Bronze Horseman: the power and glory of Saint Petersburg

Maria Selezneva | Live the World

November 23, 2022

The Bronze Horseman is undoubtedly one of the main symbols of Saint Petersburg. In Russian, the Bronze Horseman is called ‘Medny Vsadnik’, which literally means ‘The Copper Horseman’. It depicts the Russian emperor - Peter the Great, city’s founder, riding a horse and standing at the massive stone, overlooking the Neva River from the Senate Square. It’s a local tradition for newlyweds to take a photo with the Bronze Horseman right after the wedding, for graduates - to do so after the prom, and so on. Thus, almost always, there are plenty of people near the monument. Also, everybody visiting Russia’s ‘northern capital’ goes there to see the power and glory of Saint Petersburg, as the monument itself is very impressive.

A brief history of the statue

© istock/romanevgenev

It all started when the Russian empress, Catherine the Great, being originally German and married into the house of Romanov, wanted to connect herself to the legacy of Peter the Great. Denis Diderot, the French philosopher and one of the brightest minds of Enlightenment, advised her to commission Étienne Falconet, the French sculptor, famous for his works for the Royal Sévres Porcelain Manufactory in the suburbs of Paris. He made a statue, portraying Peter the Great as a Roman hero. His horse is stomping a snake, which symbolizes enemies of the Russian Empire. 

An impressive pedestal

© Maria Selezneva

The rock Peter the Great and his horse are standing on deserves special attention. It’s called the Thunder Stone, and it’s the biggest stone ever moved by humans. It was found in the Lakhta village, which is now a part of Saint Petersburg, and originally weighed almost 2 tons. According to Falconet, this rock in the shape of a wave symbolized Russia as a sea state. The words carved on this pedestal, in Latin and Russian, state: ‘Petro Primo Catharina Secunda’ – ‘Петру перьвому Екатерина вторая’ (meaning - To Peter the First from Catherine the Second’). The Bronze Horseman was erected in 1782.

The origin of its name

© istock/yulenochekk

Also, the monument is widely known thanks to the poem called ‘The Bronze Horseman: A Petersburg Tale’ (1833) by the great Russian author Alexander Pushkin. According to it, Peter the Great leaves his pedestal, chasing the protagonist of this work who is blaming him for the city’s foundation in the place which is subject to floods and natural disasters. As everything Pushkin created, this ‘verse novel’ became a masterpiece, giving birth to the modern Russian literature. Even being censored during Pushkin’s life by the emperor Nikolay I, his work ‘Medny Vsadnik’ (literally – ‘The Copper Horseman’) gave a name to the monument, although the statue itself is made of bronze, not copper. It’s kind of misbelief, as for people of those times all the metals looked the same.

Legends and rumors

Being a true masterpiece, the Bronze Horseman is surrounded by different legends and rumors. One of them tells that, as long as the monument to Peter the Great is standing at its place, nothing can harm Saint Petersburg. Almost unbelievable but true, the city, together with the Bronze Horseman, survived the most destructive wars, such as the French Invasion of 1812, and the Great Patriotic War, including the Siege of Leningrad (as the city was called back then). 

Looking magnificently, and being mysterious, the Bronze Horseman is one of the greatest pieces of art in the city, symbolizing the power and glory of Saint Petersburg. In order to see it, you just have to reach the end of the Nevsky Avenue, main city’s arteria, and pass through the Alexandrovsky Garden to the Neva River. The monument is worth having such a stroll.

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