St. Petersburg's culture astounds us – so it's hardly surprising that we find Arts Square at the centre of the city. The works on display in its museums leave us in awe, while the performances in the opera and ballet theatre inspire us – and all the while, we hear the sounds of music soaring from the windows of the Philharmonia.
- If you'd visited back in 1719, instead of the cultured elegance you'd have been greeted by a marshy bog, overgrown with trees.
- During the 900-day Siege Of Leningrad, the Philharmonia gave the world premiere performance of Shostakovich's 7th Symphony, 'the Leningrad'. Not a single German bomb fell on the city that evening.
- The competition for the best statue of Pushkin lasted for 30 years – announced in 1936, but only concluded in 1956, when a student of the Academy of Arts, Anushkin, put forward an entry which met with universal approval from the city authorities.
During the building of the city, the location of Arts Square began as a marshy bog, before it was initially given over to orchards. Such a period of frenzied city building was only recommenced in the 1820s. In honour of Grand-Duke Mikhail, son of Tsar Paul I, a mansion was built, named the Mikhailovsky Palace. Its grounds began here, while the entrance itself was placed in streets which had to be specifically replanned, so that the new palace could be designed in the so-called 'English style'.
The appearance of Arts Square has been rethought several times in its history, During the 1860s, a line of cones was placed along it. It was in 1898 that the Mikhailovsky Palace was transformed into the city's first major public art gallery.
In the Soviet era, not only the square, but its name changed too – a monument was erected to the German socialist Ferdinand Lassalle, and the square itself was renamed as Lassalle Square. It was only the advent of the Second World War which prompted a rethink – when it received its present name of Arts Square.
What to see
- The most remarkable feature to catch the attention of visitors is the palatial ensemble of classical buildings in the square, built in the 19th century. The Mikhailovsky Palace – nowadays the central building of the State Russian Museum – remains the most visually dominating element of the square, with its commanding position over the surrounding buildings.
- Lovers of art will naturally gravitate towards the Russian Museum. Its collections are considered the world's largest exposition of works by Russian artists – from Andrei Rublev through to Vasnetsov. The museum's work also comprises a restoration centre, and a scientific research institute.
- History enthusiasts can not only admire the buildings in the square, but also visit the Ethnography Museum – whose displays feature the largest collection of items made by peoples of Russia. Another feature of Arts Square is the Mikhailovsky Theatre, where the finest traditions of Russian opera and ballet continue. One further theatre on the square is the Musical Comedy Theatre, which remains popular with locals and tourists alike. For the heights of musical perfection, a visit to the St. Peterburg Philharmonia will rarely disappoint lovers of classical music.