During the era of Peter the Great and his successors, the Admiralty was the St. Petersburg's primary shipbuilding wharf area. Most of the buildings on the site at that time were used for building ships, or manufacturing the parts and equipment needed for shipbuilding. Today, the Admiralty and its surrounding premises is the property of the Russian Naval High Command. Tourists are attracted by the legacy architecture and historic symbol – such at the famous weathervane on the main spire of the building, which has gone on to acquire its own fame as the 'little ship' of St Petersburg legend.
- During Peter the Great's rule, the admiralty launched 262 military vessels to join the Russian fleet. As well as shipbuilding, the Admiralty also provided the role of a naval fortress – being surrounded by fortifications and moats, as part of the defences of Russia's new northern capital.
- The Admiralty acquired its present appearance in the early 19th century, after it was rebuilt by architect Andreyan Zakharov. All that he retained of the previous project was its tower. All other buildings were rebuilt or repurposed.
- Ships were built and launched here from 1711 to 1844.
Peter the Great arrived at the idea of building new shipbuilding wharves for Russia after a series of unsuccessful attempts to build ships at Lake Ladoga. Matters were further complicated by storms at Lake Ladoga, which prevented the completed ships from making their way to the Neva River.
After reviewing numerous possibilities, it was decided to establish the new shipyards at a good location on the River Neva, directly opposite the Peter & Paul Fortress. Everything was in favour of this spot – the width of the river was ideal, ships could be launched directly into deep and navigable water, and within easy reach was access to the Baltic Sea. Meantime the shipyards were within the protective ambit of the city's fortress. Lumber and materials could be easily transported both by sea and land.
The new Admiralty building was founded on 5th November 1704 – and the first ship was launched from there in May 1706. The very first ship to be built was designed by Peter the Great himself, and today the plans for its construction are kept in a museum.
The thick forest which had once grown in the area around the Admiralty was felled, to provide ideal visibility in all directions. Later on, the area was used not for military activities, but as a spot for public entertainment. Later, the area originally occupied by the Admiralty would give way to new public areas, such as Palace Square, Senate Square, and St Isaac's Square.
In 1719, the tower above the Admiralty was first capped with a metal spire, at the top of which flew the famous 'little ship' weathervane. A legend claims that the weathervane contains the personal compass of Tsar Peter the Great. However, confirming this legend or otherwise is now impossible, since the original copy of the weathervane was mislaid during rebuilding works in 1815.
What to see
- The Admiralty Tower and its spire – one of St. Petersburg's city landmarks. The spire is capped with the famous 'little ship' weathervane. People say that the design of this weathervane was modelled on the battleship 'Eagle' – one of the first military vessels of the Russian Empire
- The bas-reliefs and carvings on the walls, which illustrate the history of the Russian Fleet. The central arch shows a sculpture called The Creation of the Russian Fleet on its portico, while other facades illustrate naval awards and honours made to the fleet in honour of successful campaigns and victories.
- Around the perimeter of the Admitalty we find a large number of different sculptures depicting heroes of the classical period. Altogether, there are 23 such statues.
- There are also some sculptural compositions made of cast-iron anchors. The space where they stand once housed sculptures showing Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. However, during the 19th century popular opinion thought these might somehow be pagan symbols, and they were taken down. By the time the decision was reversed, no one knew where to find the sculptures again.