These two columns standing on the Strelka ("spit") of Vasilyevsky Island are as much a symbol of St. Petersburg. For over two centuries, they have formed an integral part of the city's central panorama over the River Neva, and are particularly impressive on major public holidays, when torches are lit on top of them.
Once, at this point where the River Neva splits in two - the Bolshaya Neva and Malaya Neva, St. Petersburg's main port was located. During the planning of Birzhevaya Ploshchad in 1810 the decision was taken to install two beacons indicating the two channels. Jean-Francois Thomas de Thomon, the architect, decided to build the towers in the style of Roman rostral columns - victory columns on which the prows ("rostra") of captured enemy ships were mounted.
At the base of the columns sit statues of four allegorical figures supposed to represent four of Russia's major rivers - the Volga and Dnieper at the northern column, and the Neva and Volkhov at the southern column. De Thomon's massive 32-meter-high Doric columns are decorated with sculptures of naiads, sea creatures and anchors. The large bowls at the top of the columns were originally designed to hold hemp oil for burning. Later, electric lamps were installed as beacons, but this soon became too expensive. In 1957, the Rostral Columns were connected to the gas supply and now, on holidays such as the City Anniversary, Victory Day and New Year, the columns are topped with seven-meter-high tongues of flame.