November 4 - 10, 2018: Issue 382



By George Repin

Alexander II, Tsar of Russia, after surviving five earlier attempts on his life, was assassinated beside the Griboedov Canal in St Petersburg on 13 March (OS 1 March)  1881.  He survived the explosion of a first bomb, safe in his armoured carriage, but got out to check on the condition of injured accompanying Cossacks and was fatally wounded by a second bomb.

Tsar Alexander II. 
Born 29 April, 1818. Died 13 March, 1881.

In history he is referred to as Alexander the Liberator because of his most significant reform, namely the emancipation of Russia’s serfs.  The Emancipation Reform of 1861, which effectively abolished serfdom throughout the Russian Empire, was the first and most important of a number of liberal reforms passed during his reign.  Before the abolition of serfdom Russian peasants were tied to the land on which they lived, served their landlords, did not have freedom of movement and were unable to own land themselves. Under the Emancipation Reform serfs gained the full rights of free citizens.

Unlike his ultra conservative autocratic father Alexander realised that Russia needed other reforms.   He reorganised the judicial system, introduced trial by jury, set up elected local judges, abolished corporal punishment, promoted local self-government, loosened censorship, ended some privileges of the nobility and promoted universal education.

Although the emancipation legislation was well planned, in practice the reform did not work smoothly. Despite their newly acquired freedom the life of the serf remained grim in many respects.

While it might have been expected that Alexander II’s reforms would have created a freer, more liberal climate in the country the reforms were not extensive enough for the radically-minded members of society who persisted with their aim, ultimately successful, to assassinate the Tsar.  As an irony of fate Alexander was proposing additional parliamentary reforms and, on the very day he was assassinated, had signed a document accepting the project of Minister Loris-Melikov which would have given Russia a constitution.

Alexander II’s son, his successor as Alexander III, was a very different man from his father. He immediately stopped the development of a constitution, and his internal reforms were aimed to reverse the liberalisation that his father had initiated.  He believed that remaining true to Russian Orthodoxy, Autocracy (with the blessing of God) and Nationality would save Russia from revolutionary agitators.  

Construction of The Church on Spilled Blood (also known as The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood) began in 1883, on the Griboedov Canal where Alexander II was assassinated two years earlier.  It was intended by Alexander III as a memorial for his father.  It was completed by his son, Tsar Nicholas II in 1907.  Funding was provided by the Imperial family with help from donors.  

Architecturally the church is quite different from the predominantly Baroque and Neoclassical buildings of St. Petersburg.  Instead it harks back to medieval Russian architecture, intentionally resembling St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow and the 17th Century churches in Yaroslavl. A riot of colour, the overall effect is created by the imaginative juxtaposition of materials.  Inside, more than 20 types of minerals, including jasper, rhodonite, porphyry and Italian marble are lavished on the mosaics of the iconostasis, icon cases, canopy and floor.  The church contains 7500 sq meters of mosaics.

The Church on Spilled Blood on the Griboedov Canal,  St. Petersburg

In the aftermath of the Russian revolution the church was ransacked and looted. It was closed in 1932 by the Soviet Government.  It was badly damaged during and after the siege of Leningrad.  Only in August 1997, after 27 years restoration, was it reopened and is now a major tourist attraction in St. Petersburg.  It has not been reconsecrated.

Alexander II died at the age of 63 before he could put in place constitutional change and introduce other reforms in response to the pressure building up in Russia. He died before his reforms were deeply embedded and difficult for his ultra-conservative son, Alexander III, to reverse. The reign of Alexander III was one of rabid reaction.  The press was again under strict censorship and the secret police more active than ever. Workers began to get organized and opposition was growing. Had Alexander II lived to implement reforms the appalling events of the next thirty years, including “Bloody Sunday” on 9th January, 1905, culminating in the October Revolution in 1917 might have been averted.  

The estimated 80 million Russians whose deaths are attributed to Stalin and his economic, agricultural and political policies - and personal  vendettas might have been averted. The course of history might have been different had it not been for the second bomb on the Griboedov Canal.

Previous Reflections by George Repin 

The Nineteen Thirties  Remembering Rowe Street  The Sydney Push  Saturday Night at the Movies  Shooting Through Like A Bondi Tram  A Stop On The Road To Canberra  City Department Stores - Gone and Mostly Forgotten  An Australian Icon - thanks to Billy Hughes  Crossing The Pacific in the 1930s  Hill End  The Paragon at Katoomba  Seafood In Sydney  How Far From Sydney?  Cockatoo Island Over The Years  The Seagull at the Melbourne Festival in 1991  Busby's Bore  The Trocadero In Sydney  Cahill's restaurants  Medical Pioneers in Australian Wine Making  Pedal Power and the Royal Flying Doctor Service  Pambula and the Charles Darwin Connection  Gloucester and the Barrington Tops  A Millenium Apart  Have You Stopped to Look?  Gulgong  Il Porcellino  Olympia  Durham Hall  Sargent's Tea Rooms Pie Shops and Street Photographers   The Ballet Russes and Their Friends in Australia  Hotels at Bondi  Alma Ata Conference - 1978 Keukenhof - 1954 The Lands Department Building and Yellowblock Sandstone  The Goroka Show - 1958  A Gem On The Quay  Staffa  The Matson Line and Keepsake Menus Kokeshi Dolls  The Coal Mine At Balmain  The Hyde Park Barracks  The Changing Faces Of Sydney From Pounds and Pence to Dollars and Cents Nell Tritton and Alexander Kerensky  Making A Difference In Ethiopia William Balmain  J C Bendrodt and Princes Restaurant Azzalin Orlando Romano and Romano's Restaurant  Waldheim  Alcohol in Restaurants Before 1955  King Island Kelp  The Mercury Theatre   Around Angkor - 1963   Angkor Wat 1963  Costumes From the Ballets Russe Clifton at Kirribilli  Chairman Mao's Personal Physician  The Toby Tavern The MoKa at Kings Cross  The Oceaographic  Museum  in Monaco  The Island of Elba  Russian Fairy Tale Plates  Meteora  Souda Bay War Cemetery Barrow, Alaska  Cloisonné  Tripitaka Koreana Minshuku The Third Man Photographs and Memories  Not A Chagall!  Did You Listen? Did You Ask?  Napier (Ahuriri, Maori) New Zealand  Borobudur  Ggantija Temples Plumes and Pearlshells  Murano  University of Padua  Ancient Puebloe Peoples - The Anasazi   Pula  The Gondolas of Venice Cinque Terre  Visiting the Iban David The Living Desert Bryce Canyon National Park   Aphrodisias   The Divine Comedy Caodaism  Sapa and local Hill People  A Few Children  Cappadocia  Symi Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre   Aboriginal Rock Art on Bigge Island    ANZAC Cove (Ari Burnu) 25 April, 1997  Hotere Garden Oputae  Children of the Trobriand Islands  Page Park Market - Rabaul  Rabual   Kotor, Montenegro   Galleries of Photographs I   Lascaux  Galleries of Photographs II   The Cathedral of St. James – Šibenik, Croatia  Ivan Meštrović  - Sculptor   Delphi   Gallery of Photographs III  The Handicrafts of Chiang Mai Raft Point  San Simeon - "Hearst Castle"  Floriade - The Netherlands - 1982  Russian New Year  Mycenae  "Flightseeing" Out Of Anchorage Alaska  The White Pass and Yukon Route  Totem Poles  Tivkin Cemetery  Krka National Park - Croatia  Tavistock Square and the BMA  Orthodox Easter   Wieliczka Salt Mine  A Walk on Santorini  Indonesian Snapshots  Ephesus - The Library of Celsus  Ephesus - Some Places Of Interest  Waimea Canyon and the Kalalau Valley United Nations Headquarters 1958  A Miscellany of Flower Images   Gardens  Bath St. David's In Wales   Zion National Park Nicholas Himona - Artist   Kraków   Lilianfels  Collonges-La-Rouge   Gingerbread Houses   Cape Sounion   Delos  Wroclaw  Colonial Williamsburg   Gruyères   Strasbourg  Coventry Cathedral   The Roman Theatre at Aspendos  Turkish Carpets The Duomo of Orvieto   Rovinj  The City Walls of Dubrovnik  Monaco - Snapshots   Bonifacio, Corsica  Autumn in New England USA  The Great Ocean Road  Pompeii   Didyma  Lawrence Hargrave 1850-1915  The Corinth Canal  Malta  Snapshots of Amsterdam Café Central - Vienna  The Forbidden City - Beijing, China  A Ride on the Jungfrau Railway - 1954   Snapshots in the Highlands of Scotland 1954  Must See Sights in Paris - 1954   Corfu  Reflections On the Nineteen Thirties The Gold Souk in Dubai  Stromboli   Ha Long Bay - Vietnam  Lake Argyle The Bungle Bungle Range Langgi Inlet, W.A.  White Cliffs, NSW - 1990  Sturt National Park - May, 1990 A Few Statues and Water Spouts  The Dodecanese Archipelago  Rhodes  Lindos

Copyright George Repin 2018. All Rights Reserved.