Welcome to... Saint Petersburg, Russia? No, this is Harbin, China! Winter visitors to this city can take a break from the three major ice and snow festivals to walk through Daoliqu, the Russian district that makes this Chinese city unique. This is Saint Sophia, a Russian Orthodox church that today serves as a museum of Harbin’s past. This photograph was taken at 5pm, a half hour after sunset; the nights are long in this northern city.
A look up at Saint Sophia’s rotunda. I took daytime photographs of the church four years ago during my first visit to Harbin and of its interior during another visit two years ago, and I will let the pages where those photographs appear tell the history of Harbin’s Russian past. For now, enjoy the view.
Nighttime in Saint Sophia. One reason I enjoy coming here is to check out the tiny gift shop at the church entrance for new books about Harbin. Sure enough, some interesting ones have been published since my last visit. The best was a two-volume set written in both Chinese and English, published by the China Architecture and Building Press, with the somewhat Borat-sounding title “Glance Back The Old City’s Charm Of Harbin”. A huge collection of maps and photographs from throughout the city’s 110-year history, it's an expensive set, but a visual treasure trove for anyone intersted in Harbin.
Old photographs of Harbin along the walls of Saint Sophia. Another book I found this trip, written in Chinese only, contains every old photograph within Saint Sophia, whether on display on the walls or not; a previous book I bought had only a selection of the photographs.
Besides Saint Sophia, the main feature in the Russian district is Central Avenue (Zhongyang Dajie), still lined with many Russian-style buildings from Harbin’s past. The street is now a pedestrians-only cobblestone path, much nicer than during my first visit when it was filled with traffic. The rest of the photographs on this page were taken along this street.
On the north end of the street, right outside the Gloria Inn, where I always stay when I visit Harbin, is the Flood Control Monument. Just beyond it in the darkness is Songhua Jiang, the city’s flood-controlled river. During my last visit, the monument could not be seen clearly at night, because every single floodlight was misaligned. It appears the issue has been resolved.
The memorial tower of the Flood Control Monument, correctly lit. The haze was neither fog nor lingering pollution; it was smoke resulting from a huge string of firecrackers popping off near the monument shortly before I took these two photographs.