Rostral Columns

These two columns standing on the Strelka ("spit") of Vasilyevsky Island are as much a symbol of St. Petersburg as the open arches of Palace Bridge, the dome of St. Isaac's Cathedral, or the spires of the Admiralty and the Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral. For over two centuries, they have formed an integral part of the city's central panorama over the River Neva, and are particularly impressive on major public holidays, when torches are lit on top of them.

Early morning view of the Rostral Columns in Saint-Petersburg, Russia
Early morning view of the Rostral Columns

Once, at this point where the River Neva splits in two - the Bolshaya Neva and Malaya Neva, St. Petersburg's main port was located. During the planning of Birzhevaya Ploshchad in 1810 the decision was taken to install two beacons indicating the two channels. Jean-Francois Thomas de Thomon, the architect of the Old Stock Exchange, decided to build the towers in the style of Roman rostral columns - victory columns on which the prows ("rostra") of captured enemy ships were mounted.

  • Decoration of a Rostral Column in Saint-Petersburg, Russia
    Decoration of a Rostral Column
  • Rostral Column with gas beacon during a public holiday in St Petersburg, Russia
    Rostral Column with gas beacon during a public holiday

At the base of the columns sit statues of four allegorical figures supposed to represent four of Russia's major rivers - the Volga and Dnieper at the northern column, and the Neva and Volkhov at the southern column. The figure of the Dnieper was sculpted by Jozef Camberlein of Antwerp, while the other three sculptures were by Jacques Thibault, assisted by the famous Russian serf sculptor, Samson Sukhanov. De Thomon's massive 32-meter-high Doric columns are decorated with sculptures of naiads, sea creatures and anchors. The large bowls at the top of the columns were originally designed to hold hemp oil for burning. Later, electric lamps were installed as beacons, but this soon became too expensive. In 1957, the Rostral Columns were connected to the gas supply and now, on holidays such as the City Anniversary, Victory Day and New Year, the columns are topped with seven-meter-high tongues of flame.

Winter view of a Rostral Column in St Petersburg, Russia
Pedestal of the Rostral Column in winter
Getting there:From Admiralteyskaya Metro Station turn left then right then left again onto Nevsky Prospekt. Follow the street round onto Palace Square, and cross Palace Bridge. The Rostral Columns can be seen to your right from the bridge.
What's nearby? The Old Stock Exchange, River Neva, Kunstkammer, Palace Bridge (Dvortsoviy Most), Exchange Bridge (Birzhevoy Most)