Table of contents:
- The era of the fascination with Egypt in European capitals
- Sphinxes, pyramids, hieroglyphs in the architecture of St. Petersburg
- Singing bridge, tenement house and residential gate
Just as a young fashionista adorns himself with what is popular in his circle, so young Petersburg with pleasure once tried on Egyptian "new clothes" - what became popular in architecture with the beginning of Egyptomania. This is how sphinxes and pyramids, hieroglyphs and bas-reliefs appeared in the northern capital, inspiring all new generations of townspeople to further study the mysterious ancient culture.
The era of the fascination with Egypt in European capitalsLooking back into the past, one can notice not one or two waves of particularly high interest in the culture of Ancient Egypt. Those who are now falling under the influence of the era of the pharaohs and the pyramids are guided, perhaps, by approximately the same motives as the inhabitants of the Roman Empire. Then, with the expansion of the state, interest in its distant possessions also increased, which was also facilitated by the relationship between the rulers - which is at least Cleopatra's foreign policy activity.
There were still centuries before the construction of St. Petersburg, and the fashion for Egyptian architecture had time to leave and return. Of course, the country of the pharaohs was not ignored during the Renaissance. Then the discovery of the monuments of this ancient civilization in the vicinity of Rome became the catalyst of interest in Egyptian wonders. The adventures of daredevil explorers in Africa provided new insight and inspiration to European urban planners, homeowners and their architects, as pyramid-shaped tombs and other Egyptian-inspired structures appeared.
But a real "disease" called "Egyptomania" swept Europe after Napoleon's campaign in Egypt in 1798-1801. No, the Corsican did not set the main goal of enriching Western civilization with archaeological discoveries and interesting finds - he strove primarily to redistribute spheres of influence and expand French colonial possessions. But, being also a progressive statesman, Bonaparte took care not only of weapons and military equipment. Together with the soldiers and officers, another "army" went to Egypt - scientists, artists, engravers and simply enthusiasts - those who were to return with conquests of a special character.
One of the results of the Egyptian campaign was the publication of a large work entitled "Description of Egypt", on which hundreds of specialists worked. The first volume came out in 1809, and by the time the last one came out, in 1829, Europe and the New World were already in the grip of Egyptomania.
Sphinxes, pyramids, hieroglyphs in the architecture of St. Petersburg
Personal collections were replenished - "cabinets of rarities", the guests were shown the mummies, scarabs, jewelry and objects of ancient cult ordered and taken out of Egypt. The interior decoration of palaces and mansions was increasingly determined by the Egyptian theme, the walls were decorated with hieroglyphs and bas-reliefs, sphinxes and figurines of gods with a human body and an animal's head were placed at the entrance.
It was the sphinxes that launched the St. Petersburg “trend” of decorating the capital with objects of ancient art and imitations of it, the fashion for Ancient Egypt in the conditions of Northern Venice. In 1832, huge granite figures, discovered during the excavations of the city of Thebes by the pioneer of Egyptology Jean-François Champollion, arrived in Russia. The Sphinxes "guarded" the tomb of Pharaoh Amenhotep III, the stone faces of these two figures were carved in the image of the young ruler. The age of the sphinxes is estimated at about three and a half thousand years.
They ended up in St. Petersburg thanks to the writer and traveler Andrei Nikolayevich Muravyov, who, in correspondence with Emperor Nicholas I, convinced him to purchase giant sculptures. It took a lot of effort and luck to bring the sphinxes to the northern capital; at first they were transported to Alexandria, and then they were sold to France. From there, thanks to the new French revolution, the sphinxes were finally taken to Russia. The transportation affected the appearance of the sculptures - fragments were chipped off, including the beard and parts of the inscriptions, but otherwise the test of time, as well as a new climate for them, the sphinxes withstand.
Not without mysticism - as far as Ancient Egypt is concerned, it is inevitable, even modern cinema no, no, and it will return to the theme of the curses of the pharaohs and ruined tombs. The Sphinxes were accused of the sudden deaths of those who were somehow connected with their transportation to Russia, but most importantly, they were recognized as the defenders of the city, primarily from the river: with the installation of Egyptian figures on the embankment, the frequency of floods in St. Petersburg decreased, they became much less destructive. They also say that during the day, sphinxes change their facial expressions, while looking at them is best as little as possible.
Singing bridge, tenement house and residential gate
The chain bridge over the Fontanka River, created in 1826, which connected the Pokrovsky and Bezymyanny islands, also has its own legends and beliefs. It was created in the same Egyptian style: the columns and other fragments of the portals were decorated with a characteristic ornament, on each side the bridge was "guarded" by cast-iron sphinxes.
It didn't take long after the inauguration of the bridge, and he got the nickname "singing": indeed, the chains on which the structure was held made a sound when moving, similar to some dull song. It resembled a funeral - and this will be said more than once later, when a disaster strikes. On one of the January days of 1905, almost eight decades after its creation, the flight collapsed onto the ice of the Fontanka, while a horse-guards regiment and several sledges with cabs were on the bridge. This case will become an illustration to school physics textbooks as a manifestation of the resonance effect, however, there is no information confirming this version. Most likely, the reason for the collapse was the poor quality of the iron.
True, the residents of St. Petersburg found other versions: either what happened was the result of the curse of a certain girl Mary, abandoned by the officer, or the Sphinxes themselves, for some unknown reason, dealt with the singing bridge like that. Walking along the "Egyptian" sights of St. Petersburg and hearing their story is a separate pleasure for a tourist and those who like to plunge into the history of the city. An indispensable component of this fascinating route will be a visit to the city of Pushkin not far from the northern capital - there, at the entrance to the Alexander Park of Tsarskoe Selo, at about the same time, in 1826 - 1830, the Egyptian, or Kuzminsky, gates appeared. The design of the gate prompted the creators of the same edition - the French "Description of Egypt", from where, in particular, images of Osiris' wanderings in the world of the dead were taken.
By the way, one of the towers of these gates was residential until the eighties of the last century, there was an apartment of three floors; the last tenant was the caretaker of the nearby agricultural institute. Perhaps the culmination of this Petersburg Egyptomania was the construction of the “Egyptian house” several years before the revolution. The wife of Nezhinsky's lawyer, Larisa Ivanovna, commissioned the architect Mikhail Songailo to design an unusual apartment building. Its facade was decorated with bas-reliefs and half-columns with images of Egyptian goddesses, the sun god Ra, scenes from the life of the ancient Egyptians. For all its originality, the Nezhinskaya house was equipped according to the latest technical standards, it even housed an automatic elevator. This building, located on Zakharyevskaya Street, still attracts attention.
For a Western man, everything related to Ancient Egypt is a whole universe, alien and mysterious. More than once, perhaps, there will be a surge of interest in Egyptian culture, and again this will be reflected in the creation of Egyptian-style buildings in modern cities. And as for the reason - it can also be the detection most recently 59 ancient sarcophagi.