Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Winding Up St. Petersburg

One more cathedral and one more palace to go...

We first stop at St. Isaac's Cathedral, the largest church in St. Petersburg, with a dome that was orginally gilded with more than 200 pounds of gold.


The interior with its detailed mosaic icons is impressive.

Quite a dome. Underneath the dome is room for 14,000 standing worshippers. (only the elderly and the infirm worshippers sit down in Russian Orthodox churches).

The grand finale of our tour is a visit to Yusupov Palace, privately owned by the family of the same name between 1830 and 1917, and most famous as the site where the mysterious "mad monk," Grigory Rasputin, was murdered, assassinated, or, as they used to say in Chicago, bumped off.
We first trudge through the living quarters of this mansion with a throng of other tour groups to gaze at all of the opulence.


We see the same type of ceramic room heaters we've seen in Viennese palaces.

We then crowd into a small but beautiful baroque-style theater. This is a miniature jewel box of a room, complete with a "Tsar's Box" for royalty and a surprisingly deep orchestra pit. It's back in use for concerts, and cruise-ship passengers in port at the right time can buy tickets.



But now it's time for the grand finale of the grand finale. We wait our turn in line behind other tour groups and eventually crowd into a small room. It reminds us of that hidden elevator in Disneyland's Haunted Mansion and we brace ourselves to descend to the cellar, but it turns out there's no elevator.

Finally we walk down some stairs and it's our turn to stand in the small room where Rasputin attended his last dinner party. Anna tells us the story in blood-chilling detail. Basically, Rasputin was a hard fellow to kill. Of course, the palace was looted of its treasures after the revolution, it was burned in the 1950s, and everything we're seeing, like much of what we've seen throughout our tour, is a restoration, but still... It's a compelling story we first read as children - the Mad Monk who could control the hemophilia of the young Tsarevich, and the tragic ending to their lives - so it's a strangely fitting place to end our tour of St. Petersburg, a magnificent city still co-existing somewhat painfully (in our opinion) with the ghosts of its imperial and Marxist past.

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