January 27 is a big day in Saint Petersburg, the former Leningrad. It marks 77 years since the complete breakthrough of the Blockade. A memorable day, on which its citizens could finally see the light again, after three years of hell.
The Siege of Leningrad was a period of 872 days in World War II, where courage and perseverance of the human soul were tested in its most extreme form. People learning about the course of events in Leningrad those days, often feel nothing but deep respect for the battle that has been fought here.
Initially, Hitler's plan known as Barbarossa was to attack and conquer the USSR swiftly. It was vital for him to wipe the beautiful Saint Petersburg, a symbol of pride and culture of the Soviet people, from the face of the earth. But fate decided otherwise. Instead of a quick victory, it became a lengthy and brutal confrontation, where the superior German forces had aimed to encircle all Leningrad and cut it off from the rest of the world. For 872 days.
Ingenuity in making ends meet and protecting the historical heritage of the city was pushed to limits during the Blockade. Sometimes dark limits, with cases of cannibalism reported.#Never Forget
The strategy for conquering Leningrad was made up of continued daily bombings and complete isolation from the outer world by which the city was thought to starve to death and surrender quickly. But, magically, Leningrad managed to resist one of the most destructive sieges in history.
The day of the final lifting of the Blockade is rightfully considered the second birth of the city, and the people who fought through those days are considered real heroes.
The first winter of the Blockade in 1942 was immediately extremely cold and harsh – even for the standards of Leningrad, notorious for its severe winters. A small piece of bread, not weighing more than 125 grams, was the only food provided on a daily basis. And there was no end in sight, just hope and the will to survive. Only a few other products were received every 10 days, in the smallest quantities. Therefore, the Russian people know what rationing bread is, and in Saint Petersburg bread has logically earned a special respect.
Among the older Petersburgers there is a special attitude towards food and bread in particular. For generations, the elderly have been telling younger ones that throwing away bread means showing disrespect to those who died during the war in order for others to live.#Respect
Thanks to historical information such as chronicles and saved diaries, we know that in the first months of the famine, all the rats had disappeared from the city. They had been caught by cats, who were worth their weight in gold. But time passed, food supplies kept falling, and even our four-legged friends became a way out for desperate people. That is why cats are so loved in Saint Petersburg nowadays, as they have helped many survive.
Even cases of cannibalism have been reported in the Siege of Leningrad. The city had obviously been called to survive at any cost. And the effects of this hardship can hardly be overestimated today. Not only in Saint Petersburg, where the splendid 18th-century architecture is still shining. But probably also in Europe, as we know today. A defeat in the strategically important Leningrad could have turned world history upside down. The people of Leningrad fought till the bitter end and turned out to be able to stop the advance of the superior Nazi army.
Petersburg is not the only city that was bombed heavily during the war. Let's not forget Rotterdam, London, Hamburg, Dresden, Berlin or Stalingrad. Not all of them were lucky to keep their brilliant historical appearance. How is it that we can today walk the same streets and enjoy more or less the same views in Saint Petersburg as a century ago?
Ingenious plans had been developed in Leningrad, to preserve the magnificent cathedrals and architectural highlights of the city. For instance, camouflage nets were created with pieces of fabric sewn on them, matching the color of the vegetation. Many of the domes and spires in Leningrad were covered in grey paint, so that they would merge with the color of the sky. And in the evening, the whole city became one black hole, without a single light, as to not give the enemy any guidance.
Still a huge number of buildings got destroyed during the war. So when the Blockade ended after three years, every effort was required to restore the former appearance of the city. It was mainly thanks to old drawings, that the surviving specialists were able to rebuild and restore the historical Leningrad.
Monuments and statues had been buried in the ground during the war, whilst massive statues like the Bronze Horseman were nailed up in a wooden box and covered with sandbags, which protected them from shelling.
For a deeper understanding of the Siege of Leningrad and its historical importance, three places in St. Petersburg stand out.
Throughout Saint Petersburg, in the centre as well as in the suburbs, you can see commemorative plaques and small monuments in honor of the victims. The most impressive place is probably Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery. Despite the fact that it is the resting place of the defenders of Leningrad, people generally take the cemetery as a place of comfort to remember and lay flowers in memory of any fallen hero.
This museum provides a touching journey through those terrible times, telling about the life of the civilians of Leningrad, as illustrated by original objects and numerous artefacts. After a renovation, the museum reopened in May 2019.
Besides military artefacts, such as all kinds of weapons, uniforms and historical documents, you will see models here that comprehensively depict the attack of the Nazis on the city. Authentic diaries of those suffering and starving during the Blockade deserve special attention. Sometimes you see just a couple of lines, but the impression from them can be so strong that it will simply be impossible to hold back the tears. Get ready for a moving visit at the Siege of Leningrad Museum – only amplified by the accompanying sounds of sirens and air raids.
With most illustrations at the museum in the Russian language, a Russian speaking guide is recommended here. We could help you with that, so please feel free to reach out to us.
The last important sight is the Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad, where you can find the documentary and art exposition devoted to the Blockade. Typically, you'll get to see a glimpse of this colossal monument on the way from the airport, however, it deserves a separate visit.
Whilst exploring the many sculptures depicting soldiers and workers, be sure to pay special attention to the shape of the monument. At first glance we may see a ring, but this is not correct, as it doesn't close. And it is this gap in the ring that symbolizes the breakthrough of the Blockade of Leningrad. It reminds us of the fact that the German troops were never able to fully besiege the city. Multiple eternal flames burn in the centre of the site, in memory of the feat. Every year on January 27 and May 9 everything here is buried in flowers.
There are plenty of interesting places in St. Petersburg, and not all of them are located in the city centre. The city on the Neva is made for walking, as also in neighborhoods like Petrogradsky and Vasileostrovsky there's a lot of interesting places to visit. Our free map of Saint Petersburg will help you making your plan, as you will get a quick overview of the best places outside of the centre as well. Be sure to select our neighborhoods layer together with any other information you would like to see, such as green spaces, landmarks, markets or shopping areas.
Some sights in Saint Petersburg are so far out of the city centre, that you will need some kind of (public) transport to reach them. Such as the famous Catherine Palace and the Grand Palace in Peterhof, which have risen like phoenixes from the ashes of war. You can easily find them too with our map of Saint Petersburg, together with the wonderful parks and gardens surrounding them.
Above all we hope you will enjoy your time in the Venice of the North! Should you just have little time for exploring Saint Petersburg, consider going for our free 3-hour walking tour through the historical centre.