Russian Waterways

St Petersburg Waterways


On the 25th October 1917, the Russian battleship Aurora was moored in St Petersburg and refused an order to sail. A blank shot from the gun on the forecastle signalled the start of the Russian Revolution and the attack on the Winter Palace that was to change the course of history. Sailing on the waterways in St Petersburg and the surrounding area is to embrace history and to see some of the most beautiful parts of Russia. It is often said that St Petersburg is best seen from the water.

The best times to visit are in spring and, especially, summer. The White Nights of St Petersburg are famous as a magical time in midsummer when the sun never sets. A journey through the waterways of St Petersburg to Moscow takes in the rivers that the Tsars of Russia once travelled on and traverses five canals and rivers, four lakes, and sixteen locks. Several companies offer cruises to the area and the journey can also be done independently.

St Petersburg is famous for its canals, with the narrowest ones actually going underneath the Winter Palace, now the famous Hermitage Museum, which is one of the most famous art galleries in the world. The Peter and Paul Museum is another famous landmark, and in a city of 44 islands and over 300 bridges the water is never far away. Many people who come to St Petersburg also visit the Catherine Palace at Pushkin, which was built for Catherine I and is a spectacular place to see as a taste of imperialist Russia.

A boat trip along the waterways usually travels along the Volga-Baltic Waterway, formerly known as the Mariinsky Canal System, which links the Baltic Sea with the River Volta. It was originally constructed following the acquisition of Sweden by Peter the Great from a need to increase security on the waterways. Visitors usually pass through the locks on the Svir River, once the Neva has been passed, and go on to Lake Lagoda. There are wooden houses in this area, and one of the main attractions on the lake is the imposing Shlisselburg Fortress.

Lake Onega is another prominent feature on the waterways, as is Kizhi Island—one of 1650 islands in the area. Kizhi has a stunning church, some historic wooden buildings and a bell tower, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Set in a beautiful area, this is a fascinating place for visitors to explore.

Part of the Volga Baltic Waterway passes through the Sheksna River, and many people visit the historic town of Goritzy. With a large number of trees in the area, it is little wonder the town has a number of really ornate and decorative wooden buildings. In particular, one of the most interesting buildings to see is the Kirillov-Belozersky Monastery with its cloisters.

Built on the confluence point of the rivers Volga and Kotorosl, the city of Yaroslavl is often visited on a cruise of the Russian Waterways. The highlights of this city are two churches that are magnificent in décor. The Church of St Elijah the prophet is known for its green onion shaped domes and decorated interior. Another splendid building, the seventeenth century Church of the Epiphany is a popular attraction, as well as a place for spiritual contemplation in Yaroslavl.

On a bend in the Volga, the town of Uglich comes into view on a journey down the waterway. This historic town is really pretty, with a number of old onion domed churches on the skyline. In town, the Church of the Spilled Blood, built on the site where Prince Dmitry, the son of Ivan the Terrible, was killed in 1591, is a remarkable building. The onion domes are beautiful on the outside, however, what marks this church out are the intricate paintings on the inside. which depict the history of Uglich.

Most journeys taken along the St Petersburg Waterways end up in Moscow, the capital of Russia. The iconic sights of St Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin are a real climax and the end of a beautiful journey that encapsulates some of the most remarkable episodes in twentieth century history. There is a lot to see and do in Moscow, and arriving by water is very special against a spectacular skyline. Travelling on the waterways is a relaxing and different way to see parts of Russia and explore some of the beautiful towns, view some precision engineering on the locks, and see where history actually happened.

(Image by Flickr user : thisisbossi)

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