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The famous statue of Peter the Great looks out over the former swampy delta that he transformed into a great city. It symbolizes his attempt to conquer nature, and it figures prominently in Russian literature, as it grapples with the cultural and human implications of that goal. The river flows here with culture, history, and metaphor as much as with water.


THE MONUMENT TO PETER THE GREAT, which faces the Neva River with St. Isaac's Cathedral at its back, is one of the most famous sites in St. Petersburg. Commissioned by Catherine the Great and designed by Étienne Falconet, it is a masterpiece of equestrian sculpture. The horse stands on a 2000-ton boulder, popularly known as "Thunder Rock." It was a major engineering feat to move the rock to this site, overland an on barges. The sculpture was completed in 1782.

Everyone now refers to the statue as THE BRONZE HORSEMAN. The name comes from an epic poem of that name by Russia's most beloved poet, Alexander Pushkin. The poem extols the beauty of St. Petersburg and the Neva River, but it also describes the devastating flood of 1824. The bronze horseman is both majestic and terrible as he presides over the fragile balance of power between river and city. Pushkin's poem helped create the "myth of St. Petersburg" that figured prominently in the works of Gogol, Dostoevsky, and other 19th-century Russian writers.

As in Pushkin's poem, THE BRONZE HORSEMAN still inflences how energy flows in and around the city of St. Petersburg. The statue attracts tourists, wedding parties, and school groups and advertises the city and its famous past. In recent years the tsar on his horse has overseen an enormous increase in traffic, of both automobiles on land and ships and boats on the river.

Further topics and interdisciplinary essays

The Statue of Peter I: History and Symbolism

The River and the Poem: Pushkin's "Bronze Horseman"

The Poetics of Urban Ecology

References and links

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