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Materials of the Conference

Lidia Tomalintseva, philosophy and history, St. Petersburg State University
Ekaterina Vasyukova, St. Petersburg Polytechnic University

Bridges and embankments of the Neva River: Dynamics of cultural-historical changes and perspectives for future development
Мосты и набережные Невы: Динамика культурно-историческихи зменений и перспективы развития

St Petersburg is one of the most water-oriented cities in the world: 1/5 part of its territory is covered with water. The water element has determined the beauty and the originality of architectural shape of St.Petersburg, the order and rhythm of life of the city and its inhabitants, and its unique character. The Neva river is the main water highway and architectural axis of the city and as such it has exerted a huge influence on the whole planning of St.Petersburg including the scale of its architectural ensembles, the width of its streets and the height, form, and color of its buildings. But also the Neva is «the main prospect» and «the main space» of the city (Yu. Tynyanov).

It is impossible to imagine the landscape of St.Petersburg without the beautyof the deep, wide Neva and its very powerful current. But the integral element of the Petersburg landscape is its bridges and embankments, engineering marvels that are also perfect architectural ensembles.
Indeed, St.-Petersburg is called the «city of bridges», and sometimes even the «museum of bridges». There are about 600 bridges in St.Petersburg and its suburbs in total, and 342 in the city. 21 bridges in the city are drawbridges, 10 of them cross the Neva. Bridges not only play a very important role in the economic life of the city, but also give it a unique romantic beauty, especially during the White Nights.

In trying to put together a picture of the cultural-historical changes in the bridges and embankments of the Neva over 300 years, it is necessary to note that their founders carried out very difficult hydrotechnical tasks using scientific achievements and modern technologies. They took into consideration the natural properties and special features of the river and the natural shape of its coast, but they also made significant changes, In the central part of the city the Neva was narrowed by approximately 50 meters because of the constant process of siltation and the shoring up of the embankments.

The first bridge in St.Petersburg was constructed one year after the city was founded – over the Kronverksky strait. The bridge connected Zayachy Island, where the Peter and Paul Fortress was under construction, with Birch Island – the first historical city centre. First this was a pontoon bridge. In 1887 it received the name of Ioannovsky Bridge.

Peter I did not encourage the construction of bridges in St. Petersburg, as he wanted people to travel between separate parts of the city by boat.

The first bridge across the Neva was St. Isaac's bridge, a pontoon bridge built in 1727 to connect the most populous portions of Vasilevsky and Admiralty islands. It took its name from the nearby St. Isaac’s Church (which preceded the St. Isaac’s Cathedral but stood much closer to the water).

The pontoon bridge was moved in 1856 to the site of the current Palace Bridge. In 1916 it burned down, due to a spark from a passing tugboat.

Right -- St. Isaac's Bridge in winter, 19th century illustration

The first permanent bridge over the Neva was opened in December, 1850 and given the name Blagoveschensky Bridge. In 1855, the bridge was renamed in Nikolaevsky, and now it is called the Bridge of Lieutenant Schmidt.

One of the most beautiful Neva bridges is the Trinity Bridge. Formerly it was also pontoon. (see illustration, right).

But on its 200 anniversary of St.-Petersburg the city received a gift – the permanent Trinity drawbridge was constructed. The famous French engineer A.G. Eiffel took part in the development of the project of the bridge, which was constructed by the French firm “Batignol.” It was the first bridge to have electricity.

View of the Peter and Paul Fortress from Trinity Bridge

Each of the Neva bridges is remarkable in its own way. For example, the Trinity Bridge is not only beautiful but marks the Pulkovsky meridian, defining the mid-European time zone. It is 30 degrees, 19' east of the Greenwich meridian.

The “youngest” bridge over the Neva is the Bridge of Alexander Nevsky (1965). It is the longest of all the bridges in the city at 905,7 meters.


The Foundry bridge (1879) is unique in that the coat of arms of St.Petersburg appears 546 times on its lattices.
Now in the early 21st century, the Neva has been the site of a major modern bridge-building project that will combine the highest technical, architectural, and aesthetic standards.The Bolshoi Obukhovsky suspension bridge opened in December, 2004 and is not only the longest bridge in St.Petersburg (at almost 3 km!), but one of 40 largest suspension bridges in the world.
Bridges are characteristic of the architectural landscape of St.Petersburg, but they are inseparable from the city's granite embankments. By the end of the XX century there were about 160 km of fixed embankments in the city and its suburbs,. Their architecture with granite step descents, cast-iron cast and forged fences also makes one of distinctive features of the appearance of the city. Granite embankments are much younger than St.Petersburg. The first embankments, as well as the first bridges constructed up to the mid-eighteenth century, were wooden. The banks of the rivers and channels were fixed by piles, logs, sometimes they were painted «like a stone» trying to give a smart look to the young city. The first embankments appeared on the right bank of the Neva, between the Peter and Paul Fortress and the Big Nevka, and the next one was on the left bank, from the Admiralty up to the Summer Garden (see illustrations below).

The first stone embankment was constructed in St.Petersburg in the 1720s. It surrounded a small "harbour" in the Summer Garden near to the Summer Palace :

When the construction of the grandiose Winter Palace (1754) under the project of B.F. Rastrelli began it was decided to build a stone embankment in front of the building,jutting out into the Neva by almost 20 meters. That is why the road along the Neva near the Winter Palace is much wider than in other places.

A part of the embankment upstream behind the Winter Channel is the oldest part of existing embankments of the Neva. Dates of the construction are written on the granite descents: 1764, 1766 and 1767.

A part of the Neva embankment in front of the Admiralty underwent the biggest changes during 300 years of the city existence. Without the Admiralty it is impossible to imagine the panorama of the Neva embankments but, unfortunately, in second half of the XIX century the majestic facade was hidden behind huge heavy buildings which are alien both to the character and scale of this architectural masterpiece [pic.19, 20].
Modern problems of the development of bridges and embankments of the Neva on a boundary of XX and XXI centuries, first of all, are caused by building a complex of constructions to protect St.Petersburg from floods. Solving of this natural problem has lead to some negative consequences in the state of environment, as well as has complicated solving of the cultural problem (which was indicated still by Peter I) – creation of a sea facade of the city, a valid way out to the sea). As a matter of fact, the constructing dam became a super-bridge in the Neva delta which is not distinguished by expressive aesthetic characteristics in comparison with ensembles of the Neva bridges and embankments.
Petroleum transported on the Neva (about 5 million tones in a year) has a significant danger for nature and culture of St.Petersburg. The decision on establishing of the Water Police accepted by the Government of St.Petersburg in the beginning of July, 2004 should ensure necessary and constant control over all vessels and ships sailing in the Neva.
One could remember the words of a writer Ilya Orenburg about the Neva: «How magnificent Neva is… There is no river like this in any other capital. When thinking of it you understand where this beauty is from – not only from water, but also from stone, not only from nature, but also from the man … ».
Indeed, if a man put down his creations in nature harmoniously, they become a part of nature itself and property of culture. Any new projects of bridges and embankments, various technical improvements should take into account that nature – city – man is a single unit.


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2. Bunatyan G.G., Charnaya M.G. Walks down the rivers and canals of St.Petersburg. Guide. St.Petersburg, 2003.
3. St.Petersburg. Entertaining questions and answers. Collection. St.Petersburg, 1999.