All about the Palace Square (Saint Petersburg)

Palace Square

Palace Square is not only St. Petersburg’s main square – it's also one of the most breathtaking ensembles of architecture anywhere in the world. It is a location which has born witness to formative and shattering events of world history, seeing the rise and fall of empires and epochs. Today Palace Square is the venue for all the most important and festive civic events in the life of St. Petersburg, including military parades and concerts.Palace Square is not only St. Petersburg’s main square – it's also one of the most breathtaking ensembles of architecture anywhere in the world. It is a location which has born witness to formative and shattering events of world history, seeing the rise and fall of empires and epochs. Today Palace Square is the venue for all the most important and festive civic events in the life of St. Petersburg, including military parades and concerts.

Fascinating Facts

  • The square takes its name from the Winter Palace – the city residence of the Russian royal family during the Tsarist era. The Winter Palace fills one entire side of the square. The palace was not always painted green. In 1901, the Winter Palace was repainted in a terracotta colour, on the orders of Russia's last Tsar, Nicholas II.
  • Palace Square was the scene of the tragic events known as Bloody Sunday – when palace troops opened fire on protestors begging the Tsar for bread. It was also the location of Nicholas II's announcement of war with Germany, in 1914.
  • In 1924, the square witnessed a battle – but not one of the usual kind. It was a Chess Tournament using giant chessmen on a huge outdoor board – in which the white pieces represented the Red Navy, while the black pieces represented the Red Army. The players were Grand-Masters Ilya Rabinovich and Petr Romanovsky. The match was declared a stalemate after five hours of play.

History

When the Admiralty Shipyards were built in 1704, the area where Palace Square now stands was just a large open area – set aside so that in the event of war with Sweden, the artillery could set up here. But once the Admiralty ceased to be a military fortress, the square was allowed to be covered in grass – a place then known as Admiralty Meadow.

In 1753, Francesco Rastrelli put forward a proposal for Palace Square based around the his final version of the Winter Palace. Work began in 1766 – it became the version of the palace we know today, and lent its name to the square.

Following the defeat of Napoleon's forces by the Russian army in 1812, a Triumphal Arch was erected. Facing the square, the arch had relief decoration showing crowns and military insignia. At its top, it was crowned with a chariot, driven by Nike – the goddess of victory.

At the centre of Palace Square today is the Alexander Column – erected to celebrate victory over Napoleon in 1812. As it was being erected, many locals in St. Petersburg had their doubts that it would stand up by its own weight alone. To quell their fears, architect Auguste Montferrand paraded up and down in front of the column every day for the rest of his life – to prove the safety of the structure.

What to see

  • The main attractions would include the Winter Palace and its State Hermitage Museum collections; the Alexander Column; and the Triumphal Arch. If travelling from afar, it would be worth checking on official city tourism sites about official events which might close Palace Square to visitors on certain days. On the other hand, you might have the opportunity to take part in a magnificent event.
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