“And bridges spanned the waters’ width…” When Pushkin wrote his immortal poem, The Bronze Horseman, those bridges in masonry, wrought-iron and cast-iron spanned as yet only the creeks and canals of the southern section of the Neva delta.

As to the main channel of the Neva, down to the middle of the nineteenth century it was crossed only by pontoon bridges of timber construction. Projects of permanent-type bridges over the Neva had begun to appear during the last few decades of the eighteenth century, but they were never carried out. The building techniques used in those days could not cope with the difficulties created by the great depth of the Neva, its loose bottom soil and the dangers of the spring ice drift. The first permanent metaj bridge over the Neva was begun in 1843 and completed in 1850. It spanned the river at a point opposite the Square of the Annunciation (now Labour Square) and assured easy communication between Vasilyevsky Island and the left bank. First named Blagoveshchensky (Annunciation), in 1855 the bridge was renamed Nikolayevsky. The project for this monumental structure was developed by S. Kerbedz, a St. Petersburg civil engineer, while the railing was* designed by Alexander Briullov, architect, brother of the prominent painter Karl Briullov. The structure was composed of cast-iron arched ‘spans, including a swinging span next to the right bank, designed to allow the passage of sea-going craft.

St. Petersburg photo
On the eve of the October armed uprising the bourgeois Provisional Government had the Nikolayevsky Bridge occupied by cadets of the local military academies; and the leaves of the span were swung open to keep the Red Guards and revolutionary troops from reaching the left bank of the Neva. On October 25, 1917, the cruiser Aurora was ordered by the Petrograd Military Revolutionary Committee to drop anchor just below the bridge; the cadets were forced to retreat; and the cruiser’s electricians succeeded in closing the span and thereby re-established communication between Vasilyevsky Island and the city centre. When preparations for the storming of the Winter Palace were finished the Aurora, at anchor below the Nikolayevsky Bridge, fired its history-making shot.

St. Petersburg photo
Soon after the October Socialist Revolution the Nikolayevsky Bridge was renamed in honour of Lieutenant P. Schmidt, the prominent Russian revolutionary who had led the November, 1905, revolt of the sailors at Sevastopol.

St. Petersburg photo
Between 1936 and 1938 the bridge was radically reconstructed in accordance with a project drawn up by G. Peredery, as being no longer able to either handle vehicular traffic or afford passage to modern river and sea-going ships. Long steel girders replaced the arched spans, and a movable section of the bascule type was placed in the centre, where the depth of the river was greatest. From the engineering point of view its characteristic feature was that all the steel elements were joined together by electric welding, without the use of a single rivet. This was a bold technological innovation for the 1930s, and the

St. Petersburg photo
Lieutenant Schmidt Bridge became one of the world’s biggest welded bridges of the pre-war years. The original railing with its sea-horse pattern was installed on the reconstructed bridge, but the lampposts had to be changed since they were not strong enough to carry the weight of the tramcar and trolleybus overhead wires. The new lamp-posts were constructed by L. Noskov; and the old ones were transferred to the Field of Mars. The cast-iron arches of the old Nikolayevsky Bridge were also put to good use: they were found to be in such sound condition that in 1953-56 they were utilized in the construction of a bridge over the Volga at Kalinin. The second metal bridge, an iron-arch structure, spanned the Neva at the start of Liteiny Prospekt. Built between 1875 and 1879 by A. Struve, it remained in service for almost ninety years, when, toward the end of the 1960s, it underwent capital reconstruction.

St. Petersburg photo
The third bridge, initially named the Trinity (Troitsky) Bridge, linked the banks of the Neva between the Field of Mars and Trinity Square (now Square of the Revolution). It was built over the period between 1897 and 1903 in accordance with a project submitted by the French civil engineering firm of Batignolles. Being specialists in the field of large-scale steel construction, the firm became the winner at the two international contests organized by the St. Petersburg municipal council in 1892 and 1896. Quite a few of St. Petersburg’s civil engineers and architects took part in the final elaboration of the project and in the construction of the bridge, notably N. Beleliubsky, A. Veretennikov, L. Novikov. Moreover, the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts set up a special commission including such leading architects as L. Benois, A. Pomerantsev, G. Kotov and others, designated to examine the decoration projects submitted, some of which were substantially modified. The grand opening of the bridge in 1903 coincided with the official celebration of St. Petersburg’s second centenary.

St. Petersburg photo
The Trinity Bridge is characterized by an exceptional harmony of proportions. Its arches gradually increase in span length towards the centre, facilitating the passage of ships and creating an illusion of growing momentum which gives the bridge a peculiar air of lightness and grace.

The three handsome granite arched spans at the north end of the bridge, designed by G. Krivoshein, set off strikingly the tracery of its six steel trusses. The railing, lamp-posts, overhead contact-wire posts and ornate obelisks of the approach from the Field of Mars were designed by the French architects V. Chabrole and R. Patouillard and show the influence of the trend toward the Art Nouveau in architecture that developed around the turn of the twentieth century. In 1934 the bridge was renamed in memory of S. Kirov, the leader of Leningrad communists. In 1966-67 the Kirov Bridge underwent partial reconstruction. The ugly and heavy double-leaf swing span near the left bank was removed as no longer able to handle the river traffic, which had increased following the completion of the new Volga-Baltic waterway, and replaced with a 43-metre single-leaf bascule span. Its pier was connected with the left bank by a reinforced-concrete arch faced with granite, similar in shape to the three old masonry arches of the right bank. The new bascule span was designed under the direction of G. Stepanov and Yu. Sinitsa from “Lengiprotransmost”, the Leningrad bridge-designing organization. The reconstruction resulted in improving the handling of river traffic as well as the architectural exterior of the Kirov Bridge. The Great Okhta Bridge, built between 1908 and 1911 after the design of G. Krivoshein and V, Apysh-kov, spanned the Neva somewhat upstream from where it is joined by the Okhta. Its movable span is situated in midstream, while the side spans are formed of steel arch trusses, 136 metres long, from which the roadway is suspended. While the bridge is well adapted to handle river shipping, its architectural merits are doubtful. The heavy trusses rising above the roadway block the view of the Neva and, notably, the Smolny Monastery, a masterpiece of eighteenth century Russian architecture. The Great Okhta Bridge looks like a plain piece of engineering, which is the result of a purely utilitarian approach to its designing. Before the October Revolution Okhta used to be a workers’ district on the city’s farthest outskirts, so that nobody cared whether the bridge would fit into the panorama of the Neva.

St. Petersburg photo
The composition of the Palace (EHwtsovy) Bridge is based on very different architectural principles. This five-span bridge connects the Vasilyevsky Island Spit with the left bank of the Neva near the Winter Palace, and minute attention was therefore given to its architectural decor. The bridge was to be built close to the surface of the water, skimming lightly over it, as it were, so that it should not obstruct the splendid vista of the Neva’s quays. It has two double-span continuous trusses and its central span, measuring about fifty-five metres, is a double-leaf bascule. The length of the spans increases toward midstream, while the contours of the bridge follow smoothly curving lines. The bridge presents an appearance at once elegant and monumental. The long spans and the severity of the mighty granite piers harmonize with the majestic sweep of the Neva and the architecture of its quays.

The Palace Bridge was designed by A. Pshenitsky. Construction was begun in 1912, but the outbreak of the First World War caused the work to be suspended. The bridge was opened to traffic on the eve of 1917, even while its architectural decoration was still unfinished.

The five metal bridges provided, when completed, dependable communication over the Neva in the city’s central area. However, after the October Revolution the growing Leningrad developed a need for a new bridge over the river in the outlying eastern area of former wasteland and tiny villages, where large-scale industrial and housing development was then in full swing. The bridge was built between 1932 and 1936 and named after V. Volodarsky, a prominent revolutionary treacherously assassinated near the site on June 20, 1918.

St. Petersburg photo
The Volodarsky Bridge project was worked out by G. Peredery and K. Dmitriev in consultation with A. Nikolsky. The central movable span with its electrically welded steel bascules was one of the world’s earliest specimens of such balance-bridge construction.

The austere and modern appearance of the Volodarsky Bridge fits well into the surrounding architectural landscape. Its fine proportions and noble simplicity of composition make it one of the outstanding achievements of Soviet bridge-designing. The second major reinforced-concrete bridge, named in memory of Alexander Nevsky, the Russian national hero, spanned the Neva in 1965 at a point where it is closest to Nevsky Prospekt. It was designed in “Lengiprotransmost” under the direction of A. Yevdonin; its architects were A. Zhuk, S. Mayofis and Yu. Sinitsa. The traffic intersection pattern at the approaches was worked out by Yu. Boiko, A. Gutzeit and other civil engineers of “Lengipro-inzhproekt” (the Leningrad town-planning and town-building organization).

St. Petersburg photo
All aspects of the bridge reflect a trend toward simplicity, economy and engineering efficiency, characteristic of Soviet civil engineering of the late 1950s and early 1960s. It was this trend, in the given case, that determined the number of spans and the type of structure. The width of the movable central span was to be about 50 metres, which would allow ample room for navigation. The remaining six spans, with the maximum span length of 123 metres, were to be bridged by extra-long continuous girders of prestressed reinforced concrete. The most up-to-date building techniques were used in the project. The reinforced concrete girders were constructed of separate complex blocks. Each block was assembled ashore on a special construction site, mounted on a heavy-duty pontoon lighter and slowly towed to the designated bridge piers. Here the ends of the girder block were carefully guided into position over the two piers, the many-ton structure being manipulated with a precision reckoned in millimetres; water was then pumped into the pontoons and the block was slowly lowered to rest on the piers. The same method of towing large-size bridge sections assembled on shore was used in the capital reconstruction of the Liteiny Bridge, designed and built by “Lengiprotransmost” under the direction of L. Wild-grube and Yu. Sinitsa.

The old Liteiny Bridge built in the 1870s was no longer capable of handling the heavy flow of modern city traffic. Its movable span, moreover, was close to the river bank, and had long since become too narrow, and the channel beneath it too shallow, for the sea-going ships arriving in Leningrad by way of the Volga-Baltic Canal.

St. Petersburg photo
The underwater sections of the old piers were found still perfectly sound and were therefore allowed to stand. Long, slightly curving steel girders bridge the spans, resting on the piers which have been faced with granite of a light pink hue. The new bridge is not unlike the old one in appearance, yet it has a thoroughly modern look. Its movable single-leaf span of the bascule type is an outstanding achievement of Soviet civil engineering, chiefly on account of its size: the. leaf is fifty-five metres long and thirty-four wide and weighs 3,225 tons, which is a world record. What is more, so massive a bascule is raised to a practically vertical position in the space of no more than two minutes.

The old railing designed by K. Rachau, a St. Petersburg architect, was also retained after undergoing some restoration. It is an object of interest both because of its fine workmanship and also because its pattern includes St. Petersburg’s old emblem representing a shield with two crossed anchors.

An on-line compilation of a photographic study of the bridges in Leningrad (the former name of Saint Petersburg), published by Aurora Art Publishers, Leningrad, 1975.

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11 Feb 2007

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