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Тhе Central Naval Museum (Birzha)

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(Former Stock Exchange Building) (The Central Naval Museum)

Birzhevaya ploshchad, 4

The Central Naval Museum is one of the oldest museums in Russia and one of the largest of its kind in the world. It originates from the Model Chamber, founded by Peter the Great in 1709. Initially it was a drawing workshop where all the ship models and drawings were kept. In 1720s - 1730s, there was even a singular exhibition of the most interesting models and drawings. In 1805 on the basis of the Model Chamber collection the Naval Museum was established. Naval officers hearty welcomed the appearance of the maritime museum and willingly supplied it with exhibits. Soon after even the tradition of bringing from voyages some rarities for the museum collection was established. But unfortunately the sailors thought that only foreign wonders and curiosities were worth bringing to the museum. That»s why after a time the museum was crowded with the ethnographical, zoological and geological collections that had nothing to do with the specialization of the museum. Tsar Nikolay I decided that the museum wasn»t effective and annihilated it. With the development of the shipbuilding the problem of systematic study of technical, historical and military experience became urgent, besides there was a need for preservation of valuable historical naval monuments and demonstration of the new achievements. The Russian Fleet desperately needed its own museum and in 1867 the Naval Museum was reopened.

After the Revolution of 1917 the collection of the museum was enlarged considerably due to the expropriated collections. A lot of exhibits connected with the royal family and famous aristocratic families were destroyed as not corresponding the new ideology.

In 1939 the Central Naval Museum was given one of the most beautiful buildings in the city - the Stock Exchange building. The Stock Exchange, the focal point of wonderful architectural ensembles of the Spit of Vasilyevsky Island, was erected in 1805 - 1810 to the project of the celebrated architect Thomas de Thomon. The strict classical image of the Stock Exchange corresponds well to the majestic and mighty style of the city. All around the building magnificent Doric colonnade, resting upon the granite stylobata, goes. Decorating the attic allegorical sculptural groups «Neptune with two rivers» and «Navigation with Mercury and two rivers» underline the Stock Exchange»s connection with maritime subject.

The main exposition, enlightening the history of Russian navigation and Russian Fleet from the ancient time till nowadays, occupies 10 halls situated on the ground floor of the museum. There visitors can learn about the creation and history of Russian navy, the most important naval battles, that brought the glory to the Russian Fleet, geographical discoveries, circumnavigation and celebrated expeditions. Russian men-of-war»s played an important role in the revolutionary events of 1917 and Civil War. Several exhibition halls are devoted to the Soviet Fleet in World War II. The exhibition devoted to the creation of the missile atomic navy in the USSR in 1965-1975 is especially interesting. There models of warships of different classes, atomic submarines of the second generation and a strategic missile submarine, as well as documents and photographs are on display. The exposition ends with the exhibition devoted to the Navy in the period of the so-called «Cold War», its development after the war and the state of Russian Navy nowadays.

In all, the Central Naval Museum stocks more than 8,000 items, among them there are models of ancient and modern ships, navigation tools, patterns of weapon and equipment, maps, photos, flags and banners, war booty, personal belongings of the famous Russian navigators, rich collections of paintings and numismatics. The oldest exhibit displayed is the ancient dug-out, the archaeologists date back to the 1st millennium B.C. The museum treasures «The grandfather of the Russian Fleet» - the famous botik (a small vessel) of Peter I.

Rostral Columns

Arch. J.-F. Thomas de Thomon (1805-1816), Birzhevaya ploshchad

Early in the history of St. Petersburg the Strelka (spit) of Vasilevsky Island, the largest island of the Neva delta, was intended to become the heart of downtown St Petersburg. Some of the buildings, such as the Customs House, still remain from that time, although downtown shifted onto the left bank of the river. In the early 19th century one of St. Petersburg»s most elegant architectural ensembles appeared on the eastern edge of the island. The imposing white colonnaded building of the Stock Exchange was its focal point, and was flanked by two Rostral Columns. The Stock Exchange, designed by the French architect Thomas de Tomon and built in 1805-10, was inspired by Ancient Greek and Roman architecture. The two Rostral Columns, studded with ships» prows, served as oil-fired navigation beacons in 1800s (on some public holidays gas torches are still lit today).

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