Myths and Legends of Saint Petersburg : Медный всaдник

A fascinating thing about monuments is that most of times they have different stories to tell and secret meanings that not everyone is aware of.

Медный всaдник (Bronze Horseman) is one of the most romantic symbols of the city and he’s located in front of the Neva bank, looking at the city with love. Actually this statement couldn’t be more true since both Peter’s eyes have their pupils in the shape of a heart.
This story dates back to the creation of the sculpture during Catherine the Great’s empire. She ordered the French sculptor Etienne Falconet the equestrian statue which was made between 1768-1770. Falconet worked for long at Peters’ head but the results didn’t pleased neither Ekaterina nor the sculptor. The final version of the head is a Marie-Anne Collot’s rework. She was Falconet’s disciple and she’s the one who made Peter’s pupils in the shape of hearts. The reason is not well-known but the legend tells us that this was the sculptor’s way to confess her love for his master.

But coming back to the time they first planned to create the sculpture, the architect Falconet had a specific project about it. He wanted to settle the figure of Peter horseback, climbing on a rock that resembled a wave that would symbolize the great Emperor’s achievements in the development of Russia as a naval power. The search for a suitable stone went on for many years and finally they found one in the neighbourhoods of St. Petersburg, in Lahti. Later locals claimed that Peter climbed indeed that rock in order to look over the area during the Great Northern War.

At the time the horseman was established on the Senate Square not all citizens look favourably on it. Some of them among the most conservative and the so called old believers, who had always opposed to Peter’s reforms, considered the monument a evil creation and named it the “Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”. And they cried that it would bring death and destruction to Russia and its presence heralded the coming of the the Antichrist and the end of the world.

In the surrounding villages the peasants made their own legend about the Horseman statue and the Emperor ‘s “rebellious” temper. It was said that Peter I, while he was crossing the Neva River, cried out repeatedly, “Everything is God’s and mine!”, and at the third time he said, “Everything is mine and God’s!”. Then he was turned immediately into stone as a punishment for his insolence.

But the most popular myth about the statue was probably the one used by Pushkin in his poem“Медный всaдник” (The Bronze Horseman). It was after the poet’s work that the statue started to be called “Bronze” instead of “Copper ” Horseman.
Pushkin’s poem originated from a legend that dates back to 1812 when Russia faced the danger of a French invasion of Moscow. At the same time there was a rumour that Napoleon wanted to attack Petersburg, the capital of the Russian Empire. So Aleksander I ordered to take the Horseman, symbol of the city, to the suburbs. A certain captain Baturin was in charge of this honourable and important task. One night Baturin had a dream in which the Horseman rode off the rock and headed towards Kammennoostrovky palace where at the time used to live Aleksandr I. He addressed to him and said “Young man, where have you brought my Russia?” – and added “as long as I am in my place, my city has nothing to fear!” then turned back and reached his position again. The day after the captain had a meeting with Prince Golitsyn, a close friend of the emperor, and and told him about his dream. Then Golitsyn told the story to the Tzar who withdrew his decision of relocating the statue.

Eventually, it is believed that during the Great Patriotic War the Bronze Horseman kept safe its city and the sculptures of the great generals from the Nazis. Indeed, none of the statue was damaged but actually the monuments were safely covered during the war. However many believed that the Horseman protected the monuments, city and inhabitants and probably still protects them.

Written by: Jessica Carrettiero

Photo Credit: Creative Commons

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