The Vasilievsky Island Spit and Rostral Columns, St. Petersburg


History of the Vasilievsky Island Spit

  • The spit was initially used as a trading port. Its harmonious ensemble consists of the St Petersburg Stock Exchange and Rostral Columns, both adorned with maritime symbolism
  • Russia’s first museums and educational institutions were built on the Vasilievsky Spit, such as the Kunstkamera, Pushkin House, and St Petersburg State University

Vasilievsky Island Spit in the 19th century

Fragment of 1913 year map, Wikimedia Commons

Until the mid-19th century, Vasilievsky Spit was an important trading port. In 1810, two 32 metre Rostral Columns were constructed there to celebrate the Russian naval victory over Sweden, and to act as lighthouses to provide safe passage for ships sailing up the Neva.

The Rostral Columns were painted terracotta red and decorated with six rostra (prows of captured enemy ships). At the columns’ base are sculptures representing the four great Russian rivers - the Neva, Volga, Dnepr and Volkhov.

Did you know? During holidays such as New Year, Victory Day and City Day, the flames atop the columns are lit, releasing 7 metre tongues of flame.

At the centre of the Spit’s ensemble is the St Petersburg Stock Exchange, finished in 1816 by French architect J.F. Thomas de Thomon. The building was constructed in magnificent Greek Revival style, reminiscent of an ancient temple facing onto the widest part of the Neva. Above the portico is a quadriga featuring Neptune, the Roman god of the sea, watching over the ships sailing by.

Did you know? The Stock Exchange is printed on the Russian 50 rouble banknote.

Following the October Revolution, the Stock Exchange ceased to function, and in 1939 it was transformed into the Central Naval Museum (in 2010 the museum moved to Labour Square). Today, the Stock Exchange building has been given to the State Hermitage to set up the Museum of Heraldry and Awards.

Some of Russia’s first museums were built on the Vasilievsky spit. The Kunstkamera, finished in 1727, housed Peter the Great’s personal cabinet of curiosities, over time developing into a full ethnographical and anthropological museum. Russia’s first literary museum, Pushkin House was founded in the port’s former customs house.

Did you know? One of the Kunstkamera’s collections includes deformed animals and humans personally collected by Peter the Great. In order to acquire them, Peter issued a decree ordering that malformed infants be sent to St Petersburg to be displayed.

In 1724 St Petersburg State University was founded, the first university in the Russian Empire and today the country’s second most prestigious institution. The main campus stretches west from the Vasilievsky Spit, and its main building is a monumental Petrine Baroque structure, the Twelve Collegia.

Did you know? The Twelve Collegia was the largest building constructed under Peter the Great, home to one of the world’s longest academic corridors - 400 metres long!

What can you find at the Vasilievsky Island Spit today?

  • The Rostral Columns and Old Stock Exchange, best seen from Birzhevoy Square
  • Birzhevoy Promenade offers a stunning view of the Neva and nearby landmarks
  • Kunstkamera, Russia’s oldest museum, home to Peter the Great’s cabinet of curiosities and many other ethnographic and anthropological wonders
  • Pushkin House, the country’s first and largest literary museum, part of the Literary Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences
  • A stroll along University Embankment provides a panoramic view over the Neva a glimpse of St Petersburg State University

Old Stock Exchange

Old Stock Exchange, St. Petersburg

Image by Iurii Spod from Pixabay 

Admire its architecture from Birzhevoy Square at the eastern edge of the spit. The museum there is due to open in 2021.

Rostral Columns

Rostral Columns, St. Petersburg

Image by Сергей Горбачев from Pixabay 

Appreciate the enormous size of the columns and the sculptures adorning them. Take a stroll along the adjacent Birzhevoy Promenade for a panoramic view of the Winter Palace and Peter and Paul Fortress.


Dancing on Vasilievsky Island Spit

Image by Mayya666 from Pixabay 

The Vasilievsky Spit comes alive in the summertime, especially during White Nights and festivals such as Navy Day or Scarlet Sails. On weekends you’ll find music and dancing going on late into the night in Birzhevoy Square.


Kunstkamera, St. Petersburg

Photo by Express to Russia staff

One of the world’s best and most unique ethnographic museums - although some of its exhibits are not for the faint of heart! There is a separate Zoological Museum next door, formed in 1838 from the Kunstkamera’s collection.

Pushkin House

Pushkin House, St. Petersburg

Photo by Irina Borsuchenko, Photobank Lori

Located in the Institute of Russian Literature of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the museum is the largest of its kind in the country, with over 200,000 exhibits.

Menshikov Palace

Menshikov Palace, St. Petersburg

A branch of the State Hermitage, displaying the collection ‘Russian Culture in the First Third of the 18th Century’, its original interior recreated with fine and decorative arts from this period.

University Embankment

University Embankment

Photo by Express to Russia staff

Take a stroll along the embankment and admire the stunning view across the Neva to the Winter Palace, Admiralty and St Isaac’s Cathedral. Make sure to look out for the Twelve Collegia and the adjacent monument to Mikhail Lomonosov, the founder of Russian science.

Museum of the Academy of Arts

Discover many disciplines of art by students and teachers of the Academy, as well as masters from Russia and Europe. The museum is located around the perfectly circular central courtyard of the Academy, itself an architectural work of art.

Did you know? For good luck and riches, make a wish at the sphinx and griffin statues opposite the Academy of Arts.

Essential Information for Visitors

Birzhevaya Ploshchad, St Petersburg, 199034
Metro: Admiralteyskaya (1.1km), Sportivnaya (1.3km).

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