The following itinerary lists a range of key sights which we plan to visit. The daily schedule is flexible as we need to work around the performance times. There is also a great deal of restoration work being carried out throughout Russia and sites may close without warning. You may expect that the daily activities described in this itinerary be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate alterations in opening hours, special exhibitions and flight schedules. In exceptional cases, some planned visits may be changed. Meals included in the program have been indicated as: B=breakfast, L=lunch and D=evening meal. Lunches and dinners included in the tour price will mostly be in Russian style restaurants and consist of 3 to 4 courses.
Moscow - 7 nights
Day 1: Sunday 30 June, Arrive Moscow
- Optional Evening orientation walk
Participants taking the ASA ‘designated’ flight from Australia will arrive in Moscow in the evening and will transfer directly to the Hotel Peter I. If you are travelling independently to Moscow, ASA can arrange a private transfer for you, or you should take an officially marked taxi to the hotel. In the early evening John will lead a short orientation walk in the area of the hotel. (Overnight Moscow)
Day 2: Monday 1 July, Moscow
- Red Square
- St. Basil’s Cathedral
- Novodevichy Convent & Cemetery
- Welcome Evening Meal
This morning we visit Red Square and the cathedral of St Basil. We explore the general layout and physical development of Red Square and its important place in the history of Russia, its function as a grand parade ground, and its meaning as a symbol of Tsarist and then Soviet power. At one end of this great urban space is the Cathedral of St Basil, Ivan the Terrible’s 16th century masterpiece and coronation church of Russia’s tsars and emperors. This church was constructed in brick by Italian masters. Its great central spire is a translation into brick of the spires to be seen on earlier wooden churches in Russia. St Basil also has a strictly symmetrical plan, but this is disguised by the extraordinary variety of its coloured, patterned domes that make the building seem asymmetrical and almost capricious. On another flank of Red Square, opposite the Kremlin, we shall also visit the new emporia that have been opened in the 19th century arcades encompassing the Red Square.
After lunch we visit the Novodevichy Monastery, once a convent for noblewomen, which was founded by Grand Prince Vasili III in 1524 to commemorate his victory at Smolensk in 1514. The monastery is, in fact, a fortress that, like other monasteries surrounding Moscow, was integral to the city’s defence system. We shall tour the monastery to see such monuments as the Sobor Smolensk Bogomateri or Cathedral of the Virgin of Smolensk, with a distinctive bell tower dating from 1690. The cathedral itself was built in 1525 and contains 16th-century frescoes, as well as a magnificent late 17th-century iconostasis. There is also a convent that was a place of exile for noblewomen who were either in mourning or in disfavour, including Sophia, Peter the Great’s sister, who instigated a coup against him from here in 1698. The waters that flank the brilliant white and red walls and sparkling domes of this beautiful complex are said to have inspired Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. We shall also visit the Novodevichy Cemetery where many famous Russians are buried, among them Chekhov, Gogol, Prokofiev, Skriabin and Shostakovich.
We will finish the day with a welcome dinner at a local restaurant. (Overnight Moscow) BD
Day 3: Tuesday 2 July, Moscow
- Cathedrals and Palaces of the Kremlin
- Armoury Museum, Kremlin
- State Diamond Fund
- Late lunch at ‘Kormcha’ Restaurant
Moscow was founded in 1147 by Suzdal’s Prince Yury Dolgoruky. It became Russia’s capital in the 15th century, lost this status in 1712 to St Petersburg, and then regained it in 1918 after the Bolshevik Revolution. Whereas St Petersburg is an ideal city of a particular epoch, in Moscow’s Kremlin we encounter art and architecture from a number of periods. This 90-acre brick fortress, constructed for the tsars by Italian master builders, encloses four cathedrals (Cathedral of the Assumption; Cathedral of the Twelve Apostles; Cathedral of the Archangel Michael; Cathedral of the Annunciation), and the Church of the Deposition of the Robe. Since the 15th century, the Kremlin has stood for the centralisation of power in Tsarist and Soviet Russia. It’s complex of churches and palaces speaks of the autocratic fusion of church and state in which even the aristocracy was ‘enslaved’ to the tsar. In Soviet times, and especially during the Cold War, the Kremlin gained a special meaning in the West as a place of secretive rule, but this was true also of the Tsarist period, when all power was concentrated here.
We shall start our program with a visit to the Armoury Museum, the oldest and one of the richest museums in Russia. This was once the treasury of the Russian State. Here we shall see the sumptuous gold and silver collection accumulated by the tsars, which includes Russian and European masterpieces from the 12th century to the 20th century, and Russian and European arms and armour. Of particular importance is the priceless Fabergé collection that is a highlight of our visit.
After exploring the collection of crowns and thrones, dress harnesses and the important carriage collection, we shall be taken on a specially arranged tour of the State Diamond Fund. The Diamond Fund is a collection of gems and jewellery dating back to the Russian Crown treasury instituted by emperor Peter I of Russia in 1719. Originally located in Moscow, the collection was moved to the Diamond Chamber in the Winter Palace, St Petersburg. All succeeding monarchs added their contributions to the Chamber; a 1922 study by Alexander Fersman identified that 85% of the exhibits belonged to the period from Peter the Great to Nicholas I (1719-1855), while 15% were added by the last three emperors. The preservation, sales and looting of imperial treasures after the Russian Revolution of 1917 is a matter of controversy and speculation. The collection was moved from Saint Petersburg to Moscow during World War I and the Soviet Diamond Fund was officially established in 1922. The treasure was first exhibited to the public in November 1967. Originally a short-term show, in 1968 it became a permanent exhibition.
We shall explore the gorgeous fresco cycles and icon collections of the Cathedral of the Archangel and the Cathedral of the Assumption and you will be introduced to the rituals that took place in these beautiful churches. We will also visit the Patriarch’s Palace and be shown Ivan the Great’s Belltower, the Tsar Bell and the Tsar Cannon. After our visit to the Kremlin we shall walk to the nearby ‘Kormcha’ restaurant for a late lunch (2.30pm). The rest of the afternoon is at leisure. Please note that refreshment facilities are not available within the Kremlin complex. (Overnight Moscow) BL
Day 4: Wednesday 3 July, Moscow
- Old Tretyakov Gallery
- Moskva River Cruise
Today we visit the Old Tretyakov Gallery, which boasts the finest collection of icons in Russia. It includes extremely rare works of the Kiev School (including a famous mosaic of St Demetrius of Thessalonika), the Byzantine School (including a 12th century Byzantine image, the Virgin of Vladimir, originally deemed to have been painted by St Luke), and works from the School of Vladimir-Suzdal’, the Pskov School, the Novgorod School (including the famous Ustyug Annunciation, St George, Last Judgement, etc.) and the Moscow School. This wonderful collection gives an excellent overview of the development of the art of the icon painter that followed the adoption of Byzantine religious culture by Russians. You will also become aware of the fact that, despite stylistic differences, icon painting in Russia has demonstrated an extraordinary continuity and unity of theme and treatment over the centuries. This is due to its liturgical meaning and artists’ adherence for centuries to handbooks giving very exact rules for representation. You will also, however, be struck by the gorgeous, rich colours of these paintings, with a Byzantine love of luminous, lustrous courtly and ecclesiastical ritual. This appeal to the senses fell on fertile ground in Russia, and, arguably, faint echoes of it can be felt in the Romantic ‘colourism’ of Russian 19th century orchestral music.
In the late afternoon we will then take a cruise along the Moskva River, past many of the city’s greatest monuments. This grand river offers famous vistas of the powerful Kremlin walls above which protrude the lustrous domes of its cathedrals. (Overnight Moscow) B
Day 5: Thursday 4 July, Moscow
- Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
- Pushkin Museum & Museum of Private Collections
- Evening performance at the Bolshoi Theatre (subject to performance schedule)
This morning we shall take the metro to visit the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is a huge structure that was initiated by Tsar Alexander I to celebrate the Russian defeat of Napoleon in 1812. The building was finally inaugurated in 1860 and showcased the work of the country’s finest painters, mosaicists and stonemasons. The life of the cathedral was short, for in 1931 the site was chosen by Stalin as the location of the monumental Palace of the Soviets. The beautiful church was razed. The monument’s rich building materials were salvaged for use in the elaborate decorations of the Moscow metro stations and the foundations were dug for the massive new building. However, due to flooding from the Moskva River and the outbreak of World War II the project was never completed. Under Nikita Khrushchev the flooded foundations were transformed into the world’s largest open-air swimming pool, called the Moskva Pool. In 1990, following the end of Soviet rule, the Russian Orthodox church applied for permission to rebuild its church. Work on the new cathedral commenced in 1994 and the massive, faithfully reconstructed church was consecrated in 2000, funding having been provided by private citizens.
Nearby is the Pushkin Museum, Russia’s second most important European art museum after the Hermitage. This collection is similar to that of the Hermitage, with Classical and Oriental antiquities, Italian, Spanish, Flemish, German, Dutch, French and English art from the 14th to the 18th centuries, and a fine collection of Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. Of particular note is the Matisse Room with three masterpieces from his Morocco series. We shall end the day’s activities within the museum so that you may stay on to explore more of its collection.
After some time at leisure at the hotel, this evening we walk the short distance to the Bolshoi Theatre where we shall attend a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s grand opera La Traviata, presented on the theatre’s beautifully restored Historic Stage. (Overnight Moscow) BL
Day 6: Friday 5 July, Moscow – Sergiev Posad – Abramtsevo – Moscow
- Trinity Lavra of St Sergius, Sergiev Posad
- Abramtsevo Artist Colony
Today we drive to Sergiev Posad. The Trinity Lavra (monastery) of St Sergius at Sergiev Posad was founded in 1345 and rebuilt after the Mongol invasions of the following century. It became increasingly important, gaining the status of lavra in 1744. We shall visit the monastery to study its unique, architecture. Its founder, the most significant church figure of the 14th century, was not a metropolitan but a humble monk, Sergy of Radonezh (1314-92). Around his hermitage, in the wilds 70km north-east of Moscow at the place subsequently named after him, was to develop one of the greatest of Russian monasteries, dedicated to the Holy Trinity (and eventually also to its saintly founder).
After lunch we drive the short distance to the nearby village of Abramtsevo where we tour a fascinating artists colony, established in the late 19th century as part of the Slavophile Movement that celebrated Russia’s rich folk traditions in art, literature and music. After touring the complex we shall return to Moscow where dinner will be served at the hotel. (Overnight Moscow) BLD
Day 7: Saturday 6 July, Moscow
- Lenin’s Mausoleum
- House of the Romanov Boyars
- Underground Command Post Tagansky
It is now over two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, so that this era that coloured our childhoods and youth, has now entered history (a past clearly separate from the present). Today we explore 20th-century Soviet history. We shall start the day by paying homage to one of the men who made 20th-century history. We shall visit the Lenin mausoleum not only to see what is left of this great revolutionary, but to derive a sense of what the Bolshevik Revolution and its heroes means to modern Russians.
Close to Red Square is the very interesting House of the Romanov Boyars, an unusual historic building believed to be the birthplace of the Mikhail Romanov, the first tsar of the Romanov dynasty, in 1596. Romanovs moved to lived in the kremlin once they had assumed the crown, but Nicholas I restored the old Boyar palace and opened it to the public. Scheduled to reopen in 2018 after an extensive restoration, visitors can gain an insight in to lives of Russian nobility during the 16th and 17th centuries.
We finish the day with a visit to a fascinating Soviet-era site, the Underground Command Post Tagansky. Built in 1951, this super-secret bunker served as the command post, the main artery of communication for the Soviet Union in the event of a nuclear war. It was built to withstand direct hits and insure that normal telecommunications would continue to function in the worst-case scenario. We enter from a nondescript building near the Taganskaya metro station. Upon passing this well-disguised entrance you are issued an identity card with a picture of yourself in a gas mask. We pass by a 6 ton concrete door which slides open to reveal a small set of stairs which we descend. After 22 flights of stairs (those not wishing to walk may can take the elevator) we reach the command centre. Here soldiers run a Geiger counter over each of us us to test if we are contaminated with radiation. The bunker we have now entered is essentially a network of tunnels, totalling 7,000 square meters. In these tunnels 2,500 members of a survivor community could live and work. The bunker supplied everything they needed, including sleeping quarters, a canteen and bathing facilities. There was also a stockpile of food. You will be able to develop a vivid understanding of Cold War paranoia in Russia, the counterpart to much of the Western propaganda with which many of us grew up. The presentation is personable and not without flashes of typical Russian black humour. (Overnight Moscow) BL
Overnight Train: Moscow to Novgorod
Day 8: Sunday 7 July, Moscow – Novgorod
- Leo Tolstoy’s home
- New Tretyakov Gallery
- Dinner at Leningradskaya Hilton Hotel
We start today with a visit to Leo Tolstoy’s home, which became a museum in 1928. The interior of the house, in which Tolstoy lived for most of his life, is as it was in 1910. The great writer produced most of his wonderful literary works here. The original furnishings, works of art, and the library that belonged to the writer’s family, provide an extraordinary, vivid introduction to Tolstoy’s life and social and intellectual ambience.
The State Tretyakov at 10 Krymsky Val, commonly known as the New Tretyakov Gallery or Central House of Artists, is a vast collection of 20th and 21st century Russian art. In addition to Soviet Realist art, the gallery showcases Russian avant-garde artists such as Malevich, Kandinsky, Chagall, Goncharova and Popova, the modernists and the post-modernists.
We then drive to the Leningradskaya Hilton Hotel that is housed in one of Stalin’s ‘Seven Sisters’ buildings. Before sitting down to a group dinner, we will be taken on a short tour of some of the public areas of the hotel (subject to final confirmation), giving us a glimpse of the grand monumentality of Stalinist Empire Style architecture and interior design.
After dinner we shall proceed to Leningradsky station to take the overnight train to Novgorod. (Overnight Train Moscow – Novgorod) BLD
Novgorod - 1 night
Day 9: Monday 8 July, Novgorov
- Open Air Museum of Wooden Architecture
- Yuriev Monastery & Cathedral of St George (exterior only)
- Kremlin & St Sophia Church
- Yaroslav’s Court
- Icon Exhibition and Archaeology Museum
Early this morning we arrive in Novgorod and shall transfer to our hotel where we will check-in to our rooms and freshen up before having breakfast. At 9.00am we shall commence our visit of Novgorod. Novgorod (literally ‘New Town’) was founded in the 9th century by Norsemen who established the embryonic Russian state. By the 12th century the city, called ‘Lord Novgorod the Great’, was Russia’s biggest. Independent of Kiev, this quasidemocracy whose princes were hired and fired by a citizens’ assembly, had a strong, simple style of church architecture, icon-painting and folk music. Spared by the Mongols, Novgorod suffered at the hands of Moscow. Ivan III of Moscow attacked and annexed it in 1477, and Ivan the Terrible razed the city and slaughtered at least 27,000 people for conspiring with the Swedes. The founding of St Petersburg in 1703 marked Novgorod’s eclipse as a trading city. Today, it is a regional centre (pop. 190,000) with one of Russia’s best-preserved medieval kremlins and some outstanding religious and secular architecture from the 11th to 19th centuries.
We begin, this morning, by driving a short distance out of the city to the Open Air Museum of Wooden Architecture, where interesting examples of historic wooden churches and domestic architecture from the region have been collected. We shall see the nearby 12th century Yuriev Monastery and the Cathedral of St George. We shall then return to the city centre. Across the Volkhov River from Novgorod’s old Kremlin is Yaroslav’s Court. This area comprises two blocks of architectural remnants as well as several surviving buildings. Here we shall explore the remains of old Novgorod’s market, an array of churches sponsored by the 13th to 16th century merchant guilds, a ‘road palace’ built in the 18th century as a rest stop for Catherine the Great, and the court Cathedral of St Nicholas (1136).
After lunch we shall explore the Kremlin, with a visit to the Cathedral of St Sophia, (1050), one of the oldest buildings in Russia. Its west doors, captured from the Swedes, have fascinating cast-bronze biblical scenes. The icons within date back to the 14th century. Should we wish, we can attend part of a service at St Sophia. Adjoining the cathedral is the 15th century belfry and 17th century clock tower. We shall visit Novgorod’s excellent museum, housed in the Gothic Chamber of facets with fine Novgorod icons and other treasures. You will be able to distinguish the characteristic features of the Novgorod icon school in the museum’s collection. We shall also see the bronze Millennium of Russia Monument, unveiled in 1862 to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of Prince Riurik’s arrival here. Dinner will be at the hotel. (Overnight Novgorod) BD
St Petersburg - 6 nights
Day 10: Tuesday 9 July, Novgorod – Peterhof – St Petersburg
- Leningrad Siege Memorial
- Museum of the Defence and Siege of Leningrad (time permitting)
We drive north today to St Petersburg via the grand country residence at Petrodvorets (Peterhof), which looks out on the Gulf of Finland. On the outskirts of St Petersburg we pass the moving memorial to the Siege of Leningrad during World War II, when the Germans invested the city for nine hundred days. Thousands died in this most dreadful episode of the war, and of Russian history. If time permits we will visit the Museum of the Defence and Siege of Leningrad which has exhibitions not only of the military aspect of the siege, but also tells the tale of the civilians caught in the city and their struggle for survival. Exhibits include an example of the daily bread ration (125 grams for a civil servant and his family), diaries, clothing and other personal belongings of those who survived the siege and those who did not.
Peterhof (1711-1714) is located in the area of the German lines during the siege of Leningrad. It had been the summer residence of Peter the Great but was greatly expanded by Rastrelli, the Italian architect of the Hermitage and Pushkin. Peterhof is surrounded by some of the most magnificent gardens in Russia. Of particular importance is the Lower Garden, the centrepiece of which is the Grand Cascade that is mounted by gold statues. We shall not tour the interior of the Rastrelli palace, for we shall be touring the magnificent palaces at Pushkin and Pavlovsk, but rather visit Peterhof’s jewel, Monplaisir, the charming small summer palace in Peterhof’s grounds, that Peter the Great designed by and for himself. Monplaisir which, true to Peter’s taste offered a mixture of grandeur and homely comfort, was completed by 1723. It became the Emperor’s preferred retreat, where he entertained only his closest friends and advisors. Its rooms are almost entirely panelled in oak, and contain an interesting collection of 17th century art, much of which comes from Peter’s own collection. Among the highlights is the delightful Lacquered Gallery, the creation of which required Russian icon-painters to spend months studying Chinese lacquering. The result is an extraordinary mixture of black, gold and red panels with a distinctly Russian accent. The Assembly Hall, which was the main reception room, used for riotous banquets in Peter’s time, is decorated with latticed panels representing Africa, America, and Asia, and intricate rococo coving.
After our visit we then board a hydrofoil and travel to St Petersburg where we shall stay for the final six nights of our program. (Overnight St Petersburg) BD
Day 11: Wednesday 10 July, St Petersburg
- Hermitage including the Golden Room’s Special Collection
- Canal & River Cruise
Today we begin our visit to the Hermitage with the palatial areas of the complex and consider the state rooms in relation to the history of the Romanovs and their opulent court life. The ground floor holds collections on Primitive Culture and Art, Culture and Art of the Soviet East, and Oriental Culture and Art. On the first floor are the magnificent State Apartments, the most important interiors of the Winter Palace, and British and German Art. On the second floor are the superb Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and School of Paris collections.
We shall also make a visit (by appointment) to the Golden Room Special Collection with its focus, the extraordinary collection of Scythian and Greek gold and silver from the Caucasus, Crimea and Ukraine, one of the greatest collections of art from the 7th- to the 2nd century BC.
Following our visit to the Golden Room, we will spend some time in the Small Hermitage, which holds beautiful apartments and the personal collection of Peter the Great, as well as West European Applied Art (11th -15th centuries), Early Netherlandish Art, and Romanov Portraits. We also visit the Large Hermitage, which houses Classical Antiquities, the Italian Schools (13th- 18th centuries), Flemish and Dutch paintings (15th-18th centuries), and masterpieces of the Spanish School (16th-18th centuries). After a formal tour of the palaces and key parts of the collections, you will have ample time to explore sections of particular personal interest.
The afternoon ends with a cruise on the Neva and along a number of St Petersburg’s canals. This cruise will give you a vivid understanding of the way in which the city was constructed on delta marshes, leaving a set of rings of canals along which the aristocracy built its palaces. The canals give probably the best viewpoint for the lovely coloured Baroque and Neo-Classical façades of these palaces, whose visual and spatial relation to the water-ways upon which they are located was inspired by Amsterdam’s canal-side houses. (Overnight St Petersburg) B
Day 12: Thursday 11 July, St Petersburg
- St Nicholas Cathedral
- ‘Bronze Horseman’ statue
- Morning Tea at the Zinger Cafe
- St Isaacs Cathedral
- Peter-Paul Fortress, Zayachy Island
- Back-stage tour of the Mariinsky Theatre
St Petersburg is one of the youngest capitals in Europe, founded by Peter the Great in 1703 after the Great Northern War with Sweden. Its monumental centre is one of the great urbanistic ensembles of the world, and one of its most explicit expressions of power in architecture. The city incorporates grand prospects flanked by majestic Baroque and Neo-Classical buildings, a number of which house major museums.
The naval cathedral of St Nicholas is topped with golden Baroque domes and was one of the very few churches that remained open throughout the Soviet era. We shall also see the wonderful statue of Peter the Great, known to locals and foreigners alike as the Bronze Horseman. Commissioned by Catherine the Great as a move to associate herself with this great tsar and the city’s founder, this masterful work by Étienne Maurice Falconet shows Peter the Great astride his rampant horse atop a stone pediment, a conqueror, leader and visionary.
We shall walk along the Neva Quay and passed the Admiralty building to the historic literary Zinger Cafe on Nevsky Prospekt for a refreshing morning tea, before visiting one of the city’s iconic buildings. A. Montferrand’s huge St Isaacs Cathedral (1858) is one of the finest architectural monuments of the 19th century and was formerly the principal cathedral of the Russian capital. It is a vast, centrally-planned Neo-Classical structure, topped by a huge gold dome and able to accommodate about ten thousand worshippers. The interior of the dome is particularly spectacular. The cathedral’s huge size can be gauged from some statistics. It has 112 solid granite columns weighing up to 114 tons each, and about 400 reliefs and bronze sculptures. The observation platform on the drum colonnade provides a magnificent view of the city.
The Peter-Paul Fortress on Zayachy Island was inaugurated by Peter the Great in 1703 and completed in 1723. It comprises fortifications made up of curtain walls between projecting bastions. Within these fortifications was built the Cathedral of SS Peter and Paul (1712-32). There are also the Grand-Ducal Mausoleum; the Peter Gate; a triumphal arch built by Domenico Trezzini (1717-1718); the Engineers’ Building (now the Museum of St Petersburg Architecture); the Commandant’s House (now the Museum of the History of St Petersburg); the Mint (1798-1806); and the Trubetskoy Bastion, now housing a museum that reconstructs the conditions under which political prisoners were incarcerated. The Cathedral has little in common with centrally-planned Russian churches. Surmounted by a tall spire possibly modelled upon that of Copenhagen’s Exchange, it has an orientated plan with a nave and chancel like a western European church. Within are to be found the Imperial tombs (including that of Peter the Great), a Baroque iconostasis, pulpit and the tsar’s throne. The Grand-Ducal Mausoleum adjacent, houses a museum of the island.
In the late afternoon we shall have a special backstage tour of the famous Mariinsky Theatre. Built in 1860, and named after Alexander II’s wife, Empress Maria Alexandrovna, this magnificent theatre, the most important theatre of 19th century Russia, saw premieres of works by the country’s greatest musicians, including Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. It is now the home of the Mariinsky Ballet, the Mariinsky Opera and the Mariinsky Orchestra. The theatre occupies a square that began as a centre for performances by trained horses that were particularly popular with the Romanov court. Catherine the Great established the Imperial ballet and opera theatre in an earlier building (1783). The present building, which has been carefully restored a number of times, has one of the most magnificent interiors in Europe. Its grand curtain is particularly famous. We conclude our day with a lively and fun folk performance at the Nikolaevsky Palace. This famous show highlights the athleticism, dynamism and clever choreography of several folk dancing troops. (Overnight St Petersburg) BL
Day 13: Friday 12 July, St Petersburg
- Tikhvin Cemetery
- Yusupov Palace
- Church of the Spilled Blood/Saviour on the Blood (of the Resurrection)
- Evening performance at the Mariinsky Theatre (subject to performance schedule)
This morning we drive to the Tikhvin Cemetery at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, founded by Peter the Great on the mistaken belief that Alexander of Novgorod had defeated the Swedes in this location in 1240. Here many of Russia’s most famous artists, writers and musicians are buried: these include Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, Borodin and Glinka.
We then drive we drive to the Yusupov Palace that occupies a quiet stretch of the Moika River. The palace has some of the finest, most sumptuous interiors of the city. It was once the residence of the wealthy and respected Yusupov family and saw one of the most dramatic episodes in Russia’s history, the murder of Grigory Rasputin. In 1916 a group of the city’s aristocratic élite that included one of the Grand Dukes and was led by the prominent anglophile Prince Felix Yusupov conspired to kill the one man who they felt threatened the stability of an already war-torn Russian Empire. Grigory Rasputin, a peasant and self-proclaimed holy man, had gradually won favour with the Tsar’s family through his alleged supernatural powers. His control over the decisions of the family and over the Russian ruler allowed him potentially to manipulate the Tsar and to threaten the aristocracy’s power.
After lunchtime at leisure we visit the extraordinary Slavic revival Church of the Resurrection (1883-1907), built on the site of the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. This highly coloured revival of traditional Russian ecclesiastical architecture stands in stark contrast to the Neo-Classicism of the period of Catherine the Great. Within, the walls are covered with brilliant mosaics.
This evening we attend a performance of Frederick Ashton’s charming ballet La Fille Mal Garde at the historic Mikhailovsky Theatre. Founded in 1833 this is one of Russia’s oldest opera and ballet theatres. (Overnight St Petersburg) B
Day 14: Saturday 13 July, St Petersburg – Tsarskoye Selo – Pavlovsk – St Petersburg
- Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin)
- Neo-Classical Great Palace at Pavlovsk
We depart St Petersburg to visit two grand summer palaces outside St Petersburg – the Catherine Palace by the architect Rastrelli at Tsarskoye Selo, and the Neo-Classical Great Palace at Pavlovsk. Pushkin was originally called Tsarskoye Selo (Royal Village) when Catherine, wife of Peter the Great, to whom the site was given, was elevated to the position of tsaritsa. The present Baroque Catherine Palace and its magnificent park were built for Empress Elizabeth (1741-1761) and Catherine II (1762-1796). Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli, Russia’s greatest 18th-century architect, designed the sections constructed between 1752 and 1756; the interior was much altered by the Scottish architect, Charles Cameron. We shall tour the magnificent complex before taking time at leisure to wander through the extensive park, with its Great Pond, Chinese Theatre, Chinese Pavilion, Chinese Village, Turkish Bath, and other wonderful examples of 18th century park monuments.
In the afternoon we shall visit the Grand Palace at Pavlovsk, built by Charles Cameron between 1782 and 1786 for Catherine the Great, who presented it to her son Grand Duke Paul (Pavel, hence Pavlovsk, ‘Pavel’s place’). Cameron designed the palace in the classical style, and also laid out its extensive park, a splendid example of 18th and 19th century landscape architecture, which we shall stroll through after visiting the palace. (Overnight St Petersburg) BL
Day 15: Sunday 14 July, St Petersburg
- Russian Museum
- Evening Farewell Meal at the ‘Empire’ Restaurant
This morning we shall visit the Russian Museum, housed in the magnificent Mikhailovsky Palace, which is one of the country’s two greatest museums of Russian art. Founded by Nicholas II in 1895, the museum has sections devoted to Russian icons and 18th, 19th and 20th century history, landscape, portrait and modernist painting. Its great history paintings give fascinating insights into how Russians rediscovered their own history after a century of focus upon Western Europe. The museum also has some fine early modernist works, especially of Kandinsky.
The rest of the afternoon is at leisure. Your may choose to return to the Hermitage to explore further this magnificent palace and art collection. Alternatively you may choose to take the time to stroll along the Nevsky Prospekt, enjoying the commercial bustle of this reinvigorated city. In the evening we meet up for a farewell dinner at the local ‘Empire’ restaurant. (Overnight St Petersburg) BD
Day 16: Monday 15 July, Depart St Petersburg
- Airport transfer for participants departing on the ASA ‘designated’ flight
Our tour ends in St Petersburg. Passengers travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight will transfer to the airport for the return flight to Australia. Alternatively you may wish to extend your stay in Russia. Please contact ASA if you require further assistance. B