, looming over the south ends of both the Summer Garden and Field of Mars, its chapel spire rising, glistening and golden, into the air above all that surrounds it. The only public entrance to the castle is on the south end by a rather sparsely trafficked street; all other sides are surrounded by a ten-foot fence, complete with armed guards and security cameras. The interior which is open to the public (a large part of the building is closed off) consists of a series of long hallways and galleries with high ceilings and ornate classical-style carvings in the details. Familiar paintings of the royal family, and many of Paul himself, adorn the walls and open space. Light floods in through many tall windows which overlook the Summer Garden and Field of

Photo taken by Andrew Andell

Mars, providing a unique view of these two public spaces from a spot originally reserved for the highest, most trusted members of court. At the north end of the compound outside the castle there is a small field stretching from the stairs of the building to the perimeter fence. On some special occasions or holidays, such as Russia Day, this area is used as a concert space and is opened to the public, drawing large crowds and thus a heavy police presence. Otherwise, the building is largely ignored by the general populace of St. Petersburg. In fact, the most popular object which draws Russian attention to the building is located below street-level. On the Fontanka Canal near its intersection with the Moika is a statue of a small bronze bird; as a representative of the Russian nursery rhyme, Chizhyk-Pyzhik, hitting the statue with a coin is said to bring good luck. People mass around this otherwise rather mundane spot, seemingly ignoring the hulking fortress behind them. However, despite the crowds which Chizhyk-Pyzhik brings, the Mikhailovsky Castle is, on the whole, not a public space. Walking along the Ulitsa Pestelya between the castle and the Summer Garden is often a harrowing experience, with constant crowds (which rarely give the castle a second glance) constantly pushing one either forward or into traffic. Like many other monuments to power from various cultures and empires, it is often forgotten by the public, Paul’s legacy of will and paranoia fading into deeper obscurity. (Robinson, 200) While a prime example of baroque architecture, it nevertheless stands imposing and isolated among the flood of people who daily sweep by it. Perhaps in this way Paul’s legacy lives on; the structure remains a manifestation of Paul himself, still full of suspicion and seclusion, a representative of one Tsar’s will still forced upon the people of St. Petersburg.


The shadow of times long past hangs over this space, and the personal touch of powerful men and women has left its mark indubitably upon this space, more so even than anywhere else in the city. This was the personal playground of the Tsars, where their image of Petersburg was directly constructed to their specifications. Each element within the space was born within the whims of the Tsars. It is, therefore, in this area of the city that we get the best understanding, from an architectural and sociological development standpoint, of the interaction between power and populace in historical Russia. While other parts of the city certainly bear the marks left by rulers past, the monument holds no function besides imparting some variety of message which its builder wishes to convey. Therefore, it is a more direct view of the interactions between the rulers and the ruled than could be seen in a space with intended functionality such as Peter and Paul Fortress or St. Isaac’s Cathedral. The image which can be drawn from this interaction is both the overwhelming power of the Russian state through history and its disconnect with its subjects. The lofty ideals imparted into these monuments are largely overlooked by the common man in favor of more utilitarian function.

Works Cited

Amery, Colin, and Brian Curran. St. Petersburg. London: Frances Lincoln Ltd., 2006.

Boglachev, S.V. “Summer Palaces.” Saint Petersburg Encyclopaedia. The Likhachev Foundation. Web. 3 May 2012. <>.

Borden, Iain. “Boundaries.” City A-Z. Steve Pile and Nigel Thrift, ed. London: Routledge, 2000.

Brooke, Caroline. Moscow: A Cultural History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Page 51

Cummins, Joseph. The War Chronicles: From Flintlocks to Machine Guns: A Global Reference of All the Major Modern Conflicts. Beverly, Massachusetts: Fair Winds, 2009. Page 27

Fitzpatrick, Sheila. The Russian Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

George, Arthur L., and Elena George. St. Petersburg: Russia’s Window to the Future, The First Three Centuries. New York: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2003.

Glantz, David M. The Siege of Leningrad, 1941-1944: 900 Days of Terror . Osceola, Wisconsin: Zenith Imprint, 2001

“Interview with David and Laura (00000).” 2012. <>.

“Interview with Ilya and Renea (00010).” 2012. <>.

Reese, Roger R. The Russian Imperial Army, 1796-1917 . London: Ashgate, 2006.

Tonkiss, Fran. “A to Z.” City A-Z. Steve Pile and Nigel Thrift, ed. London: Routledge, 2000.