St Petersburg's Grand Bronze Horseman

If you visit Decembrists Square (Ploschad Dekabristov) while in St Petersburg, you will find an immense statue of a mounted horseman gazing ahead with arm outstretched as his horse rears up on its back legs. This captivating monument is dedicated to the city’s founder, Tsar Peter the Great, and it appropriately faces the Neva River which was one of the greatest natural obstacles which had to be overcome with the building of the city. The statue, which is known as The Bronze Horseman, was commissioned by Catherine the Great as a tribute to her predecessor. It was created by Etienne Maurice Falconet, a famous French sculptor who chose to depict this great Russian hero as a Roman hero.

The monument features Peter the Great mounted on a fabulous horse. It is set on a pedestal made of red granite which is shaped to look like a cliff. From this vantage point, Peter points out the way forward for Russia. Meanwhile his horse has stepped on a snake as it rears up. The snake is said to symbolize Peter’s enemies which have been trodden on. The monument is a fitting symbol of one of the most influential Russian rulers of old and it has long been looked on by both wide-eyed peasants and modern-day travelers with awe.

Interestingly enough, The Bronze Horseman has not always been the name of the statue. It was originally the name of a poem written by Aleksandr Pushkin in 1833 wherein the statue is used as a symbol of the power of the state dominating the basic needs of the simple people. In his poem – which is now widely considered to be one of Russia’s most significant literary works – Pushkin recounts the tale of poor young Yevgeny and his loved ones. He uses the fateful floods of 1824 as setting wherein his character looses his fiancée and all those he loves. Driven to madness, he curses the Tsar’s statue for his misfortune. This is appropriate since it was Peter the Great who decided to build a city in this swampland for strategic military purposes and the flooding is therefore a direct consequence of this move for power. Moments later, the statue breaks free from its pedestal and it chases Yevgeny. After this incident, the youth always treats the statue with respect but he soon dies a miserable and lonely death. Ironically, the poem proved to be more powerful than the statue and it has not only resulted in the naming of the statue but given people a new perspective on this much revered national hero.


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