Thursday, March 31, 2016

St Petersburg Blue Mosque

Date: 21st October 2015

The St Petersburg Mosque, when opened in 1913 was the largest mosque in Europe outside Turkey with its minarets of 49 meters in height and the dome is 39 meters high. The mosque is situated in downtown St Petersburg. It can accommodate up to 5 thousand worshippers. No one can provide an accurate number of Muslim living in the city, but it is close to a million people according to some source. The mosque foundation stone was laid in 1910 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the reign of Abdul Ahat Khan in Bukhara. By that time, the Muslim community of the Russian then the country capital exceeded 8,000 people. The projected structure was capable of accommodating most of them at that time. The architect Nikolai Vasilyev patterned the mosque after Gur-e Amir, the tomb of Tamerlane in Samarkand. Its construction was completed by 1921. A visit to the mosque was on our top list itinerary. In addition to that, the mosque is listed as a must visit place to go on the very first day we arrived in the city. At the time of visit, 2 minarets were covered showing that these 2 areas were under a refurbishment.

Worshippers are separated by gender during a worship service; females worship on the first floor, while the males worship on the ground floor. The Mosque was once closed to worshipers for 16 years from 1940 to 1956 for some refurbishment works and seems to be under constant upgrading since then from the respond that I read in the trip adviser. Even at the time of visit, there's appearance of renovation works still ongoing at the external facade of the mosque, beside the 2 minaret that I mentioned above. And although female are supposed to worship on the first floor, but last year during our visit, there's a wooden barrier on the ground floor for females to perform prayers there. Anne has performed jama' isha and maghrib prayer the night after taking an ablution located at the mosque compound.

In 1882, Selim-Girei Tevkelev who in 1865 was appointed the Mufti of Orenburg turned to and obtained agreement from Minister Count Tolstoy with the requirement for a mosque in St. Petersburg. In 1906, the Minister formed a special committee headed by Ahun Ataulla Bayazitov to collect about 750,000 rubles within 10 years for the construction of the mosque. They organised collections in towns and providences of Russia and received donations from many sponsors. In addition, the committee input securities in total amount of 142,000 rubles and also stamps for mosque's project. The biggest donor was Said Abdoul Ahad, Emir of Bochara who undertook all expenses for the building.

Muslims from 22 different nationalities live in St. Petersburg city, the majority of them being Tatars, Azeris, Kazakh, Uzbek, Kyrgyz, Tajiks, Chechens and the Arabs. Nowadays the recently restored Mosque of Saint Petersburg is still one of the largest in Europe. The Mosque is the only functioning as place for the Muslim to gather for prayers especially an obligatory Friday Jam'maah prayer imposed to Muslim man, as well as a leading educational and cultural center of Saint Petersburg. The mosque is situated in downtown St Petersburg, in a symbolic location which is just opposite the Peter and Paul's Fortress. Both the mosque and the fortress are in the city centre. Its azure dome is perfectly visible from the Trinity Bridge across the Neva. Tourist will have no difficulties in searching for it.

The permission to purchase the mosque symbolic site location was given by Emperor Nicholas II in Peterhof on 3 July 1907. It was in autumn season where the committee approved the project by architect Nikolai Vasilyev and the engineer Stepan Krichinsky. The construction was overseen by academician Alexander von Hohen. The building facade was made by combining both oriental ornaments and turquoise blue mosaic, a synonym colors to other famous blue mosque in the world, including the pride of Malaysian, Shah Alam Blue Mosque. There's a comment that I read from a tourist questioning about the way an Imam's recited prayer while he was following behind during his visit, he said, he thought that the mosque belong to Shia's group but suspected the imam was a Sunni. One thing for sure, one can differentiate the different sect by looking at the mosque design. You would be able to see the different if you review Malaysia Shah Alam Blue Mosque at the given link and Istanbul Blue Mosque vis-a-vis St Peterburg Mosque. I leave it to you to explore as I would not like to debate the sect separation in Islam, following the partition of Christian churches which are not healthy but happening. I just want to call my self a Muslim no matter what. 

Back to the facts of the mosque history. On 3 February 1910, the brick laying ceremony was performed by Ahun Bayazitov, attended by representatives from the government, religious and social figures. Among those who attended were Mohammed Alim Khan, the ambassadors of Ottoman Empire and Persia, and Tevkelev, the leader of the Muslims party in the Duma. Construction was slow and it was often said due to division of Russian Revolution that takes place after that. The next decade would be the most turbulent in Russia’s history as it brought World War I, the 1917 October Revolution and the 1917–1923 civil war. Though the first prayers were held in the unfinished mosque on February 22, 1913, in commemoration of the 300th anniversary of the Romanov Dynasty, construction took a full decade to complete. It was finally officially open on 30th April 1920.

The walls were made with grey granite and the dome and both minarets are covered with mosaic ceramics of sky-light-blue colour. Skilled craftsmen from Central Asia took part working on the mosque. The facades are decorated with sayings from Koran using the characteristic Arabian calligraphy. Internal columns are made from green marble. Women pray on the first floor, above the western part of the hall. The mosque was covered by huge special made carpets woven by the Central Asian craftsmen.

In 1940 Soviet authorities banned services and turned the building into a medical equipment storehouse. During the Second World War St. Petersburg Mosque was closed and was made into a warehouse. At the request of the first Indonesian President, Soekarno, 10 days after his visit to the city, the mosque was returned to the Muslim Religious community of St. Petersburg in 1956. A major restoration of the mosque was carried out in 1980. A minor refurbishment, like I said earlier is still ongoing. I wish to invite Muslim tourist from all over the world to pay a visit, at least recorded a prayer in this lovely mosque as remembrance and faith affirmation to our creater, the One and Only Allah that we worship.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

St Petersburg - Peter & Paul's Fortress

Date of visit: 21st October 2015

I came to know about "" on Instagram when he likes one of my St Petersburg photo that I shared in IG. From there on I became his follower. He is a Russian living in St Petersburg. Do visit his photography site to see how talented he was/is in snapping beautiful scenery through his lenses. As I do not have any jaw dropping photo to describe a beauty of Peter & Paul Fortress to share as a teaser, I wish to share 1 from another worthy website, travelphotographyguru that you may find assisting in improving your photography skill. Anyway, we did not enter the fortress through the front gate. So, from the other entrance, what we encountered are the jail cell that gave a scary feeling.    

Photo by ""

Peter and Paul Fortress is the original citadel of St. Petersburg in Russia as founded by Peter the Great in 1703. The complex was built using Domenico Trezzini's designs from 1706 till 1740. In the early 20th century, it was still used as a prison by the tsarist (king's) government. Today it has been adapted as the central and most important part of the State Museum of Saint Petersburg History. The museum has gradually become virtually the sole owner of the fortress building, except the structure occupied by the Saint Petersburg Mint. It's a pity that we did not have a chance to peek inside the museum, of what I've seen from the website is deserve to be visited. 

The fortress is the first structure being built in St. Petersburg, and thus the birthplace of the city. However it never served its intended defensive function as no country would dare to instigate war with Russia, including America. What they can afford to do is through a Hollywood movie that keep on provoking Russia as if to portray that the Russian is a bad people and a bad country. If you don't believe me, see some of the conversation in the recent movie, "London has Fallen". This fortress has had a rich, hugely varied, and sometimes sinister history as a military base, a home of government departments, the burial ground of the Russian Imperial family, the site of ground breaking scientific experiments, and a forbidding jail that held some of Russia's most prominent political prisoners instead of being in defensive fortress.

The place where the city of St. Petersburg began, the Peter and Paul Fortress never actually saw military action, but has fulfilled a variety of functions over its 3 century history, from burial place for nearly all of the Romanov Emperors and Empresses to notorious political prison to the site of key experiments in the development of Soviet rocket technology. All of these aspects of the fortresses history are celebrated in diverse exhibitions across various buildings, and it is the ramshackle charms of these various museums and collections as much as the grandeur of the spectacular St. Petersburg and Paul Cathedral that make the fortress an essential visitor attraction.

Military barracks

Today, the Peter and Paul Fortress is for the most part under the auspices of the St. Petersburg Museum of History, with a number of permanent and temporary exhibitions charting the various aspects of the compound's past. While the central visitor attraction is undoubtedly the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral, one of St. Petersburg's most striking buildings, there is plenty within the walls of the fortress to keep children and adults occupied for a full day at least. The Peter and Paul Fortress is also the centre of a number of St. Petersburg urban traditions, among them the daily firing of the cannon from the Naryshkin Bastion at noon and the "walruses" who use the beach in front of the fortress to sunbathe and swim in ice-holes in the winter. In the summer, the beach is a popular picnic site and is also used to host a variety of events, festivals and concerts, including the respected Petrojazz annual festival.


The fortress contains several notable buildings clustered around the Peter and Paul Cathedral built in the 17th century which has a 122.5 m bell-tower (the tallest in the city centre) and a gilded angel-topped cupola. The cathedral is the burial place of all Russian tsars from Peter I to Alexander III, with the exception of Peter II and Ivan VI. The remains of Nicholas II and his family and entourage were re-interred there, in the side St. Catherine's Chapel, on July 17, 1998, the 80th anniversary of their deaths. Toward the end of 2006, the remains of Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna were brought from Roskilde Cathedral outside Copenhagen and reinterred next to her husband, Alexander III. Sigh, I missed a chance to see Peter the Great's and his family tomb.

The Grand Ducal Mausoleum, built in the Neo Baroque style in 1896 under Leon Benois's supervision is connected to the cathedral by a corridor. It was constructed in order to remove the remains of some of the non-reigning Romanovs from the cathedral, where there was scarcely any room for new burials. The mausoleum was expected to hold up to sixty tombs, but by the time of the Russian Revolution, there were thirteen. The latest burial was of Nicholas II's first cousin once removed, Grand Duke Vladimir Cyrilovich (1992). The remains of his parents, Grand Duke Cyril Vladimirovich and his wife Viktoria Fyodorovna, were transferred to the mausoleum from Coburg in 1995.

Other structures inside the fortress include the still functioning mint building that is constructed to Antonio Porta's designs under Emperor Paul, the Trubetskoy Bastion with its grim prison cells, and the city museum. According to a centuries-old tradition, a cannon is fired each noon from the Naryshkin Bastion. Annual celebrations of the city day, held on 27th May are normally centered on the island where the city was born. The fortress walls overlook sandy beaches that have become among the most popular in St. Petersburg. In summer, the beach is often overcrowded, especially when a major sand festival takes place on the shore.

It is actually possible to spend the best part of a full day at the Peter and Paul Fortress, and if possible you should definitely take either the first or the second half of the day to visit the Peter and Paul Cathedral, explore the displays on the History of St. Petersburg in the Commandant's House and at the Museum of Cosmonautics and Rocket Techonolgy, and also walk along the top of the curtain wall. Something we didn't do as a visit to this magnificent island was a recommendation by the taxi driver. We did not included this place originally in our planned itinerary.

Monday, March 28, 2016

St Petersburg - An evening walk along the canals and Neva river

Date of visit: 21st October 2015

We had a lovely lovely walk on our very first evening in St Petersburg. In the very first entry, I would like to share photos collection that we snapped along our stroll that evening by the Neva rivers, canals and the bridges that reminded me so much of bridges in Venice and a moment spent at Paris-Pont Alexandre III bridges plus a canal cruising in Amsterdam city. While passing by the Neva River, from the railway station towards the hotel, I started to count the many bridges along the way. My thought wanders to the 37 bridges in Paris city. St Petersburg has many more than that and the history of the city construction is shared hereby for my forever references and for your enlightenment.   

Panorama view of Neva River

The Neva River connects Lake Ladoga to the Baltic Sea, and during the summer navigation season tens of cargo ships per day follow this important route, making it necessary to open the bascule bridges across the Neva in central St. Petersburg. This is done after midnight, and during the White Nights especially it has long been a tradition for crowds to gather along the embankments to watch the raising of the bridges. The raised arches of Palace Bridge make for one of St. Petersburg's most famous views, and am glad that I at least had step on the bridge while I was there. Suffice though we did not get to stay to see when it is actually open in real. That what makes St Petersburg as a very attractive city to visit beside many other things that they have to offer to its tourist. 

Must be a professional photograper, I guessed. I snapped this at Blaooveschensky Most to record his passion. Take note that "Most" mean Bridge ya!

A city was built over 42 islands, St. Petersburg is surrounded by water and interlaced with a complex web of rivers, canals and channels that seem to bind the city together, while also marking the borders of its different districts and neighborhoods. St. Petersburg's low-rise classical architecture means that great vistas of the city are often visible from the water, and therefore an essential part of any exploration of the city is to get out in a boat and cruise the rivers and canals of St. Petersburg. Therefore, one of a must do thing when in the city is rivers and canals cruising which we didn't do due to so long list of attraction to cover. 

Blaooveschensky Most

Dvorisovy Most

Before I get you yawning with the bridges story, I hope you like photos that I shared in this entry of what we get to see along our lovely walk within and around the city worth sharing in my opinion. My favorite is still from where we started, i.e. river bank of Bolshaya Neva, we crossed the first bridge "Dvorisovy Most" and crossed "Birzhevoy Most" to arrive at Peter & Pauls' Fortress. After we have satisfied our tummy with Tajikistan meal and declared that we had enough for 1 night, we crossed the river back to the hotel vide "Troisky Most". 

There are 342 bridges in the city limits of Saint Petersburg, Russia. This is a partial list of most famous ones. Peter the Great was designing the city as another Amsterdam and Venice, with canals instead of streets and citizens skillful in sailing. Initially, there were only about 10 bridges constructed in the city, mainly across ditches and minor creeks. By Peter's plans, in the summer months, the citizens were supposed to move around in boats, and in the winter months when the water froze to move in sledges. However, after Peter's death, new bridges were built, as it was a much easier way of transportation during the last centuries. Temporary ponton bridges were used in the summertime too. From the city record, it was discovered that the first permanent bridge of bricks and stones across the main branch of the Neva river appeared in 1850.

Rostral Columns, where the River Neva split into 2 - The Bolshaya Neva and Malaya Neva

The old Saint Petersburg Stock Exchange building behind where Anne stood in the photo

Today, there are 342 bridges over canals and rivers of various sizes, styles and constructions, built at a different periods of monarch. Some of them are small pedestrian bridges, such as Bank and Lion bridges, others are huge transport arteries such as almost one kilometer long Alexander Nevsky Bridge. There are about 800 small bridges across hundreds of smaller ponds and lakes in public parks and gardens, and over 100 bridges in various ports, marinas, yacht clubs and private industries. The total number of bridges in Saint Petersburg is over a thousand. So, therefore should you an Engineer who were given an assignment to design bride, I guest this is the best place to do your research. I would, if I am one :)

Kronwerk Bridge, the wooden bridge of 9 spans built in 1938 connecting Kronwerk strait to the island 

There's a Blue Bridge, built nearly 100 meter wide, claimed to be the widest in the world, spans the Moyka River but we did not explore that part of the city. You may click the link provided HERE to see how it looks like, where those who opted for canal and river cruising are highly likely to view the blue bridge in person. There are bridges designed in various styles with such decorations as statues, lamplights, lions, horses, sphinxes and griffins, and there are modern styles lacking any decor. Thanks to the intricate web of canals, Saint Petersburg is often called the "Venice of the North" which is a popular poetic name for the northern capital.

Troitsky Most seen from the main entrance bridge to Peter & Paul's Fortress as can be seen its detail n below photo

The names of the bridges are of a great diversity as well. Some take their names from geographic location such as English, Italian and Egyptian bridges. Other names refer to the places such as Postoffice, Theater and Bank bridges. Many bridges are named after famous people such as Alexander Nevsky, Peter the Great, Lomonosov bridges. There are "colored" bridges Red, Green, Blue and Yellow bridges.

A familiar view of Saint Petersburg is a drawbridge across the Neva. Every night during the navigation period from April to November, 22 bridges across Neva and main canals are drawn to let ships pass in and out of the Baltic Sea into the Volga-Baltic waterway system. A calculated schedule with precise time of consecutive opening and closing for each bridge is maintained to guarantee passage of cargo ships and tankers at a precisely controlled speed, in order to have at least one bridge at a time staying connected to ensure passage for firefighters, police, ambulances and other ground transportation.

Canals and canal bridges that can remind any person who has been to Venice

Sunday, March 27, 2016

St Petersburg - 2 nights stay at Grand Mark Hotel

Duration of stay: 21st till 23rd October 2015

I must say that Anne has done a good job when selecting Grand Mark hotel as a place to stay in St Petersburg. Even though this is not a 5 star hotel but as soon as you step inside, you may find everything is considerably cosy with a spacious room, furnished in modern yet elegant style and all necessities needed for a comfortable stay while a guest on travel are provided for. The hotel management has ensure what need to be done to ensure their guests comforts at an amazing room rates chargeable. In addition, it felt more than worthy as it is located within walking distance to all attraction in our list. Trust me, we did not even takes any public transportation that day, beside a taxi to and from the hotel to the railway station.

They achieved 9.1 out of 10 marks from the famous travel website, tripadvisor. Before our departure on a last day, I recorded my stay at the above photo as a verification that they deserved the said rank. You may book directly at their website, grandmarkhotels should you want to endorse other tripadvisor and my recommendation. Below 2 photos are how the bed and the shower looks like it. They have a wardrobe, 2 seater sofas, dressing table and tea/coffee facilities at the entrance side, which are not visible in the photo. We were given a room on the ground floor, facing the road. I instantly love it as I able to place my luggage next to to the window. Besides, it provides drinking water (hot and warm) just outside the corridor where 2 rooms seated side by side.

Grand Mark Hotel is a boutique hotel in St. Petersburg. It bear an address at 190000, Russia, Saint Petersburg, Galernaya st., 12, Admiralteyskaya metro station.  The elegant interiors, cosiness, care and hospitality of the personnel create the atmosphere of full comfort necessary for worthy rest specially prepared to receive their guests. The combination of unique location of the mini-hotel in the historical centre of the city, professionalism of the personnel and comfort of the rooms will make your staying in St. Petersburg pleasant and memorable. I snapped of Anne's photo when we got out for our first evening stroll using the door next to our room. The hotel is seated on the right side of below street.

Our selection of breakfast for 2 mornings

We paid Russian Rubble currency, RUB5,300 for 2 nights which include breakfast. What was included in the room rates are breakfast that is serves from 7 in the morning till 11.00 where you may request to be send to your room, like what we did for 2 days in a row. Quite a hearty breakfast they prepared as you can see in the photo above. It also gives free and strong internet via Wi-Fi which help Anne a lot to upload album photos on her Facebook. Besides, dressing gown, slippers, hair-dryer, personal hygiene kit, telephone (intra-city calls), ironing board, iron, tea, coffee are also provided without additional charges. Prices are given in roubles, per room cost of extra bed (sofa) - 1000 rub. checkout time is at 12:00 whilst check-in time is at 14:00. Children under 5 years old is free if sharing the bed. You need to find out how much it will cost for extra bed from the reception seated on the 2nd floor. By the way, there's lift available in the building and you should have no worry about bringing your heavy luggage up and down.

Grand Mark Hotel is conveniently located in the heart of St. Petersburg on a quiet and pleasant street. Close to this mini budget lovable hotel are, Hermitage Museum, Palace Square, St. Isaac Cathedral, The Bronze Horseman, Saint Petersburg Manege, Neva Embankment, Mariinski Theater, Nevskiy Prospect, House of Assembly, Constitutional Court, Admiralteyskaya metro station.

All guests are provided with a visa invitation and registration for foreigners. The rates they charged for transfer from and to the airport and railway station are very much reasonable, hence, I would very much advise you to take up their offer. They also provide daily transportation and excursion services. Laundry and dry-cleaning services are also provided like in other hotels. You may also can get them to arrange for tickets purchasing, i.e. air tickets, railway tickets, theaters and exhibitions. The combination it's unique location of this boutique hotel in the historical centre of the city, professionalism of the personnel and comfort of the rooms will make your staying in St. Petersburg more pleasant and memorable.

The bright illuminated room, cleanliness and comfortable level of Grand Mark Hotel is indeed equipped with everything you may need while being away from your home. There is a bathroom, satellite TV, hair dryer, air-conditioning and mini-bar in every room. Personal safe is also provided that you may use to keep your valuables. From their website, it was stated that the interiors of Grand Mark hotel are decorated with works of the painter Semerenko Vladimir.

Finally, I wish to recommend all of you to choose Grand Mark Hotel as your future place to stay should you arrive in this lovely city. It's all worth for money.