The first of these events was "Bloody Sunday," the catastrophe that initiated the Revolution of 1905. On the morning of Sunday, January 9, 1905, thousands of striking workers, including their wives and children, marched into the square to present a petition for relief to Nicholas II. They were met by soldiers, who began firing on the crowd almost immediately, killing hundreds (according to some accounts thousands) of the demonstrators. The causes of the massacre are disputed, particularly in light of the complicated political tensions in the government at the time. Some historians, for example, argue that both the demonstration and the military reaction were planned by the conservative secret police, who were alarmed by signs that the Tsar had decided upon reform. Whatever its cause, the effect of Bloody Sunday was clear--popular opposition to the Tsar was galvanized, and conservative reactionaries gained strength in the government.
In the wake of Bloody Sunday the country's politics became increasingly divisive, and genuine compromise and reform unlikely. Civil unrest broke out all over the country, and, with the disaster of the Russo-Japanese War, the government was forced to accede to popular demands for reform. It soon became clear, however, that Nicholas and his government had no intention of making good on this agreement. Popular discontent and radical political movements were harshly repressed. While these policies were successful for a time, the government's inept conduct during the First World War created an enormous surge of dissent. The critical turning point came in February of 1917, when the underfed, poorly led, and discontented army refused to act to put down strikes in Moscow and St. Petersburg and called for an end to the war. By March, Nicholas had no choice but to abdicate.
A provisional government assumed control under the leadership of the moderates, first Prince Lvov, then (in July) Aleksandr Kerensky. From its seat in the Winter Palace, the Kerensky government tried and failed to gain popular support and restore civil order. Among the socialist anti-government parties, the radical Bolshevik wing gradually gained strength among the increasingly impatient army and workers. Within a few months the Bolsheviks decided to assume power. On the night of October 26 they staged an armed coup d'etat, storming across the Palace Square and seizing the Provisional Government as it met within the Winter Palace. Although the storming of the Winter Palace was by no means the massive popular uprising that it was to become in the Bolshevik commemorations and in Sergei Eisenstein's film October, it was certainly the moment of symbolic birth of the Soviet state.
The Alexander Column
General Staff Building
Peter the Great Statue (The Bronze Horseman) Commissioned by Catherine the Great and sculpted by the Frenchman Etienne Falconet, this striking, dynamic statue has long been one of the most symbolic monuments in St. Petersburg. Catherine intended it to glorify the philosophy of enlightened absolutism that she shared with her predecessor, and for good and bad Falconnet seems to have succeeded. From different angles the rearing equestrian statue seems by turns to be benevolent and malevolent, inspiring and terrifying. In 1833 Pushkin immortalized it in his masterful poem The Bronze Horseman, in which the statue comes to life to pursue the poor clerk Yevgeny through the flooded streets of the city. For most of its history, the Bronze Horseman has been regarded as a symbol of tyranny and destruction. However, as Russia's Tsarist past has become more distant and somewhat less politically charged, the statue has come to be appreciated as much for its dramatic beauty as for its imperial associations.
Peter the Great's Cottage
The Peter & Paul Fortress
The primary attraction within the fortress is the Peter and Paul Cathedral, begun by Peter as soon as the fortress had been constructed, though not completed until 1733. In keeping with Peter's Eurocentric bias, its design follows the pattern of Dutch ecclesiatical architecture rather than Russian. The most noticeable characteristic of this is the cathedral's tall thin spire, which was designed specifically so as to best Moscow's Ivan the Gret Belltower as the tallest structure in Russia. The cathedral is the resting place of most of the Romanov monarchs (excepting Peter II, Ivan VI, and Nicholas II), and their sarcophagi can be viewed inside.
His solution was the Engineer's Castle, a fully-loaded fortress residence, including a broad defensive moat and even a secret escape passageway from the hallway outside of his bedroom. The castle was not without some endearing personal touches, however. As a gesture of defiance at the restrained classical tastes of his deceased mother, Paul had the castle constructed in a kind of postmodern medley of different architectural styles. As a gesture of respect to his own taste, he had his monogram inscribed in the castle thousands of times over. Having rushed the project along, Paul moved in immediately upon its completion in 1801. Whether he believed Engineer's Castle to be impregnable or because he trusted almost no-one, the isolated Tsar brought with him a personal guard of only two Cossacks. Of course, reality quickly lived up to its reputation for irony--Paul was murdered in his bedroom only three days later, having never even reached the hallway.
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