How a Roof Tour Became a Reality.
Over time the skylines of historical cities are destroyed with the introduction of new and much taller buildings. St Petersburg in Russia can thank Czar Nicolas for dodging that bullet. The story has it that the Czar, surveying the view of the city from the top of St. Isaac’s Cathedral was not happy. The varying heights of the buildings at that time (1840’s) was not pleasing to his eye. Using the winter palace as a guideline, in 1844 he ordered the removal of any building floors higher than the palace. Churches were exempted from this restriction. It is estimated that 205 floors were destroyed to meet the new height restriction. Even the Revolution of 1917, when the czar was removed from power, did not remove this rule. Limitations in all the districts are still enforced, maintaining the skyline of the Early 1800’s. A single exception is being built at this time.
To view this magnificent skyline, with all the historical buildings and churches, people would search out stairwells that would take them upward and out onto the roof tops. This has been an illegal activity, dangerous and frowned upon by the residents who disliked the resultant rooftop parties and the occupation of these areas by the homeless. Nevertheless, illegal tours, with contact info often sprayed on sidewalks, operated.
Now, the first legal roof top tour has been established. The tour starts at the top of a 25 m building, bordering the historical downtown. From this vantage point you can see the spire of the Peter and Paul Cathedral, the domes of the Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood and the Great Mosque minarets. Binoculars will be desirable. St. Isaacs’s Cathedral, where the story began, can also be seen.
Another feature to be seen on the St. Petersburg skyline are the air defense towers often manned by school children during the Nazi Siege of Leningrad (renamed St. Petersburg) that lasted 2 ½ years during WW2. Indiscriminate bombing of the city had these children scrambling to put out fires with sand when the air raid sirens sounded.
Tours are scheduled in advance insuring an English-speaking guide. Tours are also conducted during the winter, but only on weekends.