The Stock Exchange and the Rostral Columns
Very early in the history of St. Petersburg the Strelka (spit) of the Vasilievsky Island, the largest island in the Neva delta, was intended to become the heart of downtown St. Petersburg. Some of the buildings, such as the Customs House, still remind us today of Tsar Peter's original intentions. Although the downtown area of the city eventually moved onto the left bank of the river, the architects of the early 19th century did not forget about the Spit of Vasilievsky Island. Neither did the Tsars, since the area could be clearly seen from their royal residence - the Winter Palace.
In the early 19th century one of the most elegant architectural ensembles of St. Petersburg emerged on the eastern edge (Strelka) of the island. The imposing white colonnaded building of the Stock Exchange became its focal point, and was flanked by two Rostral Columns. The Stock Exchange, designed by the French architect Thomas de Tomon and built between 1805 and 1810, was inspired by the best examples of Ancient Greek and Roman architecture. The two Rostral Columns, studded with ships' prows, served as oil-fired navigation beacons in the 1800s (on some public holidays gas torches are still lit on them).
The eastern edge of Vasilievsky Island, adjacent to the Strelka, is one of the cultural and intellectual centers of the city and includes St. Petersburg State University, the Academy of Arts, the Naval Museum (located in the building of the former Stock Exchange) and a number of other museums.