Rostral Columns in St Petersburg - The Spit of the Basil Island

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The Rostral Columns are the architectural constructions in the center of St Petersburg, on the Spit (“the Strelka”) of Vasilevsky Island. In the XIX century they carried out the function of the port beacons of the northern capital.

The Spit of the Basil Island ("the Strelka of Vasilevsky Island") is the unique place in St Petersburg full of historical points and legends. Visiting this place during private guided city tour in St Petersburg will give you all the impressions and details.

Coming back to the History:

The Rostral Columns were built in 1810 according to the project of the French architect Thomas de Tomon who decorated them with prows (“rostrums”- Latin word) of the ships.

The design of the columns demonstrates the greatness and power of the state’s navy, and also reminds the ancient Roman custom to decorate the columns with the prows of the captured enemy ships.

The well-known stone dresser S.K. Sukhanov was also working over that project. He was the native of poor peasants of the Vologda province. The statues at the bottom of the columns were completed by the sculptors Jozef Camberlein and Jacques Thibault. The presentation of the columns took place in 1815.

The columns-beacons were lit at night and in fog, and thus they served up to 1885.

The southern beacon showed the way to the Big Neva River, while the northern beacon indicated the way to the Small Neva River.

At the bottom of the columns two male and two female figures are located. According to the widespread hypothesis they were supposed to represent allegorically the great Rivers of Russia: the Volga Riber and the Dnieper River at the northern column, the Neva River and the Volkhov River at the southern column.

rostral columns st petersburg russia

Thomas de Tomon wrote: "the foundation of each column is decorated with huge figures which symbolize sea and commerce deities". The statues were made according to the models of French sculptors J. Camberlein and J. Thibault. The architect de Tomon had a kind feeling to both sculptors.

strelka in st petersburg 04

Bronze was chosen at first as the material for the sculptures, but later, because of the complexity of bronze processing, the choice fell on the so called “pudostsky” limestone that was extracted in the village of Pudost of the Gatchina district.

Soft and elastic in the earth, that limestone hardened soon after the extraction to the surface, thus creating a strong and imposing foundation. Camberlein completed the male figure at the northern column; the others were created by Thibault.

Inside of the both columns there is the spiral staircase conducting to the top observation deck with a huge bowl lamp which is held on the metal tripod. Earlier the bowl was filled with the hemp oil that was giving a huge fiery column, indicating the way to the ships in the night gloom or through the fog veil.

So it was up to 1896 when the electricity was brought to the columns. In 1957 beacons were lit by the means of gas due to the economy reasons.

Today the beacons are lit only on the special solemn occasions.

rostral columns flames in st petersburg

During the night on June 7th 2011 the southern rostral column was opened by the unknown person for the purpose of roofing, the monument of the architecture didn't suffer.

During the night on August 23, 2011 the unknown man managed to get into one of the Rostral Columns; he opened the gate of the gas pipeline and lit the fire on it. According to the report of the law enforcement agencies, the fire-fighting crew arrived to the place, blocked the pipeline and extinguished the torch. Nobody suffered in the result of the following incident.

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