Friday, March 8, 2013

The Grandeur of St Petersburg

While in St Petersburg, I was exposed to a lot of new and exciting art, architecture, and culture. The most exquisite example of all of these was the Hermitage and the Winter Palace. By far, it was the most exquisite and decadent building and collection that I have ever been exposed to in any way. There was gold lacquer and giant chandeliers. There was a small throne room for less important people and every day visits and another giant throne room for foreign dignitaries. Just the staircase when I first walked in was grander than anything I have ever seen. This grandeur accompanied with the frequency of palaces seen within St Petersburg is extremely telling about the Imperial project.
    Peter the Great created many important reforms, but he also wreaked a lot of havoc. By insisting that St Petersburg be created virtually in the middle of a swamp, he ensured that a million forced laborers would eventually die. The idea that Peter could just decide that there would be a city in such a location represents the immense power he had. It also puts the grandeur into perspective. Yes, the city is breathtaking and amazing, but at what was the cost of making that happen? The Imperial project is all about power and all about facades. Many people hated St Petersburg. They dislike the climate immensely and they especially disliked how Peter tried to force Western culture on them in the way of fashion and dances. But the moved to Petersburg for a reason. They did not like Peter, they simply wanted to follow the power. These great palaces are merely show. They were meant to represent Russia to foreigners as cultured and worth investing in. But by looking and literature of the great Russian writers we see how this is nothing but a facade. In Dostoevsky and in Pushkin, characters go mad. They go insane. The city is nothing but unnatural to them and it leads them to commit horrible acts and into madness. They rove the streets and readers can see the signs of extreme poverty. This poverty was prevalent and yet, the Tzars continued to ignore them. They continued to build amazing things and to purchase the huge collection of art that has become the Hermitage. This facade is still seen today. These museums and cathedrals are amazing but if looked at closer, there in a state of disrepair. There is scaffolding on many of them and huge chunks of walls and columns are crumbling. Madness is also hidden. At one point our tour guide said that Russians do not get depressed like Americans do. This is obviously untrue. It is not that there is no madness, but rather that it does not fit into the facade still seen. The same goes for handicapped people. There is not a lot of easy access or disability ramps. The handicapped are hidden away and not discussed. Petersburg is a beautiful place but it also tries to hide the not so beautiful things: poverty, madness, and anything that does not fit into the facade that Peter, the Romanoffs, and today’s government enforces.

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