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Russia: St. Petersburg Renews Monuments And Infrastructure

  • Brian Whitmore

St. Petersburg, 6 August 1997 (RFE/RL) -- A major downtown revival is underway this summer in St. Petersburg. A highlight will come this month when the Church of the Spilt Blood opens after 67 years in the shadows.

Workmen have been building roads, renovating, planting trees and unveiling monuments at a furious pace all summer.

They are removing tram lines from several central streets and bridges, prompting rumors that St. Petersburg intends soon to rid itself entirely of downtown trams. A metro station Sportivnaya, near the Tuchkov Bridge, is to open August 28.

The opening of the Church of the Spilt Blood will crown all of this activity. Leftist radicals assassinated Tsar Alexander II at the site in 1881. The church will reopen August 19, the 90th anniversary of its opening in 1907 as a monument to the tsar. Before the 1917 revolution, this church was reserved for the royal family and even then was used only on special occasions.

The Central Committee of the Communist Party on October 30, 1930, ordered the church closed. Subsequently, the Soviets used it as a potato warehouse and, during the World War II siege of Leningrad, as a morgue. After the war the Mussorgsky Theater of Opera and Ballet used it as a warehouse for props and stage decorations.

When the church reopens this month, visitors to St. Petersburg will be able to see its 7,000 square meters of mosaic icons, perhaps the world's largest indoor work of its kind. There's also a plan to strip the square before the church, Konyushennaya Ploshchad, of tram lines and to turn it into a pedestrian square.