On September 11, 1834, the Alexander Column - designed by French architect Auguste Montferrand - was raised in the central square of Petersburg (now St. Petersburg). Russia’s Tsar Nicholas I dedicated the monument to his brother, Alexander I, who led a victorious campaign against Napoleon in the War of 1812 (also known as the Patriotic War).
The single slab red granite column, designed to rival the Vendome Column in Paris (demolished in 1871), is the tallest of its kind in the world, measuring 47.5 meters. It is crowned with the figure of a cross-carrying angel who points his right hand towards the sky. The statue of the angel was designed by the Russian sculptor Boris Orlovsky, who made the angel’s face depict that of the late-Tsar Alexander I. The base is also made out of a single piece of red granite and is decorated with bronze bas-relief depicting different historic eras and allegorical figures of victory, justice and peace. The winged figures hold up a plaque bearing the words "To Alexander I from a grateful Russia".
In order to erect the column, engineer Alexander Betancourt put together a scaffold and a complex wheel structure. It was lifted with the help 2000 soldiers and 400 workers in a matter of almost two hours. More than 10,000 people gathered to witness the process, including foreign visitors who traveled to Russia especially for the occasion.
Russian poet Vasily Zhukovsky left his recollections of this event "…no pen can describe the grandeur of that moment when, at the sound of three cannon shots, from all the streets there suddenly appeared, as if springing out from the earth, huge, shapely columns of Russian troops moving to the thunder of drums and the sound of the Parisian March… This magnificence, this unique spectacle, lasted two hours...Noisy flocks of people wandered the streets of the luminous city late into the evening. Finally the light faded, the streets emptied, the majestic colossus was left alone with its guards on the empty square.”
Interestingly, the column is not sunken into the ground, nor is it fastened at the base. It has now stood for 175 years without any sort of additional support, and relies solely on the precise calculations and its dead weight (704 tons).
Palace Square is considered to be one of the most perfect architectural ensembles in the world, and the Alexander Column has become one of the city’s symbols and a major tourist attraction. It is a tradition in St. Petersburg for newlyweds to visit the column on their wedding day, and for the groom to carry his bride in his arms around the column. According to popular belief, the number of times they circle the monument, will equal to the number of children they will have.