Selection of the site for the Kunstkamera building
According to the plan of Architect J.-B. Le Blond, the chief architect of Saint-Petersburg in 1716–1719, the Basil Island was to be the heart of the new city of Saint Petersburg. The gorgeous and suitable Spit of the Basil Island was purposed for the center of sciences and culture: the Academy of Sciences, the Kunstkamera, the Library, the Twelve Collegiums, etc.
According to legend, Peter I saw a “bizarre pine tree” on the Basil Island. A tree branch was growing out of the trunk and then going back into it alike a jug handle. Peter ordered to erect a building exactly on this spot. Author of the Kunstkamera catalogue and guide, sub-librarian Osip Belyaev, dedicated a special part of his book to this pine tree:
“This is a peculiar stump of a pine tree. In this very section of the Kunstkamera, a stump of a pine tree of 2 arshins and 4 vershoks long (in old Russian linear measures equaling to 1.6 meter total) and 6 vershoks thick (26.7 centimeters) in the diameter of the cut is preserved. This stump is worthy of mentioning because of a branch that it has, a full-fleshed human arm thick, which, growing out of one place and bending in a semicircle, has grown into another one, 1 arshin and 10 vershoks (1.16 meter ) away from its come-off. This might seem miraculous and strange to some people, how a limb, grown out of one place, could have grown back into it at another one. But supposing that the very mankind has freaks, than why could not it happen in other creatures of nature; then again, I am giving that for consideration of naturalists, for whom secrets and miracles of nature are known. My job is to announce that the legend tells that this pine-tree had been growing on exactly the same spot where the Kunst-kamera was built, and where earlier a thick pine forest had been growing, and that, allegedly, Peter the Great was passing by this place and saw this peculiar because of its branch tree, and he ordered to cut this tree down and said, “Let the Kunst-kamera be erected on the spot where I saw this bizarre tree.” And in fact, this stump was the first item, as the utmost curious thing for that time, to be put in the Kunstkamera, and which all visitors look at with curiosity not that much because of its freakiness, but for the noted occurrence in connection with it”.
In the 1800reprint of this book, Belyaev not only repeated this text but also, among the four engravings of the edition, brought an image of this piece of the pine-tree along with the ivory chandelier made by Peter I, as, probably, the earliest Kunstkamera exhibits.
It is worth noting that in the Hermitage, where the items from Peter the Great’s Cabinet were moved (first time, in 1848-1849 and, finally, in 1941), several fragments of the same (?) pine-tree are preserved. However, exactly that part of the pine trunk that had been growing on the place of the Kunstkamera and which was depicted on the engraving in the old guidebook, we still can see in the exposition dedicated to the history of the Kunstkamera in the historical building of the Museum.