Sergei Akopov

Professor, PhD Political science

my St. Petersburg

The Embankments of St.-Petersburg: Topology of the Identity


When you are born and raised on an island sometimes you might feel yourself a little bit like an islander. I was born on the Vasilievsky (Basil) Island in St.-Petersburg, the city of around 43 islands, 90 rivers and 300 bridges. One of my earliest child memories were when my grandma took me along the Lieutenant Schmidt embankment to look at the boats that were docked along the granite embankment. I felt myself born in the city of sailors and ever since being a child dreamed of becoming a traveller.

When I grew up older I learned that one doesn’t have to be a sailor to meet cultures and people coming from all over the world. This is when I learned that (lucky am I) in St.-Petersburg there is another famous embankment – Palace embankment, along which stand the buildings of the Hermitage Museum. The Palace embankment with the Hermitage turned out to be the coastline of European values and ideas that had a crucial influence into the topology of my identity. This is when I have started to feel myself a Russian European.

Almost opposite the Palace embankment there is an embankment with a large open book, made of granite. This is the University embankment with buildings of Academy of Sciences, Museum of Anthropology, Academy of Arts and two famous 3000 years old Egyptian Sphinxes – perhaps the ones that make every resident of St.Petersburg little bit a mystic.

Across the river there is an English embankment, which used to be build for Englishmen to settle down and trade with Russian Emperor, but now is more famous for young men from England and Europe to marry and take away beautiful Russian girls (there is a wedding palace for civic registrations right opposites the sphinxes).

The English embankment takes us to the famous Bronze Horseman – this is how poet A.Pushkin called the 1782 monument to Peter the Great. The Bronze Horseman is probably the most epic, romantic and monumental personification of the ideas of new capital and westernized Russia, started by Peter I “from the scratch”.

However, the Admiralty Embankment, that continues the promenade along the river Neva, surprises us with another monument of Peter – as a young hard working “exchange student”-carpenter building ships in Holland. Dreams set high are symbolized with the weather vane golden ship on the top of the Admiralty spire flying in the sky over the Northern capital of Russia.

Perhaps my favourite place is The Old St.-Petersburg Stock Exchange and Rostral Columns with the cable stone slope descending towards the river. The Old Stock Exchange is sited to fill the majestic sweep of the Spit of Vasilievsky Island, just across the Winter Palace. While standing there and facing the remarkable river panorama of the old down town it feels that every person is routed in her soil. Sometimes it even feels that Vasilievsky is not an island but a large caravelle that breaks away from the marshy banks of St.-Petersburg and sets off towards the Baltic Sea and God knows where else. The city like a large flotilla continues its 300 years journey sailing from East to West and back, and I feel myself but a little sea cadet stretching its sails.