Compared to the extravagant festivities staged around the globe this year in connection with the St. Petersburg’s tercentennial, almost nothing was done in 1953 to mark the city’s 250th anniversary. Some publications on city history appeared; local museums organized a few Petersburg/Leningrad-related exhibits, but in many cases authors and organizers seem to have purposely avoided connecting their activities to the jubilee. Guidebooks to Leningrad and brief pamphlets describing specific tourist attractions issued in 1953 sometimes fail to mention the year in which Russia’s northern capital was founded. In the official catalogue to the fine seventeen-room exhibit of architectural sketches, paintings, and engravings depicting city monuments mounted at the Hermitage, curators never refer to the anniversary.
This somewhat strained silence, the apparent hesitancy with which Leningrad-related projects were brought to fruition in the late spring, summer, and fall of 1953, is perhaps understandable given larger historical events. In March of 1953, two months before the official anniversary of the city’s foundation, Joseph Stalin suddenly passed away. Party and government officials immediately declared a period of national mourning and canceled most public celebrations. The official commemoration of the 250th anniversary in Leningrad was hastily postponed, first to 1954 and later to 1957. Cultural institutions and publishing houses which opted to proceed forward with projects related to the city’s history and cultural heritage must have felt compelled to minimize references to the jubilee.
Relying, in part, upon newspaper reports, journal articles, book and exhibit reviews from the period, in this paper I will look at how Stalin’s death affected plans for the celebration of Leningrad’s 250th anniversary in 1953. I will note which projects were postponed until 1957, which were allowed to proceed forward in at least an amended form, and which were canceled entirely. I will also look briefly at the belated official commemoration of the jubilee staged in 1957, considering specifically how these festivities relate to the plans set aside in the spring of 1953. Did new themes emerge as important in the celebration staged in 1957? Was more attention accorded to the city’s experience in World War II or to other historical periods and problems? Did the celebration appear more or less lavish than initially planned? I believe that my analysis may provide insight into the attitudes of both Stalin and his immediate successors to the old imperial capital.
Путеводитель по выставке: Архитектура Петербурга-Ленинграда в памятниках изобразительного искусства и архитектурных чертежах. Государственный Эрмитаж: путеводитель по выставкам. Москва: Искусство, 1954.