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Italian walk No.1 - Italian builders of the Northern Venice

Our first Italian walk through St. Petersburg begins, fittingly, with the life and works of Domenico Trezzini, the man responsible for transforming Peter the Great's dreams of a modern European city on the Neva Delta into concrete architectural reality and the first of a string of great Italian architects to work in St. Petersburg for the Russian court.

Academy of Fine Arts building in St Petersburg, Russia, where Italians once taught
Academy of Fine Arts, where Italians once taught

We start on Vasilyevsky Island on Ploshchad Trezzini ("Trezzini Square"). At No.21 stands the house (since reconstructed) which Trezzini built for himself and his family, and where he lived until his death in 1734. We then walk along Universitetskaya Naberezhnaya ("University Embankment"), past the Academy of Arts building (No.17) where several Italians were once invited to teach, including the decorator and stage designer Guiseppe Valeriani, the painter Francesco Fontebasso, and one of Trezzini's most distinguished successors, the architect Antonio Rinaldi. The museum now housed in the building contains works that were once presented as examples to the students of the Academy, among them canvases by Andrea Celesti, Pier Francesco Mola, and Annibale Carracci, as well as copies of masterpieces by Raphael, Veronese and Guido Reni. Other curiosities and former teaching aids in the museum include models of the unbuilt designs for St. Isaac's Cathedral by Antonio Rinaldi and the Stock Exchange by Giacomo Quarenghi; a collection of cork models of great classical monuments prepared for Catherine at the workshop of Antonio Kiki in Rome; and sketches and blueprints by Carlo Rossi, Luigi Ruska, Pietro Gonzago, and many other Italian artists and architects. Next to the Academy of Arts Building is Rumyantsev Garden, the centerpiece of which is the the Rumyantsev Obelisk, built by Vincenzo Brenna.

Peter and Paul Fortress with the Cathedral of Ss. Peter and Paul built by Domenico Trezzini in St Petersburg, Russia
Peter and Paul Fortress with the Cathedral of Ss. Peter and Paul build by Domenico Trezzini

A little further along the embankment we come to the Twelve Colleges (1722-1736), the magnificent building that Trezzini designed to accommodate the twelve ministries of Peter the Great's reformed government, now the main building of St. Petersburg State University. Opposite the Twelve Colleges is the elegant neoclassical building of the Academy of Sciences, designed by the genial Italian maestro Giacomo Quarenghi.

Marble Palace built by Rinaldi and the Saltykov House built by Quarenghi in Saint-Petersburg, Russia
Marble Palace built by Rinaldi and the Saltykov House built by Quarenghi

From there it is a little over five minutes' walk around the Spit of Vasilyevsky Island and across Birzhevoy Bridge onto the Petrograd Side and thence to the Peter and Paul Fortress. This was the first great project assigned to Trezzini by Peter the Great, and while most of the structures of the fortress have been rebuilt since Trezzini's time, the Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral remains his unmatched masterpiece, its soaring spire one of the most easily recognizable symbols of St. Petersburg.

St Michael's Castle built by Brenna in St Petersburg, Russia
St. Michael's Castle built by Brenna

From the eastern end of the Peter and Paul Fortress, it is only a few steps to Troitskiy Bridge, which crosses the Neva River onto Suvorovskiy Ploshchad. To your left as you cross the river, you can see the Summer Garden with the Summer Palace of Peter the Great, another of Trezzini's creations. Once across the bridge, you are surrounded by works from practically all of the great Italian architects to work in St. Petersburg. To your left is the Saltykov House (now the University of Culture and Art), originally designed by Giacomo Quarenghi with the western facade reconstructed by Rossi as part of his redevelopment of Suvorovskiy Ploshchad, while to your right is the Marble Palace, one of the finest designs by Antonio Rinaldi. By walking across the Field of Mars and bearing right, you will come to St. Michael's Castle, the extraordinary Romantic palace built on the banks of the Fontanka River for Emperor Paul I by Vincenzo Brenna.

Cinizelli Circus in St Petersburg, Russia
The former Cinizelli Circus

Turning right along the Fontanka River Embankment, we soon come to the impressively ornate round building of St. Petersburg State Circus, built in 1877 for the circus of Gaetano Ciniselli. The Ciniselli family continued to manage the circus until the October Revolution, after which it was nationalized, but with another performer of Italian origin, trick-rider Williams Trezzini, as the new director. Across Belinskogo Bridge on the opposite embankment, the former building of the Catherine Institute for Noble Maidens is another fine example of Giacomo Quarenghi's work.

Her Imperial Majesty's Cabinet designed by Giacomo Quarenghi in St Petersburg, Russia
Her Imperial Majesty's Cabinet designed by Giacomo Quarenghi

Following the Fontanka across Nevsky Prospekt, we pass Anichkov Palace, originally built by Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli, but later adapted by both Quarenghi and Carlo Rossi, and continue a little further along the embankment until we come to what is probably the latter's greatest achievement, the ensemble of buildings that constitutes Ploshchad Lomonosova (Lomonosov Square), Ulitsa Zodchego Rossi (Street of the Architect Rossi), and Ploshchad Ostrovskogo (Ostrovsky Square), the centerpiece of which is the magnificent building of the Alexandrinsky Theatre. The building at 2, Ulitsa Zodchego Rossi is home to the renowned Vaganova Ballet Academy (formerly the Imperial Ballet Academy), where the distinguished teachers once included Guiseppe Canziani, Carlo Evasio Soliva, and Enrico Cecchetti.

Alexandrinsky Theatre and the Vaganova Ballet School (right) on Ulitsa Zodchego Rossi, built by Carlo Rossi in St Petersburg, Russia
Alexandrinsky Theatre and the Vaganova Ballet School (right) on Ulitsa Zodchego Rossi, built by Carlo Rossi

By crossing Ploshchad Ostrovskogo directly in front of the theatre and walking along Pereulok Krylova (Krylov Alley), we emerge onto Sadovaya Ulitsa opposite Bolshoy Gostiny Dvor, construction of which began to designs by Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli, although these were abandoned as too extravagant. Opposite the southern end of the building, however, is one of Rastrelli's masterpieces, the beautiful baroque Vorontsov Palace (1749-1757). The palace was later modernized by Giacomo Quarenghi, who added the Chapel of the Order of Malta. Quarenghi was also responsible for Maly Gostiny Dvor, which begins across the street on the south side of Ulitsa Lomonosova.

  • Former building of the Assignation Bank by Quarenghi in St Petersburg, Russia
    Former building of the Assignation Bank by Quarenghi
  • Vorontsov Palace built by Rastrelli in Saint-Petersburg, Russia
    Vorontsov Palace built by Rastrelli
  • Apraksin Dvor market, built by Corsini in St Petersburg, Russia
    Apraksin Dvor market, built by Corsini
  • Yusupov Palace on the Fontanka River Embankment, built by Quarenghi in Saint-Petersburg, Russia
    Yusupov Palace on the Fontanka River Embankment, built by Quarenghi
  • Guard House on Sadovaya Ulitsa, built by Beretti in St Petersburg, Russia
    Guard House (Hauptwache) on Sadovaya Ulitsa, built by Beretti

Walking south (left) along Sadovaya Ulitsa, we pass the magnificent neoclassical building of the State Assignation Bank, one of Quarenghi's first major commissions in St. Petersburg. On the opposite side of the street, the sprawling complex of buildings that make up Apraksin Dvor market were the major work of lesser-known Russo-Italian architect Jeronimo Corsini, son of the renowned stage designer Domenico Corsini. Another second-generation Italian immigrant, Vicenzo Beretti, designed the peculiar Hauptwache building (on the right as Sadovaya Ulitsa runs into Sennaya Ploshchad), a station of the city watch where Fyodor Dostoevsky was once held under arrest. The final stop on this tour of Italian architecture is in the shady greenery of the Yusupov Garden, a short walk south of Sennaya Ploshchad along Sadovaya Ulitsa. The Garden and the palace at its far end were again the work of Giacomo Quarenghi.

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