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Central Naval Museum (Saint Petersburg)

4 Birzhevaya Sq., St. Petersburg (tel.: (812) 328-25-01, 328-27-01), Metro Stations: "Gostiny Dvor", "Nevsky Prospekt", "Gorkovskaya", "Sportivnaya", "Vasileostrovskaya".


The Model Chamber of Saint-Petersburg (1709–1805).

In 16th — 18th centuries, when the European maritime powers created their permanent fleets, the construction, assembly and storage of ship models became a matter of national importance. Before a new ship was built, its reduced copy or engineering model had to be made. During the development of the shipbuilding industry, a "natural selection" had occurred: poorly designed ships would sink, but well-made ships became examples for future shipbuilding design. Drawings and models allowed the retention and accumulation shipbuilding-related information and large collections of models began to accumulate.

In 17th — 18th century, special storage spaces for ship models, drawings and drawing tools necessary for the design of the new ships appeared at West-European shipyards and admiralties. Depending on the country, shipbuilding model warehouses had different names: "Konstruktion-kamera", "Gallery of Models" and so on. The "Model Chamber" term became habitual in the Russian language (from Dutch: "model-kammer" — chamber of models, samples storage room).

The model chambers were usually located near the drawing workshops where new ships were designed. Hence they turned into some sort of "engineering offices". Due to their collections of models, drawings and tools, the model chambers also served as training facilities for sailors and shipbuilders. Therefore, the model chambers performed some of the most important museum functions, such as collection, storage and research of shipbuilding monuments. However, they were not museums per se, since they were not accessible for the general public and had some "shipbuilding responsibilities" that were not typical for museums.

Having visited several model chambers and model collections in Holland and England during the Grand Mission, Peter the Great couldn't avoid the idea of creating a similar institution in Russia. The foundation date of the St. Petersburg Model Chamber, the main Russian state collection of ship models of 18th — 19th centuries, is thought to be 24th January (13th per old style) of 1709, when it was mentioned for the first time by Peter the Great in his correspondence. Originally the Model Chamber was located in Winter Mansion of Peter the Great, but in the same year (1709) it was transferred to the Main Admiralty, closer to shipbuilding ways of the Baltic Fleet. The collection of engineering models was kept near the drawing room (loft) since the models and loft were a part of the same design and shipbuilding process. Peter the Great had adopted some measures regarding the systematic replenishment of the ship model collection. The Regulation on the Administration of Admiralty and Shipyard was issued in 1722. According to the Article 25, Chapter 20 of the Regulation, "once decided to build a ship, the shipbuilder has to be ordered to make a half-sized model from wood, and submit it, along with the drawings, to the Admiralty Board". Eighty half-sized models from the 18th century made under the "Regulation" of year 1722 had survived till nowadays. The models were collected in line with the tradition of the18th century, according to which, a shipbuilder had to provide a model that he had made with his own hands, as a so called "qualifying paper" when accepting a job position or a promotion in the rank (for example, from an apprentice to a shipbuilder). In the18th century, making the models of captured enemy's ships also became another tradition in Russia.

A new stage in the history of the St. Petersburg Model Chamber began in the middle of 1730's when it was converted from the "engineering office", which dealt only with the shipbuilding problems, to the "information centre", the depot of engineering and navigation documentation, samples and reference materials. Models and outdated drawings, as well as plans, geographic and navigational maps, kept in various departments of the Admiralty before, were collected together in the Model Chamber, and then located in a small chamber under the Admiralty spire. Now there it was possible to get a drawing or a model, necessary for the design of a new ship, a map for the development of a war plan or route of a naval expedition, or a plan for the construction of an Admiralty object. Each item and document kept in the "chamber under the spire" was registered in a special book under its own inventory number and given out only with a note of issue. The collection of the Model Chamber grew quickly during this period. In 1742, it had several dozens of ship models, mechanisms and admiralty constructions as well as 467 drawings, plans, and maps. Since 1748, the "chamber under the spire" was turned into a church and the Model Chamber collections were relocated to the west wing of the Admiralty.

However, quite soon the Model Chamber had to face some hard times. In 1760–1770, the Regulation on Administration of the Admiralty and Shipyard was still followed, but from the 1780's the replenishment of the Model Chamber became irregular. Tight quarters, shortage of funds, improvidence of keepers, the absence of restoration works led to the decay of the Model Chamber by the end of the 18th century. Another reason of the unfortunate demise of the Model Chamber was the decrease in interest of it as an institution of narrow specialisation, dedicated exclusively to the shipbuilding.

During the18th century, the development of shipbuilding science led to the gradual replacement of the ship models by theoretical drawings and of the experience accumulated in centuries by the scientific calculations. At the turn of 18th — 19th centuries the "model" lost its function as a design element and became a monument to shipbuilding thought, a work of art, and a historic relic. This decreased the significance of the model chambers as storages of shipbuilding samples but emphasised the importance of their collection as treasures of the Navy history. Later, the conversion of the model chambers into museums open to the public started to emerge. Such materials would be exhibited as monuments of naval history and at the same time would serve a practical purpose in relation to shipbuilding and navigation. This was helped by the growth of the spiritual aspirations of the society, and the national consciousness, and led to an increase in public interest in these historical monuments. These historical monuments were not only eliciting the public interest to themselves, as the real witnesses of the past, but were also supposed to provide the information for research focusing on the better understanding of the past, and helped find a place for your nation and country in history.

"Sea museum" and its disbandment — The return to Model-chamber (1805–1827).

Amongst the first sea museums in the world, the "Sea Museum" in St.-Petersburg is one of the leading. In 1805 emperor Alexander the First issued orders to the Admiralty Department instructing them to create a "Museum, where the most interesting books could be collected and rooms dedicated to rarities, cars, models, physical and mathematical tools, where everyone can enter, read books and review things by department management permission". Model-chamber collections became the basis of the Sea Museum and also undertook a practical function, as well as housing model ships; it would also provide seamen going to sea with the newest navigating tools and books. The combining of the "Libraries of Admiralties Board" into the "Sea Museum" has transformed it into the largest naval cultural centres.

The establishment of the Naval Museum received a warm response from the navy officers and "gifting" of collected "rarities" to the Naval Museum upon their return from long expeditions soon become a tradition within the Navy. It began with I. F. Kruzenshtern and U. F. Lisyansky who submitted several items upon their return in the 1806 from the first round the world voyage made by Russian ships. V. M. Golovnin, F. F. Bellinsghausen, M. P. Lazarev, F. P. Litke, F. P. Vrangel and many other famous sailors continued this tradition. Among the items there were weapons, boats, clothing worn by Indians from North-Western America and Pacific islands, as well as stuffed birds and animals, minerals, wood samples, etc. Unfortunately, at that time the sailors thought that only "foreign or rare" items were worthy of passing to the museum, and not the objects they used every day during the military voyages and scientific expeditions. Therefore, objects related to historic events and figures of the Navy would get to the museum in small numbers, via third parties and long after the occurrence of the event.

The museum was gradually acquiring ethnographical, zoological and geological collections that were not in line with its profile, which was caused by the lack of a specific and clear plan for the collection process. Lacking any experience as far as the establishment of a Naval museum — the oldest European Naval museums were at best of the same age as St. Petersburg's "Museum". Therefore, the "Naval Museum" had, for the lack of a better option, to rely on the experience of already existing interdisciplinary, natural and art museums (especially that of the Kuntskamera and Hermitage). This led to the strategy of the Naval Museum that manifested itself in collecting all the "rarities" and explains why some of its objects are related to the navy only indirectly.

Ksavye de Mestr, a scientist, writer and artist, who made significant contributions to the museum collections, had become a first director of the Naval Museum. Aleksandr Yakovlevich Glotov, a famous constructor of ship models, the author of many works on seamanship, shipbuilding and naval history had become his assistant. In 1818 under his guidance the museum obtained its own workshop that specialised in the construction of ship models, which became a national base for the development of national shipbuilding.

The reserves of the Naval Museum were filling quickly and in 1825 it was divided into four parts:
1. Models chamber or Models and cartography department.
2. Department of naval maps and navigational equipment.
3. Library.
4. "Chamber of rarities of natural history", which was composed by all ethnographical, zoological and geological collections.

The "Department of naval maps and navigational equipment" was headed by Gavriil Andreivich Sarichev, a prominent hydrographer, geographer and polar scientist; the "Library", by the famous sailor and cartographer Ivan Fedorovich Kruzenshtern. The "Models chamber", or the "models and cartography department", was overseen by Nikolay Aleksandrovich Bestuzhev, an inventor and navy historiographer, who was one of the active participants of the Decembrists movement.

In 1827 during yet another reorganisation of the Navy, the Museum passed to the control of the Hydrographics Depot, which required the best premises of the Admiralty building. F. F. Shubert, the head of the Depot thought that the most enticing space was the premises of the Naval Museum. Shubert had informed the Emperor Nikolay the First that the Naval Museum is "of little use", because "it is full of objects that have little to do with the seamanship". On 19th October 1827 Nikolay the First issued an order to "reorganise" the museum. The Emperor, who considered himself an expert in both maritime and museum affairs, had personally given the orders that were decisive as far as the future of the Naval Museum collections.

The collections of the Museum were forwarded to various institutions. The main part (more than 6000 items), including the "natural chamber" collection was given to the Academy of Sciences, considerably adding to the collection of the Kunstkamera. The Navy Cadet Corps had received many items, which later served as a basis for the museum of this oldest academic institution of the Navy. The library, plans and naval maps stayed at the Hydrographical Depot (subsequently the library of the Naval Museum served as a basis for the largest contemporary book collection — the Central Navy library). Some items (mostly the models of various machines) were given to the museum of the Free Economics Society. The items that belonged to Peter the Greats era along with those that belonged to the founder of the Navy, stayed at the Admiralty, but were kept separately at the Admiralty Board hall. Many museum items were forwarded to the "stores" (warehouses) of the fleet and later were privatised and sold at bargain prices. The transfer of items continued up until 1834. The model chamber, which consisted of 526 items, such as models of ships, cannons and machinery, was the only thing left from the Naval Museum, a small part of what once was a substantial collection.

The dissolution of the Naval Museum was clearly against the needs of the rapidly growing fleet, and was detrimental to the museum as it threw it back a century in its development, to its initial stage — the Model Chamber. The only consolation could be the fact that the collections of the Naval Museum did not disappear, but merged into the expositions of other museums.

The rebirth of the Naval Museum and its development in 1867–1917.

The Model Chamber was struggling for some time. However, after the Crimean (Eastern) War of 1853–1856 was over, the society showed an increased interest in the affairs of the Navy, and the country experienced a wave of reforms, which included the Navy as well. During the transition from the construction of the wooden sailing ships to the steam-driven armoured ones, the analysis of technical and military experience, the changes in the approaches to education and development of the troops, and the systematic research of the history of the Russian fleet have become current issues. The preservation of historical monuments of the Navy and the demonstration of the latest technological improvements became more and more necessary. In light of this, the commanders had finally paid due attention to the Model Chamber and it was decided that they would recreate the Naval Museum. The Model Chamber once again had become the centre of the museum, and the search of the Admiralty, the arsenals and other warehouses became an additional source of the materials.

The ambitious plans required solutions to the many logistical issues. There was a need to find an active and knowledgeable person who could organise the Model Chamber and become the director of the newly reconstructed Naval Museum.

Lieutenant Nikolay Mikhailovich Baranov was appointed for this role, he was known as a talented inventor and gunsmith. Afterwards he became famous during the course of Russian-Turkish war of 1877–1878 when he was in charge of the steamships "Vesta" and "Russia", later he was one of the organisers of the Voluntary Fleet Society, the mayor of St. Petersburg, the governor of Arkhangelsk and Nizhny Novgorod, the senator. After inspecting the pier warehouses and other storage facilities that belonged to the Navy, Baranov discovered and transferred to the Model Chambers many historically and technically interesting items. He was able to find and recuperate many items that had previously belonged to the dismissed Naval Museum. He had also insisted that the copies of all the newest military inventions were sent to the museum.

The restored Naval Museum was assigned the space on the second floor of the Central Admiralty's west wing. The museum was opened to the general public in 1867, however, in three years its collections had grown to an extent that it was necessary to expand the display area by adding some rooms located on the 3rd floor. In 1900–1904, the exposition floor was significantly remodelled and expanded. After this restructuring, the Naval Museum of St. Petersburg earned its name as one of the best naval museums in the world. The museum workers further continued to add items to the exposition.

By 1917, it consisted of the following departments:
1. Peter I era.
2. Empress Anna, Elizabeth and Ekaterina II era.
3. Emperor Pavel I and Aleksandr I era.
4. Nikolay I and Aleksandr II era.
5. Aleksandr III and Nikolay II era.
6. "General-Admiral Konstantin Nikolaevich department of the common era" (created on the basis of the naval collection that the grand duke had left for the museum).
7. Russian-Turkish war of 1877–1878.
8. Russian-Japanese war of 1904–1905.
9. Department of world war.
10. Artillery department.
11. Mechanical department.
12. Department of pier constructions.
13. Ethnography department.
14. Hydrographical department.

The Naval Museum was not limited only to the collection, storage and the display of the antique items; it was also a centre of technological thought. It exhibited the new types of weapons that were subject to trials, engineering models and drawings of the ships, experimental tools and machinery. Several inventions of prominent engineers A. P. Davidov and S. K. Dzhevetsky were secretly stored in the museum, as well as the ship models constructed by a very important shipbuilder A. A. Popov. In 1877, the museum provided one of the world's first fast-shooting cannons constructed by V. S. Baranovsky for a trial shooting. The museum was frequently visited by the high-ranking individuals (such as the members of the royal family, the heads of the naval departments and influential officials). The lecture hall of the museum had often hosted public talks on various aspects of naval affairs.

There, many famous Navy historians gave lectures and the inventor of the radio A. S. Popov demonstrated scientific experiments.

The Naval Museum carried out many exhibitions and over the course of 50 years (from 1867 to 1917) it participated in 31 exhibitions (including 5 worldwide, 7 international, 2 foreign and 17 national), and had been awarded multiple prizes. Such exhibition activity of the museum was unique for its time.

In 1908, before the 200th anniversary celebration, the museum was given the name of the founder — Peter the Great.

Central Naval Museum — Relocation to the Stock Exchange building in 1918–1940.

Revolutionary changes also affected the Peter the Great Naval Museum and after being renamed several times, it became the Central Navy Museum in 1924, and the corresponding changes were made to its exhibitions. During 1920–1930 the reserves of the museum were significantly replenished out of the private and government collections.

In August of 1939, the Naval Museum was given one of the most beautiful buildings in the city — the former Stock Exchange building, constructed in 1816 and designed by architect Z. F. Tom-de-Tomon.

In February of 1941, the Museum had left the Admiralty building and opened its exhibitions in the new facility, but following the commencement of the World War II just four months later, the most valuable items were evacuated to Ulyanovsk and those employees of the museum who stayed in the isolated Leningrad were able to preserve the items that couldn't be evacuated.

In July of 1946, the exhibits were returned from storage and the museum was reopened to public once again, following on from this, significant work on the reconstruction and renovation of the museum exhibits was undertaken in the post-war period.

Central Naval Museum — The second half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century.

The contemporary network of the Central Navy Museum began branch out and develop starting in 1950. In 1956 the cruiser "Aurora" was opened, which was the first ship-museum in our country.

The "Lifeline Route" was opened in 1972 on the shore of the Ladoga Lake, as a monument to the memorable act of courage by the soldiers of the Leningrad front and Ladoga military fleet, who secured the functioning of the only road that connected Leningrad with the rest of the country during the blockade years.

The "Chesmen Victory" was opened in 1977 in the building of the former Chesmen church. It was dedicated to the heroic acts of the Russian sailors during the Russian-Turkish war of 1768–1774. In 1994 the church was given to the episcopate. More recently, this exhibition, along with the State open-air museum "Tsarskoe Selo" was recreated in the Admiralty facility across the Chesmen Spile located in the Ekaterininsky Park of Pushkin city.

The "Kronstadt Fortress" branch of the Central Naval Museum opened in 1980 in the building of the Kronstadt Marine Cathedral, narrating about the events of this famous Navy base.

The works of creating a branch on one of the first submarines of Soviet construction, D-2 "Narodovolets", began at the end of 1980s. The memorial was inaugurated in 1994 and was the first submarine in our country that had been completely converted into a museum.

As a principal naval museum of the Russian Federation, the Central Naval Museum provides consulting assistance to the museums of the navy, fleets, force, educational institutions of the Navy, as well as to the school museums. It helps with the establishment of cabins and rooms of war glory on the ships and at the military units. It assists with the creation of not only the new exhibits, but the entirely new museums (for example, the Museum of Central Administration of the Navigation and Oceanography, the A. I. Marinesko Museum of submarine forces, cruise ship museum "Mikhail Kutuzov" — a branch of the museum of the Black Sea Fleet, and etc.).

The publishing activity of the museum is constantly expanding too, there were only three editions of the museum calendar issued before 1917, compared to 8 catalogues of the museum exhibits published in 1960–1991. The guidebooks and booklets of the museum and its branches were published many times in various editions, as well as the digests of the research carried out by the scientists of the Central Naval Museum. The museum has collaborated with domestic and international publishing houses when creating the majority of its exhibition catalogues. The results of the research, carried out by the museum scientists as well as the monographs, are extensively published in the printed press dedicated to the maritime topics.

The works on promoting the Navy history were highly evaluated — in 1975 according to the decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, the Central Navy Museum was awarded a Red Star Medal.

At the beginning of the 1980s and for the first time since the pre-revolution times, the international exhibition activity of the museum had significantly increased, which provided the museum with the opportunity to receive wider recognition not only in Russia, but abroad as well. Today, the museum maintains its business relations, hosts joint exhibits with dozens of domestic and international museums and is a member of the International Museum Council, the International Association of Military History and Weapons, the International Congress of the Naval Museums, the Association of the Russian Museums, the Creative Union of the Museum Employees of St. Petersburg and Leningrad region.

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Central Naval Museum