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Visit to Russia - Part 2 - St Petersburg

Last Updated: 1st May 2011

By Jolyon & Katya Ralph

Visit to Russia - Part 2 - St Petersburg

After my visit to Moscow - read here - we took the fast train to St Petersburg to visit some more important mineral collections and shows. And of course, to do some tourism.

The first visit was to see the collections at the St. Petersburg State Mining Institute. This is another private educational collection. The building of the institute is impressive (as is most of St. Petersburg, a truly beautiful city)

St. Petersburg Mining Institute

But I wasn't prepared for this! Could this be the prettiest mineral museum in the world?

Mining Institute Mineral Museum

This was one of several collection rooms, housing the main systematic display. Note the beautiful display cabinets.

Display cabinets in the systematic display

This room is used as a meeting room, and houses some of the aesthetic items from the display, along with some of the more valuable pieces

The meeting room.

Such as this incredible Kongsberg silver nestled incongruously between a stone rabbit and a hippo! But still, a tremendous specimen - the second great Kongsberg we've seen this trip.

Kongsberg Silver, rabbit, hippo

Also in this room, this lovely old stone mining scene, made by miners from the Urals (but similar things have been made by miners the world over - in the UK they are known as 'spar boxes'). Filled with amethyst, emerald, malachite and countless other minerals.

Standing next to the 'spar box' with curator Elena Popova

A large English fluorite, labelled (as most were at that time) as "Alston"

English Fluorite

A huge lump of native copper

Native Copper

And almost certainly the best specimen of Ural malachite still in existence! It weighs 1.5 tonnes (1504kg), from the Gumeshevskoye deposit in the Urals. It was a gift to the institute from Empress Catherine II in 1789.


Other cabinets were filled with detailed crystallographic models and models of crystal structures.

Crystal Structures

And a whole row of cabinets with single mounted crystals.

Mounted crystals

More mounted crystals

A certificate from The International Exhibition of 1876 - certificate of award for the collections of the mining school.

Certificate of award

This section of mine ladder was coated in calcite/aragonite by mine water. Apparently this grew in just three months!

Stone ladder

The next part of the museum housed old mining models. Exquisitely constructed educational displays (some of them automated), absolutely wonderful!

Display of mining models

The museum publish their own book, but they don't sell it - it's only available as a gift to visitors who give something to the museum.

The Book

Pages from the book - Fluorite and Halite

Our next stop was the A.P. Karpinsky Russian Geological Research Institute (VSEGEI)
which is in yet another fantastic old St Petersburg building. Look at these staircases leading up to the museum.

Staircases leading up to the museum

Pride of place goes to this map of the former soviet union made out of semiprecious stones. The land is various types of jasper, along with rhodonite and other decorative stones, and the ocean is lazurite! Cities are marked out with cut stones such as rubies and labelled in gold. The map was displayed as part of the USSR exhibition at the 1939 New York World Fair. In post-war soviet times it was on dispaly at the Hermitage, but after 1991 it was moved here to the museum at the Geological Research Institute.

The Gemstone Map

Close-up of the map

Here I am with the curator, Alexei Sokolov standing in front of the map.

With the curator

There are displays arranged based on significant naural mineral resources, and displays based on the different regions of the former Soviet Union.

A view down the museum

Here are some of the cabinets, this part of the display covers minerals from sulphur deposits.

Minerals from sulphur deposits

The curator's personal project is building an exhibition of rocks and minerals paired with photographs showing similar patterns and textures in the real (or human) world. Some of these pairing were absolutely outstanding! There's no scientific correlation between the photos and the images other than to think about how the human brain sees similarities in things, and of course the huge variety of patterns and textures in the natural world.

Brown Irostone sinter

Jewish Stone (also known as Graphic Granite)


Opalised rock

Fossil bivalves

As you may know, the name 'muscovite' comes from the city of Moscow, where sheets of mica were used previously to glaze windows - here is an example of an old window made from muscovite mica.

Muscovite window

The third major collection we visited was at the St Petersburg State University, regarded in Russia as second only to the Moscow State University (which we saw in my last report). Here is the entrance to the Twelve Collegia building, which houses (amongst other things) the geological museums.

University entrance

The building boasts one of the longest academic corridors in the world.

In the corridor

Here I am in the main systematic collection of the Museum. Standing next to me is Galina the museum curator.

and the specimen is carbonate-rich Fluorapatite from Kola

Another view of the collection

Some of the specimens on display:

Chalcophyllite from Cornwall, England

Russian Beryl

Liroconite from Hungary!

One of the many famous alumni of this university was Dmitri Mendeleev, the creator of the periodic table of elements. One thing I didn't know before was that Mendeleev was a mineral collector - and he donated his collection to the university here.

And, even better, the university has kept the collection together, with a cabinet dedicated to specimens from his collection.

Some specimens from Mendeleev's collection

This museum also publishes their own book, but this one is available for sale (but in very limited numbers) - it's available from Mineralogical Almanac magazine in Moscow.

The Book

Next, the main purpose for my visit to St Petersburg, to visit the "World of Stones" show, held from 14th to 17th April.

The venue for the show. I don't remember seeing ANY unimpresive buildings in St Petersburg!

The show was held on two levels, and consisted of the normal mixture of mineral and gem related vendors.

Inside the show

The show had several mineral, gem and fossil themed exhibitions in very well presented display cases. Here I am standing near some of the displays.

Standing in front of the displays

This was a very interesting displays of samples recovered from 'black smokers' under the ocean.

Black Smoker display

Including micro-crystalline atacamite

Atacamite from a black smoker

A display of corundum and other minerals from Karelia


One especially nice crystal in matrix

And some specimens of shungite showing unexplained and unusual circular marks.

Shungite mystery

Another fun display had minerals for every letter of the cyrillic alphabet.

Learn you mineral 'АБВ's

The A.P. Karpinsky Russian Geological Research Institute were also putting on a large display of many cabinets to
show the economic mineral wealth of the Russian Federation.

A.P. Karpinsky Russian Geological Research Institute display

And there was a nice display showing the recent Mineralogical Almanac magazine issue on Rubtsovskoe along with the cuprite sample
featured on the cover.

Display with Mineralogical Almanac magazine

The featured cuprite

As in Moscow, I gave two presentations, one about mindat and one about the minerals of the UK.

Talking about minerals of the UK

The show was also a place for artisans such as Felix Ibragimov to show off their creations. Russia has been famous for centuries for stone carving and the use of semiprecious stone in decorative artworks, and Felix is carrying on this tradition.

Felix Ibragimov

Lamp using 'picture agate' slices

All sorts of interesting things were available for sale. Including synthetic ruby chunks

Synthetic Ruby for sale. About $1 US per gram

Here, Russian collector/dealer Sergey Klevtsov shows some of his finds, including a box of very nice Kazakstan Rhodochrosite.

Sergey Klevtsov

Other dealers offered great Dalnegorsk specimens

Specimens from Dalnegorsk

Russian Minerals, from Moscow, had brought a great selection of minerals, including some very reasonably priced minatures of the cuprite from Rubtsovskoe.

Russian Minerals

And finally, Anatoliy Potakov had this really nice zoned Russian Topaz for sale.

Russian Topaz

Now, I also got some time to do some tourism as well. And this is a beautiful city!

First, St Isaac's Church.

St Isaac's Church

And inside it has malachite columns!

Malachite columns!

Yes, I said malachite columns!!

Of course, it's not carved from a single lump of malachite, it's an intricate mosaic of matched malachite pieces.

Next, the famous Church of the Saviour on Blood, built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated. Built between 1883 and 1907, it's one of the most famous sights of St. Petersburg.

The Church of the Saviour on Blood

Russian decorative stone is used extensively inside, as for example here:

Rhodonite carved and used in the Church

Finally, The Hermitage, one of the oldest museums in the world founded by Catherine the Great in 1764. The main entrance is now in what was the Winter Palace, former residence of the Russian emperors and starting point for the 1917 revolution.

The Winter Palace, now part of the Hermitage

Inside, the famous Malachite Room, with tables, pillars, even the fireplaces, carved from mosaics of Malachite.

The malachite room

And semiprecious stone is found everywhere you look...

Lazurite vase

Malachite vase

Close-up of another malachite vase showing the way the mosaics are arranged.

A Rhodonite vase

Another lazurite vase

Rhodonite lampstand

Tiling with Amazonite and Graphic Granite

And finally... a table top decorated with every different variety of decorative stone available at the time. Lapis, Malachite, Amazonite, and many different types of jasper.

That's it from my Russian trip. I hope you enjoyed reading!

Article has been viewed at least 34792 times.


Superb update! Never I would imagine such a liroconite from Hungary!

Valere Berlage
1st May 2011 10:54pm
Thank you for sharing all of this. What a wonderful experience.

John A. Jaszczak
2nd May 2011 1:35am
What an incredible journey that was. Thank you so much Jolyon. For some of us that maybe as close as we come.

Craig Mercer
2nd May 2011 5:39am
More precisely, the liroconite is from Slvoakia (Herrengrund = Spania Dolina)

Peter Haas
2nd May 2011 6:13am
Great report. Many thanks for sharing. I spent time in this beautiful city in 1981 and the memories of those beautiful buildings and abundant malachite are still fresh in my mind.

David Bernstein
2nd May 2011 9:51am
Jolyon,thanks for the great and informative report! I doubt that I will ever be able to visit the Soviet Union but your report is the next best thing.


Joseph Polityka
2nd May 2011 5:03pm
Of course no-one has been able to visit the Soviet Union since 1991 :)

Jolyon & Katya Ralph
2nd May 2011 8:06pm
Great report with excellent pictures. It reminds me of my first visit to the Soviet-Union in 1966 when I also marvelled at the enormous decorative objects made of malachite, rhodonite, azurite etc. in the Hermitage and the unique gemstone-map of the Soviet-Union and its cities. I did not manage to vist any mineral museums there at the time and appreciate your detailed report about those. I hope to be able to see their collections at a later visit.

Knut Eldjarn
3rd May 2011 11:42am
Thanks J

Just makes me want to go to Russia

Thanks again


Keith Compton
3rd May 2011 11:43am
Nice :-)

António Manuel Ináçio Martins
4th May 2011 10:44am
Oh.So Beauty

Farid Mohammadi
6th May 2011 12:12pm
WOW! I'd read about those malachite columns years ago (Sinkankas??)and had always greatly desired to see them. The description did not include exact dimensions --- what a site to behold! Thanks so much for this, Jolyon.


Jake Harper
1st Jun 2011 3:01am

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