The Bronze Horseman – Eternal Defender of St Petersburg!

The Bronze Horseman – Eternal Defender of St Petersburg!
12 November 2014

The Bronze Horseman is one of the most iconic sights of St Petersburg. Stood on Senate Square, by the banks of the Neva, in between the Admiralty and St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the statue is an exemplary tribute to Peter the Great and looks over his city with majestic authority!

The Bronze Horseman was commissioned by Catherine the Great in 1775 and took a long time to build. It was finally finished in 1782 because the mould broke up at some point during the casting, which released molten bronze lava all over the surrounding area and starting fires! It is thought that she ordered the statue to be made in an attempt to consolidate her power as leader of the country. She married into the Romanov dynasty and the inscribing on the statue says ‘To Peter the First from Catherine the Second, 1782’, perhaps a way of gaining popularity and legitimacy!

The sculptor of the Bronze Horseman was a Frenchman, called Etienne Maurice Falconet. He found the boulder on which the statue stands in Lakhta, an area just outside of St Petersburg. The stone is called ‘the Thunder Stone’, thanks to a myth that the boulder was dislodged by thunder during a storm. The stone is the largest ever to be moved by man, weighing 1500 tonnes before it was refined to 1250 tonnes to make it look like a cliff, a hugely impressive feat as it was dragged to the coast by humans, with no help from animals or mechanisms! The statue of Peter heroically sitting on his horse consists of the former tsar pointing towards the West (remember that St Petersburg was built to be a window to the West by Peter!), while his horse dramatically rears up on the edge of a cliff. He is also crushing a serpent as part of the statue, which varies in its interpretation. The most likely meaning is that Peter is beating down the enemies to his rule and reforms!

The status was officially unveiled in 1782, but Falconet was not in Russia to see it as an argument between him and Catherine the Great had resulted in his leaving Russia four years before the Bronze Horseman’s completion!

The statue gained legendary status due to the popularity of Alexander Pushkin’s poem ‘The Bronze Horseman’, from which the monument draws its current name! The poem is one of the most significant works of Russian literature, detailing the Neva, portrayed as a seething monster hell-bent on wreaking havoc in the city, flooding St Petersburg. This results in the death of the main character’s (Yevgeny) fiancée, which turns Yevgeny into a madman, even to the point that the statue itself jumps off its rock and chases him through the streets of St Petersburg in one of the last verses!

The statue came out of World War 2 and the Siege of Leningrad in impeccable condition, as it was hidden by a mountain of sandbags at its base and a wooden shelter surrounding Peter himself! There is a legend from the 19th century that, as long as the Bronze Horseman stands on Senate Square, St Petersburg will never fall to an enemy. The majestic sight of Peter on the banks of the Neva, looking over his city, is brilliant and the statue’s iconic pose will come to mind whenever you think of St Petersburg!

This post was brought to you by Alexander, currently studying Russian at Liden and Denz

Picture source: By Godot13 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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