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St. Petersburg in the era of Alexander I (1801-1825)

St. Petersburg in the era of Alexander I was marked above all by grand construction projects, not just of individual buildings but of whole streets and squares, without which it is impossible to imagine the city now. As Alexander's reign saw the defeat of Napoleon, during which Russia moved to centre stage in European power struggles and Alexander himself became the continent's most powerful monarch, it is fitting that his era should coincide with the pinnacle of High Classicism in architecture, the so-called "Empire" style. St. Petersburg had its own master of the style, the Italian-born Carlo Rossi, whose splendid career gained momentum through the latter years of Alexander's reign.

Field of Mars and the Rumyantsev Obelisk in St. Petersburg, Russia
Field of Mars and the Rumyantsev Obelisk
by Benjamin Paterssen

The earliest of these grand projects was the ensemble on the Spit of Vasilievsky Island. With the Stock Exchange at its center, it was built according to the plans of the architect Thomas de Thomon. Then, the Admiralty was rebuilt in the style of High Classicism, its new majestic appearance now suitable not only to the pragmatic tasks of a shipyard, but also as an iconic image of the capital city of the vast Russian Empire. Grand edifices like Kazan Cathedral on Nevsky Prospekt and the Mining Institute on Vasilevky Island were constructed. Construction began on the General Staff building which would complete the Palace Square ensemble. The Yelagin Palace on Yelagin Island was built by Rossi for Alexander's mother, Empress Maria Fyodorovna and the Mikhailovsky Palace (today the headquarters of the State Russian Museum) for his brother, Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich. At the time of Alexander's death, Rossi was completing work on the surroundings of the Mikhailovsky Palace, which became Ploshchad Iskusstv (Arts Square), the first of several grand formal squares by the architect in the city centre.

  • The Strelka of Vasilyevsky Island, as seen from the Palace Embankment in St. Petersburg, Russia
    The Strelka of Vasilyevsky Island, as seen from the Palace Embankment
    by Benjamin Paterssen
  • View of the Arch of the General Staff Building from Palace Square in St. Petersburg, Russia
    View of the Arch of the General Staff Building from Palace Square
    by Karl Beggrov
  • Palace Embankment near the Hermitage Theatre  in St. Petersburg, Russia
    Palace Embankment near the Hermitage Theatre
    by Karl Beggrov
  • Shrove-tide Fete with Tobogganing on the Tsar's Meadow in St Petersburg, Russia
    Shrove-tide Fete with Tobogganing on the Tsar's Meadow in St. Petersburg
    by Karl Beggrov from a drawing by Karl-Friedrich Sabath and Samoyl Shiflyar
  • 7 November 1824 on the square in front of the Bolshoy Theatre (floods) in St. Petersburg, Russia
    7 November 1824 on the square in front of the Bolshoy Theatre (floods)
    by Fedor Alekseev

On the initiative of Alexander I, construction began on St. Isaac's Cathedral: it would take forty years to complete this magnificent structure and the work spanned the reigns of three emperors.

There is no separate monument – statue or bust – to Alexander I in St. Petersburg. However, his memory is honored in the Alexander Column that stands in the center of Palace Square, across from the Winter Palace. This column, which celebrates Russia's victory in the Napoleonic Wars, is named in honor of Alexander and, according to legend, the angel holding the cross atop the column bears the facial features of Emperor Alexander.

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