The Alexander Column in Saint Petersburg
Address: Palace Square
How to get there: Metro station Nevsky Prospekt / Gostiny Dvor. Exit to Griboyedov Canal and walk along Nevsky Prospekt to the Admiralty. The column is opposite the Hermitage Museum, in the center of Palace Square. From metro: trolley buses 1, 7, 10, 11; buses 7, 10, 24, 187 to station “The State Hermitage.”
The Alexander Column is one of St. Petersburg’s most amazing monuments. Erected in honor of Napoleon’s conqueror, the pillar is made from a single piece of granite and is the tallest monument of its kind in the world. A true wonder of architecture and engineering, the monolithic shaft is not attached to the base but is kept in a vertical position by its own impressive weight.
The 45m-high column, crowned with an angel, stands in the very center of Palace Square. It is impossible today to imagine St. Petersburg without this monument, which has been a must-see ever since it was first erected. However, those admiring the laconism and simplicity of its design may not know that all the elements of the pillar have a symbolic value.
Each ornament of the column is meant to glorify Russian Emperor Alexander I for his greatest achievement – victory over Napoleon’s army. Thus, bronze bas-reliefs feature allegorical figures of Wisdom and Abundance, Justice and Mercy, Peace and Victory and even the rivers Neman and Vistula, associated with the events of the Patriotic War.
But the column is not only a tribute to Alexander I, it is also a symbol of the general triumph of good over evil. Its ornaments depict the armor of heroes who fought for Russia in different times. They include the shield of Prince Oleg (who is believed to have founded Russia’s progenitor, Kievan Rus), the helmet of the legendary figure of medieval Rus, the proclaimed Saint Alexander Nevsky and the chain mail of Russian folk hero and explorer of Siberia, Yermak.
Of course the main attraction is the angel on top of the column. Unfortunately, you can’t see it clearly from below, although it is worth a closer look. This statue, like the whole monument, has several layers of meaning. The angel, whose face is a rather realistic copy of Alexander I, is a tribute to the Emperor and Russian victories. However, the celestial being, trampling a snake with cross in hand, is also a symbol of light triumphing over darkness.
If, after all this, it is still not clear why the column attracts so many photographers and tourists, just fancy that this pillar, which looks lithe and airy from a distance, is actually a real leviathan weighing 600 tons. And – even more astonishing – it was erected in less than two hours at a time when no modern equipment existed.