This Week In Russia: White Nights Festival in St. Petersburg

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May 19, 2014
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Photo of the St Peter the Great Bridge as it rises during white nights in St Petersburg
A view of St Peter the Great Bridge as it rises during white nights in St Petersburg © Alexei Danichev, RIA Novosti

thinkRUSSIA explains the sky and cultural phenomenon that has come be known as “Beliye Nochi” or “White Nights” in St. Petersburg, when the sun does not set, but the term “up all night” takes on a new meaning.

Each year from late May to early July in the world’s most northern city, St. Petersburg, regular sky patterns of sunrise and sunset end, instead replaced by an incredible twilight. The sky phenomenon known as “White Nights” has become a staple summer festivity in Piter where nightlife is illuminated with a series of ballet, opera and musical events, culminating in the Scarlet Sails celebration on the Neva River.

The uniqueness of Piter’s sky

While “White Nights” has always been a sky phenomenon closely associated with St. Petersburg, the celebration of this celestial occurrence began in the mid-1990s. Located at roughly the same latitude, as Oslo, Norway and Seward, Alaska does not make this occurrence special by definition, however, the cultural celebrations inspired by the twilight have.  The founder of the city, Peter the Great, had a vision to build the city into a “Venice of the North” where its citizens could navigate the city by walkway or channel. The unique cultural events that take place during the three months are organized in part by the St. Petersburg City Administration, and range from ballet and opera spectacles at the Mariinsky Theater, to “beach clubs” on the city’s many islands, such as the exclusive Royal Beach Club on Krestovsky Island.

What to expect this year

As in past years, the Mariinsky Theater will kick off the festivities with the 22nd “Stars of the White Nights” performances that feature conductor Valery Gergiev. The Mariinsky Theater will feature operas such as Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Don Quichotte, as well as orchestra concerts renditions of Brahms by young, award winning musicians Sergey Khachatryan (violinist) and Narek Hakhnazaryan (cellist). This year, the 7th White Nights of St. Petersburg International Music Festival will take place between July 10-12, which has in the past included big stars such as Ringo Starr & His All Starr Band and The Scorpions, among others. In between these signature events, star performances at the Palace Square, Carnivals of the White Nights in Peterhof and the Catherine Palace, as well as dozens of smaller events occur throughout the city including street theater and jams sessions. Each night just before 2 a.m., people gather along the banks of the Neva River to watch the main drawbridges (Blagoveshchensk, Alexander Nevsky, St. Peter the Great and Anichkov Bridges) rise to a 90-degree angle to allow large vessels to pass.

The Scarlet Sails celebration is the most famous and popular event during the three month period where an hour-long fireworks display and a replica of the frigate Shtandart (first ship of Russia’s Baltic fleet) take over the Neva River. The Scarlet Sails known to celebrate the end of the school year, with almost 3 million people watching the celebration in 2010.

Will you be in St. Petersburg to witness and take part in “White Nights”?

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