March 01, 2004

The Invisible Statue

The spire of the Admiralty is visible from a great distance, piercing the Petersburg skies. If you walk along bustling Nevsky prospect, through Palace Square or along the eastern “nose” of Vasiliyevsky Island, your eyes are bound to be attracted to this gilded spire, crowned by a weathervane in the shape of a ship. The spire is St. Petersburgs’s official symbol, and, on a sunny day, it shines so brightly that one would be excused for thinking it was the sun itself.

Just below the spire, on the colonnade, there is a row of antique statues all around the building. On the eastern, northern and southern sides there are seven of these statues. But on the western side, there are just six. A gap as obvious as a missing tooth indicates that a statue is missing. Where has this mysterious seventh western statue gone?

The cornerstone for St. Petersburg’s Admiralty building, which now houses the Leningrad Naval Base, was laid on November 5, 1704. The building was designed by Tsar Peter the Great to serve simultaneously as a fort and a shipyard. Ivan Korobov took up the construction of this building where Peter left off – by 1732 it had become a two-storey building in the shape of a Russian “П”, with a tower and a spire. The architect who finished the building was Andreyan Zakharov, and the building owes most today to his hand. Construction was completed in 1812 and that fall 28 statues – 7 for each side – were placed upon the collonade. The statues were made of pudost stone, specially procured from the village of Pudost, near Petersburg. There were two each of 14 graven images – of the four winds, the four elements, the four seasons, Isis (Egyptian goddess and creator of navigation) and Urania (the muse of Astronomy).

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