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Traditional summer festival White Nights

Spectacular northern White Nights, Scarlet Sails celebration, Drawing Bridges of Saint Petersburg

White Nights in Saint Petersburg
White Nights in Saint Petersburg

Although the phenomenon known as the "White Nights" is not unique to St Petersburg, in no other northern city have they received such poetic and literary acclaim. What could be more romantic than a walk along the banks of the city's rivers and canals in almost broad daylight, no matter what the time of day? No other major European city can rival this experience nor the atmosphere on the streets of St. Petersburg during the summer months - lively, friendly, romantic and bustling with people throughout the night as well as the day!

From late May to early July the nights are bright in St Petersburg, with the brightest period, the White Nights, normally lasting from June 11th to July 2nd. The White Nights are a curious phenomenon caused by St. Petersburg's very northerly geographical location - at 59 degrees 57' North (roughly on the same latitude as Oslo, Norway, the southern tip of Greenland and Seward, Alaska). St. Petersburg is the world's most northern city with a population over 1 million, and its stands at such a high latitude that the sun does not descend below the horizon enough for the sky to grow dark. In fact night becomes curiously indistinguishable from day, so much so that the authorities never need to turn the city's streetlights on!

White Nights in Saint Petersburg
White Nights in Saint Petersburg

The White Nights Festival in St. Petersburg, Russia is an annual international arts festival during the season of the midnight sun. The White Nights Festival consists of a series of classical ballet, opera and music events and includes performances by Russian dancers, singers, musicians and actors, as well as famous international guest stars. The Scarlet Sails celebration is the culmination of the White Nights season, the largest public event anywhere in Russia with the annual estimated attendance about one million people, most of whom are students from thousands of schools and colleges, both local and international.

Organised by the Saint Petersburg City Administration, the festival begins in May with the "Stars of the White Nights" at Mariinsky Theatre and ends in July. However, some performances connected to the festival take place before and after the official dates.

Stars of the White Nights festival in Mariinsky Theatre
XXIII MUSIC FESTIVAL STARS OF THE WHITE NIGHTS, 27 May – 2 August 2015

Stars of the White Nights
Stars of the White Nights

The "Stars of the White Nights" is a series of classical ballet, opera and orchestral performances at the Mariinsky Theatre and the Mariinsky Concert Hall, as the essential part of the White Nights Festival in St. Petersburg. The artistic director of the festival is Valery Gergiev. During the festival, there are daily evening performances at the Mariinsky Theatre (either ballet or opera) and almost daily evening performances at the Mariinsky Concert Hall (either classical concert or opera-in-concert). Usually evening performances start at 7 pm, but sometimes may also start at 6 pm or 8 pm. In addition, sometimes there are morning or daytime performances as well, that can start either at 12 am, or at 2 pm or at 4 pm.

The "Stars of the White Nights" festival was originally started by the first mayor of St. Petersburg, Anatoly Sobchak, and has been held annually since 1993. Some of the stars who performed here include Plácido Domingo, Olga Borodina, Alfred Brendel, Anna Netrebko, Carlo Maria Giulini, Yuri Temirkanov, Gidon Kremer, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Alexander Toradze, Deborah Voigt, James Conlon and many other classical performers.

The "Stars of the White Nights" festival is considered among the ten best music festivals in the world today, and among the most popular and diverse musical events in Russia. General and Artistic Director of the Mariinsky Theatre, Maestro Valery Gergiev, says that the Festival’s mission was to serve as “a musical gift to the city [of St. Petersburg] from the Mariinsky Theatre’s performers and soloists,” who agreed to participate. Over 20 years, the length of the "Stars of the White Nights" festival increased from 10 days to 3 months. Nowadays the Festival runs from May through July (usually from the 2nd half of May till the 2nd half of July) at the Mariinsky Theatre and the newly built Mariinsky Concert Hall - one of the best-sounding halls in the world.

Stars of the White Nights
Stars of the White Nights

Each year, the Festival presents the best opera and ballet performances of the Mariinsky Theatre, the full range of symphonic repertoire, masterpieces of chamber music, and theatrical premieres. Over many years the program of the Festival has featured cycles of works of the great composers, such as the symphonies of Sergei Prokofiev; concerti of Ludwig van Beethoven; and the operas, ballets, and symphonic music by Pyotr Tchaikovsky; as well as the complete symphonies of Dmitri Shostakovich and Gustav Mahler. Each year the Mariinsky Theatre expands the horizons of the Festival, presenting in Moscow and the cities of the northwestern region of Russia, in addition to giving open-air concerts.

Thanks to the Festival, the St. Petersburg public has had the opportunity to experience performances by outstanding artists such as Anna Netrebko, Natalie Dessay, Maria Guleghina, Olga Borodina, Violeta Urmana, Susan Foster, Elena Zhidkova, Vladimir Galouzine, Willard White, Bryn Terfel, Rene Pape, Ildar Abdrazakov, Gary Lehman, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Ulyana Lopatkina, Diana Vishneva, Denis Matsuev, Vadim Repin, Leonidas Kavakos, Nikolaj Znaider, Yuri Bashmet, Arcadi Volodos and many others; and by the leading orchestras of the world led by the most prominent conductors, such as Christoph Eschenbach, Myung-Whun Chung, Christian Thielemann, Gustavo Dudamel, and Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Because of the high demand, usually tickets are sold out several weeks or even months before the performance date. Especially for the ones with Valery Gergiev participation. If you are a traveler to St. Petersburg, it is better to buy tickets in advance.

To order tickets you can visit official Mariinsky Theatre website.

Bridges of Saint Petersburg

Drawing Bridges of Saint Petersburg
Drawing Bridges of Saint Petersburg

There are 342 bridges in the city limits of Saint Petersburg. This is a partial list of most famous ones.

Peter the Great was designing the city as another Amsterdam and Venice, with canals instead of streets and citizens skillful in sailing. Initially, there were only about ten bridges constructed in the city, mainly across ditches and minor creeks. By Peter's plans, in the summer months, the citizens were supposed to move around in boats, and in the winter months when the water froze to move in sledges. However, after Peter's death, new bridges were built, as it was a much easier way of transportation. Temporary ponton bridges were used in the summertime. The first permanent bridge of bricks and stones across the main branch of the Neva river appeared in 1850.

Today, there are 342 bridges over canals and rivers of various sizes, styles and constructions, built at different periods. Some of them are small pedestrian bridges, such as Bank and Lion bridges, others are huge transport arteries such as almost one kilometer long Alexander Nevsky Bridge. There are about 800 small bridges across hundreds of smaller ponds and lakes in public parks and gardens, and over 100 bridges in various ports, marinas, yacht clubs and private industries. The total number of bridges in Saint Petersburg is over a thousand. The nearly 100-meter-wide Blue Bridge, claimed to be the widest in the world, spans the Moyka River. There are bridges designed in various styles with such decorations as statues, lamplights, lions, horses, sphinxes and griffins, and there are modern styles lacking any decor. Thanks to the intricate web of canals, Saint Petersburg is often called the "Venice of the North" which is a popular poetic name for the northern capital.

Drawing Bridges of Saint Petersburg
Drawing Bridges of Saint Petersburg

The names of the bridges are of a great diversity as well. Some take their names from geographic locations — such as English, Italian and Egyptian bridges. Other names refer to the places such as Postoffice, Theater and Bank bridges. Many bridges are named after famous people - Alexander Nevsky, Peter the Great, Lomonosov bridges. There are "colored" bridges — Red, Green, Blue and Yellow bridges.

A familiar view of Saint Petersburg is a drawbridge across the Neva. Every night during the navigation period from April to November, 22 bridges across Neva and main canals are drawn to let ships pass in and out of the Baltic Sea into the Volga-Baltic waterway system. A calculated schedule with precise time of consecutive opening and closing for each bridge is maintained to guarantee passage of cargo ships and tankers at a precisely controlled speed, in order to have at least one bridge at a time staying connected to ensure passage for firefighters, police, ambulances and other ground transportation.

The Scarlet Sails celebration in St. Petersburg

The Scarlet Sails celebration in St. Petersburg
The Scarlet Sails celebration in St. Petersburg
You'll be grown-up then, Assol. One morning a crimson sail will gleam in the sun on the far horizon. The shimmering pile of crimson sails on a white ship will head straight towards you, cutting through the waves. This wonderful ship will sail in silently; there will be no shouting or salvoes; a great crowd will gather on the beach. Everyone will be amazed and astounded; and you'll be there, too.
Scarlet Sails by Alexander Grin
1922

The Scarlet Sails celebration in St. Petersburg is the most famous public event during the White Nights, known in Russian as "Alye Parusa" festivity. The event is highly popular for spectacular fireworks and a massive show celebrating the end of the school year: "Scarlet Sails" celebration in St. Petersburg.


The Scarlet Sails celebration in St. Petersburg
The Scarlet Sails celebration in St. Petersburg

This tradition began here after the end of World War II, when schools united to celebrate the ending of a school year in connection with symbolism of the popular children's book "Scarlet Sails" by Alexander Grin. At that time a boat with scarlet sails was sailing along the English Embankment and the Admiralty Embankment towards the Winter Palace. Although it was designed to update the rusty revolutionary propaganda, the "Scarlet Sails" tradition has become a popular public event, annually celebrating the ending of the school year in June. The "Scarlet sails" appearance is now the most popular part of the White Nights celebration.

Crowds of about one million people are treated to a wide variety of free entertainment provided by the city of St. Petersburg. Entertainment also includes appearances by popular rock stars, as well as the St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra, ballet, and other classical acts, performing on several stages simultaneously during the event. The show also includes a series of large-scale events on the waters of the Neva river, such as rowing and motorboat races, and a massive battle with pirates culminating in the appearance of a tall ship sporting spectacular scarlet sails.

The popularity of both the book and the tradition was boosted after the 1961 release of the movie titled "Alye parusa" ("Scarlet sails" in English), starring Anastasiya Vertinskaya and Vasily Lanovoy.