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Bronze Horseman

File:The Bronze Horseman.jpg
The Bronze Horseman.

The Bronze Horseman (Russian: Медный всадник, literally "The Copper Horseman") is an equestrian statue of Peter the Great by Étienne Maurice Falconet in Saint Petersburg, Russia. It is also the name of a narrative poem written by Aleksandr Pushkin about the statue in 1833, widely considered to be one of the most significant works of Russian literature. The statue came to be known as the Bronze Horseman because of the great influence of the poem. The statue is now one of the symbols of Saint Petersburg, in much the same way that the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of New York City.

The statue's pedestal is the enormous Thunder Stone, sometimes claimed to be the largest stone ever moved by man (1,250 t).[1]



File:Surikov horseman.jpg
The Bronze Horseman, by Vasily Ivanovich Surikov
File:Bronze Horseman unveiling.jpg
Inauguration of the Monument to Peter the Great. Engraving by A.K.Melnikov of the drawing by A.P.Davydov, 1782.

The equestrian statue of Peter the Great is situated in the Senate Square (formerly the Decembrists Square), in Saint Petersburg. Catherine the Great, a German princess who married into the Romanov line, was anxious to connect herself to Peter the Great to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the people.[2] She ordered its construction, and had it inscribed with the phrase Petro Primo Catharina Secunda MDCCLXXXII in Latin and Петру перьвому Екатерина вторая, лѣта 1782 in Russian, both meaning 'Catherine the Second to Peter the First, 1782', an expression of Catherine's attitude toward her predecessor and her view of her own place in the line of great Russian rulers. Catherine, who, having gained her position through a palace coup, had no legal claim to the throne, was anxious to appear as Peter's rightful heir.

In his correspondence with Catherine the Great, Denis Diderot suggested French sculptor Étienne Maurice Falconet, a friend of his. The empress followed his advice, and Falconet arrived in Russia in 1766.[3]

In 1775 the casting of the statue began, supervised by caster Emelyan Khailov. At one point during the casting, the mould broke, pouring molten bronze everywhere that started several fires. All the workers ran except Khailov, who risked his life to salvage the casting.[3] After having to be remelted and recast, the statue was later finished. It took 12 years, from 1770 to 1782, to create the statue, including pedestal, horse and rider.

The tsar's face is the work of the young Marie-Anne Collot, then only 18 years old. She had accompanied Falconet as an apprentice on his trip to Russia in 1766. A student of Falconet and Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, Diderot referred to her as "Mademoiselle Victoire" (Miss Victory). She modelled Peter the Great's face after his death mask and numerous portraits she found in Saint Petersburg.

On August 9, 1782, fourteen years after excavation of the pedestal began, the finished statue was unveiled in a ceremony with thousands in attendance. Conspicuously absent was Falconet, as a misunderstanding between him and the empress turned into a larger conflict, and he was forced to leave Russia four years before the project was completed. Catherine largely forgot about him afterwards, and began to see the Bronze Horseman as her own oeuvre.[3]

The statue has Peter the Great sitting heroically on his horse, his outstretched arm pointing towards the River Neva in the west. The sculptor wished to capture the exact moment of his horse rearing at the edge of a dramatic cliff. His horse can be seen trampling a serpent, variously interpreted to represent treachery, evil or the enemies of Peter and his reforms.[4] The statue itself is about 6 m (20 feet) tall, while the pedestal is another 7 m (25 feet) tall, for a total of approximately 13 m (45 feet).[5]

The Thunder Stone

File:Thunder Stone.jpg
The Transportation of the Thunder-stone in the Presence of Catherine II. Engraving by I.F.Schley of the drawing by Yury Felten. 1770.

For the pedestal, an enormous boulder known as the Thunder Stone (Russian, Камень-Гром) was found at Lakhta, 6 km (4 miles) inland from the Gulf of Finland in 1768.[6] The Thunder stone gained its name from a local legend that thunder split a piece off it. Falconet wanted to work on it in its original location, but Catherine ordered it be moved before being cut.[7] Embedded half its depth in marshy terrain, new methods needed to be developed to move it. A Greek gentleman from the Island of Kefallonia, then part of the Republic of Venice, named Marinos Carburis (Μαρίνος Χαρμπούρης), lieutenant-colonel in the Russian Army offered to undertake the project. Marinos studied engineering in Vienna and is considered to be the first Greek engineer to hold a diploma in Engineering.[8]

Moving the Thunder Stone

After waiting for winter, when the ground was frozen, it was then dragged across the countryside. This was done by means of a metallic sledge which slid over bronze spheres about 13.5 cm (6 inches) in diameter, over a track, a process similar to the later invention of ball bearings. Making the feat even more impressive was that the labour was done entirely by humans; no animals or machines were used in bringing it from the original site to the Senate Square.[8] Once a method to move it was devised, it took 400 men nine months to move the stone, during which time master stonecutters continuously shaped the enormous granite monolith.[3] Catherine periodically visited the effort to oversee their progress. The larger capstans took 32 men at once to turn, this just barely moving the rock. Further complicating the issue was the availability of only 100 m of track, which had to be constantly relaid.[8] Nevertheless, the workers made over 150 m of progress a day while on level ground. Upon arrival at the sea an enormous barge was constructed exclusively for the Thunder Stone. The vessel had to be supported on either side by additional two full-size warships.[8] After a short maritime voyage, it arrived at its destination in 1770, nearly two years after efforts to move it began. A commemorative medal was issued for its arrival, with the legend 'Close to Daring'.[7]

File:USSR Commemorative Coin Bronze Horseman.png
Commemorative coin released in the USSR in 1988 to commemorate the monument to Peter the Great.

The largest stone ever moved by man?

It is sometimes claimed that the Thunder Stone is the "largest stone ever moved by man." This stone was not only tremendously large, but was also effectively moved 6 km (4 miles) overland to the Gulf of Finland by manpower alone; no animals or machines were used. It was then transported by boat up the Neva, and subsequently to its current site. Due to the large size of the rock, the easiest way to measure its mass is to calculate it. Its dimensions before being cut, according to the fall 1882 edition of La Nature were 7 x 14 x 9 m. Based on the density of granite, its mass was determined to be around 1500 tonnes.[8] Falconet had some of this cut away to change the rock to its current wave-like shape, leaving the finished, stylized pedestal weighing slightly less. This still leaves it the largest when compared to other large, sculpted stones:

  • The unfinished obelisk in Aswan is estimated at 1200 tonnes. It was not, however, ever moved, and was never even detached from the rock from which it was supposed to be carved. 1200 tonnes is still smaller than the initial mass of the Thunder Stone.
  • The Roman Stone of the Pregnant Woman in Baalbek is measured at around 20.5 m x 4–5.3 m x 4.2 m high, putting its mass at ca. 1,000 t.[9] Unlike the unfinished obelisk, it was taken out of its quarry, but still sits on an angle not far from the site of its extraction.[citation needed] Once again, this is smaller than the initial mass of the Thunder Stone.
  • The Western Stone is estimated at 517 tonnes and was moved as a single piece and was used as a foundation stone in the northern corner of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. This was an impressive feat given that the wall was constructed around 20 BC.
  • The Great Broken Menhir of Locmariaquer, now in five pieces, was 20 m tall and likely weighed over 300 tonnes.
  • The obelisk at the Basilica of St John Lateran was broken into three pieces, then erected at its present site in Rome by Pope Sixtus V. At 32 m tall, it probably weighs over 350 tonnes.
  • The Great Stele at Axum is estimated to have weighed over 500 tonnes; it was moved from its quarry, but is believed to have broken on erection.

Siege of Leningrad

The Bronze Horseman camouflaged from German aircraft during WWII

There is a 19th century legend that states that while the Bronze Horseman stands in the middle of Saint Petersburg, enemy forces will never be able to take the city. During the 900-day Siege of Leningrad during the Second World War (Leningrad being the city's name from 1924–1991), the statue was not taken down, but covered with sandbags and a wooden shelter. The protection served so well, that the Bronze Horseman survived the 900 days of bombing and artillery virtually untouched.[4] True to legend, Saint Petersburg was never taken.


File:Alexandre Benois 004.jpg
Alexandre Benois's illustration to the poem (1904).

The Bronze Horseman is the also the title of a poem written by Aleksandr Pushkin in 1833, widely considered to be one of the most significant works of Russian literature. The statue came to be known as the Bronze Horseman due to the popularity of the poem. A major theme of the poem is conflict between the needs of the state and the needs of the ordinary citizens.

In the poem, Pushkin describes the fate of the poor young Evgenii and his beloved Parasha during a severe flood of the Neva. Evgenii curses the statue, furious at Peter the Great for founding a city in such an unsuitable location and indirectly causing the death of his beloved. The statue then comes to life and chases him through the city. The poem does not describe Peter killing Evgenii, but closes with the discovery of his corpse in a ruined hut floating on the edge of the river.

The poem has influenced numerous other works; Reinhold Glière made the story into a ballet (1950), and Nikolai Myaskovsky's 10th Symphony (1926–7) was inspired by the poem.


  1. Adam 1977, p. 42−45
  2. "St. Petersburg in Architecture: The Bronze Horseman". University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning. 2003. http://www.tcaup.umich.edu/stpetersburg/bronzehorseman.html. Retrieved April 22, 2007. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 "Bronze Horseman". Optima. 2007. http://www.saint-petersburg-hotels.com/medniyvsadnik.htm. Retrieved April 23, 2007. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 "The Bronze Horseman". Saint-Petersburg.com. 2007. http://www.saint-petersburg.com/monuments/bronze-horseman.asp. Retrieved April 22, 2007. 
  5. "Saint Petersburg". TourArena. 2001. http://www.tourarena.ru/taeng.nsf/(vwSubSectionsForWeb)/1-1?OpenDocument. Retrieved April 22, 2007. 
  6. "Lakhta". Saint Petersburg Encyclopaedia. http://www.encspb.ru/en/article.php?kod=2804000245. Retrieved April 22, 2007. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Thunder-Stone". Saint Petersburg Encyclopaedia. http://www.encspb.ru/en/article.php?kod=2804005242. Retrieved April 22, 2007. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 "(Template:ISO 639 name fr) Transport du piédestal de la statue de Pierre le Grand". La Nature magazine, second semester 1882.. http://cnum.cnam.fr/CGI/fpage.cgi?4KY28.19/351/100/432/0/0. Retrieved April 22, 2007. 
  9. Ruprechtsberger 1999, p. 15


  • About the pedestal:
    • (Template:ISO 639 name fr) Adam, Jean-Pierre (1977), "À propos du trilithon de Baalbek: Le transport et la mise en oeuvre des mégalithes", Syria 54 (1/2): 31–63 
    • (German) Ruprechtsberger, Erwin M. (1999), "Vom Steinbruch zum Jupitertempel von Heliopolis/Baalbek (Libanon)", Linzer Archäologische Forschungen 30: 7–56 


Coordinates: 59°56′11″N 30°18′08″E / 59.9364°N 30.3022°E / 59.9364; 30.3022


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