"The idol on his brazen horse.” - The Unveiling of Peter the Great’s equestrian statue in St Petersburg



7 August 1782 in St Petersburg, Peter the Great’s equestrian statue known as the “Bronze Horseman” was unveiled.

“And he, like under conjuration, / Like in jail irons’ limitation, / Cannot come down. Him around / Only black waters could be found! / And turned to him with his back, proudest, / On height that never might be tossed, / Over Neva’s unending wildness, / Stands, with his arm, stretched to skies, lightless, The idol on his brazen horse.” (Alexander Pushkin “The Bronze Horseman – A Petersburg Story”)




 Vasily Ivanovich Surikov (1848 - 1916): "The Bronze Horseman"


To move the largest stone ever used in a monument four miles over land is an engineering challenge that should not be underestimated. Especially when working with the limited means of the late 18th century. Thus, lieutenant colonel Marinos Carburis of her Imperial Majesty’s Engineering Corps waited until winter froze the ground between the resting place of the giant 1,500 ton boulder at Lakhta and the sea and installed a sledge system along the lines of modern ball bearings to move the mighty “Thunder Stone”. 400 men undertook the Pharaonic task to pull the stone with capstans. 300’ per day towards the seashore. For nine months. And yet it moved. Then the “Thunder Stone” was shipped with a specially constructed barge up the river Neva to its final resting place on Senate Square in St Petersburg. And there, the French sculptor Étienne Maurice Falconet placed his 20‘ tall equestrian statue of Peter the Great on top of it, 
with his face modelled on Peter’s death mask, his rearing horse trampling Peter’s old enemy Sweden, depicted as a serpent, underneath.  And Catherine the Great, who came on the throne of the Romanov’s by rather dubious means, had her symbol to connect her rule with that of her great predecessor while the good people of St Petersburg had theirs, one of the most famous and unifying landmarks of their hometown.



"The Transportation of the Thunder-stone in the Presence of Catherine II" (1770)


It was two generations after its unveiling in 1782 that Peter’s equestrian statue became the “Bronze Horseman”. Based on the flood that ravaged St Petersburg in 1824, Alexander Pushkin wrote his eponymous poem that became probably the world’s most peculiar national epic and one of its finest pieces of poetry. Pushkin relates the tale of young Evgenii who, after having lost his bride in the flood, ends up in an ironic form of Greek tragedy. After wandering the streets of St Petersburg like a madman, he finally stands in front of the statue and curses Peter for having chosen such an abysmal and, first and foremost, wet place for building his new capital like Adam challenges God in Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, defying all reasons of state and empire-building. And the “Bronze Horseman” awakes to live, comes down from the Thunder Stone on poor, mad Evgenii like a ton of bricks and hunts him to death. Pushkin’s poem was published posthumously in 1837 and the statue is known as the “Bronze Horseman” ever since.




One of Alexandre Benoit’s (1870 – 1960) illustrations to Pushkin’s poem from 1904    



The full text of the poem in English translation can be found here:

http://www.poetryloverspage.com/poets/pushkin/bronze_horseman.html



and more about the statue on:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bronze_Horseman