St. Petersburg is built around a network of canals and rivers, with a total length of about 186 miles. They contribute to the city's unique atmosphere, creating a glittering mirror in which the golden domes and fairytale palaces of St. Petersburg are reflected. A cruise along the Moika and the Fontanka Rivers is another chance to appreciate the history and splendid architecture of this amazing city.
The area around the Moika River boasted a number of riverside mansions and was one of the city's most fashionable addresses. One such mansion on the Moika is the Yusupov Palace that belonged to one of the wealthiest families in Russia. It is famed as the murder scene of Rasputin, the Siberian peasant who exerted his malign influence over the Russian court. At the beginning, the bridges were usually known by their color: Red, Blue, Green. The Blue Bridge at 328 ft. wide is the widest in the city.
Your tour boat will continue on past St. Isaac Cathedral which was built in 1858. This is one of the largest churches in the world with a huge gilt dome. Over 220 lbs. of pure gold were used to gild it.
Number 64 along the Moika once belonged to the Demidov family, the rich industrialists and patrons of art. The famous English club moved here in 1830 and it became the favorite gambling club of St. Petersburg aristocracy. Pushkin, the eminent Russian poet, described the club in his novel "The Queen of Spades".
Further along the Moika is a group of yellow buildings that form the Teachers' Training University. At the time of Catherine the Great it used to house the orphanage instituted by the empress.
Next is the Stroganov Palace, a baroque masterpiece of Rastrelli. Count Stroganov who owned the palace in the late 18th century was the president of the Academy of Arts and a noted collector. The Stroganovs amassed their huge fortune through the monopoly they held on salt, which came from mines in their vast territories in the north.
Traveling on, your boat cruises under the Choir Bridge. It takes its name from the Choir Hall located nearby. Notice the lace-like patterning of the railings of the bridge. Next, you will navigate into the Fontanka or Fountain River. Its name goes back to the early 18th century when the water of the river used to feed the fountains of the Summer Gardens. On the right bank of the Fontanka stands the Summer Palace of Peter the Great.The Summer Gardens and the Summer Palace used to be the center of the city's social life. Further along on the left bank of the Fontanka is the former Law School; among its first graduates was Peter Tchaikovsky.
Next comes the "Salt Town" - a former warehouse for storing salt and vine, which used to be here in the 18th century. The present day building on the territory of the storehouse was put up in 1870 for All-Russia industrial exhibition. St. Panteleimon's Bridge across the Fontanka is Russia's first chain bridge. It is decorated with double-headed eagles perched on laurel wreaths. At this point, you'll turn back onto the Moika River where on the left side you'll see the Engineers' Castle built for Paul I. The castle originally had drawbridges and moats since Paul was afraid of assassination. Ironically, soon after moving in he was killed by a group of his own courtiers.
As your cruise draws to a close, final sites will be the Swan Canal which leads into the Neva. It is named after swans that were once drawn to its peaceful waters. The square on your right here is the Field of Mars which was once used as a military parade ground for Russian troops.
Following your canal cruise, you will pay a visit to one of the most beautiful churches in St. Petersburg - the Church of the Spilled Blood. This marvelous Old Russian-style church was built on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated on March 1, 1881. Built in 1883-1907, the church is designed in the spirit of the sixteenth and seventeenth century Russian architecture, inspired particularly by the St. Basil Cathedral in Moscow's Red Square. The best Russian painters, masters of stone carving, ceramic and enamel took part in the decoration of the Church. The construction of the church was almost entirely funded by the Imperial family and thousands of private donators. The church stands out for its complicated and picturesque outline, as well as its rich and multicolored decor. Both the interior and exterior of the church are decorated with an incredibly detailed and mind-boggling 75,000 square feet of mosaics. The mosaics were designed and created in Frolovs' workshop to the originals done by the most prominent Russian artists of the day: Vasnetsov, Nesterov, Riabushkin and Vrubel. These mosaics are far from being ordinary; their surfaces were left unpolished, so that they reflect sunlight, which impresses visitors to present day. Inside the Cathedral the very spot of the assassination is marked with a marble Shatrovy Cen, a monument to Alexander.
After the October Revolution of 1917 the church met the sad fate of most churches in the country: it was closed for services in the late 1920s, then briefly used for an exhibition of revolutionary propaganda and soon started to fall into decay, being deprived of adequate maintenance. Several times it was suggested that the church be torn down, for it stood as an "inappropriate" symbol of Christianity amidst the largely atheistic country. It is by a true miracle that the church was saved. In 1970 a long and careful restoration began, which has lasted for over 25 years. Since August 1997 guests of the city can once again see this jewel in the crown of St. Petersburg in its stunning beauty.
Please note: There are a significant number of steps to negotiate on the boat pier and dependent upon tidal rise and fall, there are times when guests may have to walk across duckboards to embark the boat. The tour is not available to wheelchair guests and may not be suitable for those with mobility concerns. Weather appropriate clothing; sun cap; sunglasses; and flat, comfortable walking shoes are recommended. The boat's route may vary due to technical reasons, e.g. high water level, bridge repairs etc. Due to security reasons, guests must remain seated when on the upper deck of of boat while passing under the bridges. Flash photo restrictions may apply in the Cathedral.