At its height St. Petersburg was one of the most outrageously wealthy and extravagant cities in Europe, and its architecture and art museums easily rivals ancient cities such as Paris or Rome. Designed by Peter the Great as a bold expression of the European ideals and mighty strength of the Russian empire, since its founding the city became home to the Russian nobility, who built scores of opulent palaces, cathedrals, and public squares. Formed on a series of islands, the city is covered in a vast network of picturesque canals, rivers and bridges, 13 of which open every night to let tall ships pass out into the Baltic Sea. In the heart of the city the golden spire of the Peter and Paul Fortress fights for attention with the mosaic covered Church of the Spilled Blood, the huge golden cupola of St. Isaac’s cathedral and the iconic façade of the Winter
Palace. The Hermitage, one of the biggest museums in the world, is the home to some of the most important art treasures of human history. Ancient Roman and Greek statues, paintings by Leonardo, Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Picasso, sculptures by Michelangelo and all the wealth of the Romanov dynasty are all protected inside the magnificent rooms of the Winter Palace. On the outskirts of the city the old excess and opulence of the Russian Tsars has also been preserved in the glittering palaces of Peterhof, Russia’s Versailles and Tsarkskoe Selo, the sparkling Baroque masterpiece built for Catherine the Great. Meanwhile the deep Russian soul that created such masters as Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff lives on in the city’s world famous theaters and opera houses.