Posted by: ritagone | September 19, 2012

In Russia…with Love

There’s just so much opulence and luxury you can see in one sightseeing trip.

Then your mind begins to explode.

We’re in St. Petersburg now, and when you are in St. Petersburg, you have to visit certain places, like The Hermitage, built in 1764 by Catherine the Great as her winter palace and comprising now one of the world’s greatest art collections, room after room after room filled with paintings and sculptures and every other conceivable type of artwork.

There’s Peterhof, Peter the Great’s summer palace (because, of course, the tsars of Russia could not have just one palace for all seasons but seemed to be bent on building seasonal residences, for some reason), so vast and opulent that it boggles your mind to go there and walk and walk and walk, seeing more than 150 fountains on the grounds, all of which operate without pumps, an amazing phenomenon of technical superiority for the 18th century.  Again, the pomp and wealth of the rooms just makes you shake your head and wonder how it all came to be.

There are so many royal palaces in and around St. Petersburg that this city makes the United Kingdom look shabby and positively egalitarian by comparison.  Henry VIII had no idea how to live and celebrate life when held up to his Russian monarch peers.  I can’t imagine another country on the face of the earth – and no other city in that country – where the monarchy spent as much money and used as much manpower to build, build, build homes for himself or herself.

These tsars and empresses took the phrase “There’s no place like home” to an extreme.

And they built these homes on the blood, sweat, and tears of thousands of people, poor people who slaved away day after day and month after month to build the houses and the roofs and the chimneys and put in the flooring and the windows and whatever else was needed.  Manpower was not lacking; 98% of the population of the nation of Russia were paupers, slave labor willing and able to go to work for the monarchy to do his or her bidding.  And work they did, often at the cost of their lives, for pennies a week, attempting to put food on the table, so that lavish meals could be served on porcelain dishes in rooms that could house entire villages.

No wonder the people eventually revolted.

Walking through these beautiful palaces, I keep remembering the little bit of Russian history I know: eventually someone came along and told the laborers that they were being cheated.  And they listened, because, in truth, they were being cheated.  They were told that if they rose up and took away what the tsar had and kept it for themselves, all would be well.  That was the promise…and it was false.  It was just as false as the lie they were told by the tsar: that they had no value.  They were told by the communist leaders that they as peasants and workers had all the value and the monarchy and noblemen had none.  The monarchy and noblemen kept telling the impoverished that they were worthless.  It’s a struggle that goes on throughout time, throughout history, in every country around the world.

But in Russia, you can palpably feel it when you walk around the grounds of the Peterhof and realize how many lives it took to build the palaces and the gardens that Peter and his friends and family could then enjoy.

A history lesson made visible that has value even today.

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Responses

  1. thanks for the history lesson…one we should well listen to in our polarized country.

  2. Yes indeed a lesson in history it was and the nature of man. What a blessing to be there with you Rita and Michael!

  3. Awesome Rita. I kept wondering how in the world I was with you in these places, seeing the same things you did, and could have never written this blog posting. You are a gifted writer!!!! Thanks so much for an amazing experience in St. Petersburg!


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