From Russia With Love – BRIC 2015’s First Week in St. Petersburg
Post by: Julianne Carlin (’17) and Josuel Plasencia (’17)
Each week, two students from this year’s BRIC cohort- BRIC 7-will share an update from their travels. This week, Julianne Carlin (’17) and Josuel Plasencia (’17) describe their experiences in the first week of the Russia portion of the program. Specifically, having the city as their classroom and an inside look at St. Petersburg’s architectural style.
We have been in St. Petersburg for over a week now, and we are starting to get the hang of this amazing city. We have seen the sights, eaten a lot of amazing food (thanks to the very favorable exchange rate), and of course learned a lot. Some of our accomplishments of the week are picking up some basic Russian words and finding a place to do laundry.
The City is our Classroom (Julianne Carlin)
What is amazing about the BRIC program is how seamlessly the topics we are learning in the class blend into the excursions we do around St. Petersburg. One morning we were having a discussion about Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and in the afternoon we had a Dostoyevsky tour around St. Petersburg and seeing the streets he walked and the apartments he lived in. Another morning we were learning about the Russian Revolution and a couple hours later were at the Russian Political History Museum seeing artifacts from the revolution. On BRIC the city is your classroom. As long as you are open and observant you can learn a million things just walking down the street.
We are also so thankful that our professors made us learn the Russian alphabet. There are quite a few words we can actually read just be knowing the alphabet, such as pectopah (restaurant), takcи (taxi), and туалет (toilet). It was such an amazing feeling driving from the airport to our hotel and looking out the window and being able to read some signs and sound out words.
Architecture of St. Petersburg (Josuel Plasencia)
Even as soon as our first full day in St. Petersburg, we were soon introduced to the city streets, canals and historic sites. The city’s diverse structural foundation has influences that range from Russian, French to Italian (and more), speaking to it’s eurocentric origins and its amazing variety. The Winter and Summer Palace of St. Petersburg, illustrate the city’s close connection with western Europe, while having its own distinct style, often the combination of different styles in one construction.
Here is the Winter and Summer Palace of St. Petersburg. The Winter Palace is now part of the Hermitage Museum, which is one of the largest and most prestigious museums in the world, with art ranging from Micheal Angelo to Da Vinci. (All photos are from my Instagram account)
As we dig deeper into the city’s architecture, patterns and symbols are repeated and speak to the power represented in the Russian Empire, pre-soviet times (which is the time period, most of the city was built). Let’s dig deep into three trends, the neo-classical columns, gold and height.
Starting with neo-classical columns, as seen in the Parthenon. We ask ourselves, why would a greek temple from the Roman Empire be so relevant to St. Petersburg? The answer is Neo-Classic architecture. Neoclassical influences are found in all architectural styles of the city and are marked by the neoclassical columns that you find in the Parthenon and multiple buildings of influence during the 17th and 18th century. These same columns you find in government buildings of the United States (like the White House).
As for gold, it is very relevant in the construction of churches, palace’s and government buildings. The city did not shy from this bright statement, using gold for rooftops and often for entire installations (like church of the Winter Garden seen below).
In closing, the city’s architectures and its relationship with power is also signaled by height and size. Neoclassical influences did not build up, they built to their own capacities. This is why in St. Petersburg today, the tallest building remains the church in Paul and Peters fortress. This height limit is a city law that continues intact. This is much different from the architecture revolutions of skyscrapers, which is most connected to power (in the present day), found in the world’s mega-cities (Hong Kong, Dubai, New York for example). None the less, St. Petersburg’s commitment to European architecture, and consistency in influences, map out a city that wanted to make a statement and still does – in a way it’s a little bit of Rome, its a little bit of Athens (and other major European cities), yet it’s still it’s own.
These three respective pictures each represent three key aspects of St. Petersburg’s architecture. First, Neoclassical use of columns (as seen in the Russian Ethnography Museum), second, the use of gold (as seen in the church of the Winter Palace) and thirdly, size and height relationship among it’s buildings (as seen in Palace Square). (All photos are from my Instagram account)
Our BRIC cohort has been having an amazing time so far and is excited to see what the next three months have in store for us!
Julianne and Josuel
For more stories from the 2015 BRIC study abroad program, please click here.