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What would Peter the Great have thought about 21st century St. Petersburg


Yuriy Sherbakov, reporter: “Interesting – if Peter the Great found himself in the 21st century, what landmarks the Emperor would have visited? And, most importantly, what would he have said about his beloved creation? Well, in order to understand that we have to think like he did – or, at least, look like him. Keeping the moustache intact, surely!”


The main residence of the Emperor, cozy Mikhailovskiy and Letniy gardens, the Admiralty building – all a must. That’s on one side of the Neva. On the other – Academy of Arts, the Governor’s Palace, Academy of Sciences, State University, Russia’s first museum, Stock Exchange – and all those were built while Peter the Great reigned. 

The famous English tale “The house that Jack built” comes to mind. Well, St. Petersburg is the house that Peter built!

Many tried to dissuade the Tsar – but he cared little about what others thought. It was meant that guests would come to St. Petersburg and be impressed by the “facades of the glorious Empire, facing the river”. And he had to put up some fight to make these views possible.

Before the battle of Poltava, no one really considered the Russian Empire as serious rival. Especially since the neighbouring Swedes seemed invincible thanks to their naval fleet. But after that battle everything changed radically. To mark that victory, Peter built the “Poltava”. 

The huge Tsar of a huge country, Peter never spared money for the army and the navy. And it proved to be the right move. The victorious history of the Russian Navy begins with Peter.
I cannot imagine how Peter traversed on his “Poltava” – being over two meters in height. I have to crouch all the time, and im merely 1.78m.

The “Poltava” of 1712 did not have such an attachment. Today it’s a requirement of the Naval Registrar. But we were assured that by the time of the project’s completion, all these iron bolts and gears will be closed off by wooden covers. 

What a beauty! Three masts! All like it was in 1712 – the very same “Poltava”. Or is it? Hello, Mikhail! 
Yes, it’s almost the same. There are not many documents left – but we uncovered all we could. All possible entries. We tried to use the drawings of similar ships. And we have recreated this based on those historic documents.

The base of the ship is made of oak – just like the original. 54 cannons – from long shots of 6 feet to devastating 18-footers. The latter were used in close combats and during sieges. The “Poltava” could frighten an enemy only with its mighty outlook. 

When are we going to raise the sails and hit the open sea?
I hope that will happen during the next navigation season – in May next year.

Going out into the sea depends on obtaining a special permit from the Naval Registrar. But the more likely scenario is that the «Poltava» becomes a floating museum - permanently parked. Peter the Great - who was always hungry for battle - would’ve never allowed that!
Mikhail, construction worker at the «Poltava»: «He had what we would call vision. On what he would change, the way he saw the world and our country. And he spent his entire life making sure this vision becomes reality».

“From here we will show our might to the Swedes!” Although you can’t even see Sweden from here - only somewhere beyond the horizon. By “Swedes” Peter meant the Kingdom of Sweden, which included what are now Baltic and Scandinavian states. In the 21st century you can get there on comfortable cruise ship. And here’s the sea port..empty. Maybe the ships went out to “show the might to the Swedes”. But the one thing which Peter would’ve almost definitely liked is the project realised by his descendants - the gigantic bridge, connecting two parts of his beloved city.
Peter the Great depicted in motion with a cane in his hand, Peter the carpenter, Peter the horseman...There is a vast variety of monuments to Peter the Great. But its interesting how the Russian Emperor would’ve reacted if he saw Mikhail Shemyakin’s work. Hard to say how - but Mikhail Mikhailovich should better stay in Paris for a bit longer!

- Please tell me - as a historian to a journalist - why is Peter still so popular, even almost three hundred fifty years on?

Borislav Bogoyavlenskiy,historian:
“You know, sometimes we cant even explain why things are popular. He stormed into our lives like a meteor, like a bright rocket. Gave us an excellent city and did a lot of good things”.

You want to know where Sweden is - look at the Bronze Horseman. It is believed that the hand of Peter was pointing at Russia’s biggest foe at that time - Sweden. In their turn, there is a monument in Stockholm to Karl XII - who points towards St. Petersburg. Its one of the versions. But there are others. For instance, that Peter is calming the wild waters with his right hand. Here they are - literally 50 meters away. The river, locked between the granite banks. And Peter’s great city behind him!

- If Peter found himself in the 21st century, he would have almost certainly paid a visit to one of the trendy barbershops. Look here - men’s haircut. Beard and moustache - exactly what we need! 600 rubles! So now we have to pay to have your beard trimmed. But in Peter’s time, wearing a beard entailed a fine. And at times beards were forcefully chopped off. Wicked times!
- If the real Peter the Great came to a barbershop today, you think he would’ve taken scissors or an axe and chopped beards off?

Dmitriy Kadrov,barber:
“I think if he learnt that it was trendy nowadays and that it came from Europe - maybe not”

“Drunks and mess everywhere. The Tsar shouts in disgust - what have i done? Why did i create this city?”. According to “Kadr” newspaper editor Yuriy Schlipenbach, this is how Peter the Great would’ve summarised his walks in the 1970s Leningrad. Sergey Dovlatov acted as the Emperor. But i doubt that the Tsar would’ve said that. After all, he was more of a man of action - rather than words.