The Neva River serves as the only water access to Lake Ladoga, as well as the western stretch of both the Volga-Baltic waterway and the White Sea-Baltic Canal. Thus a very large number of ships use the river on a daily basis. However, several permanent bridges, carrying millions of commuters between the city's north and south, didn't maintain a clearance high enough for a major ship to pass underneath. So in 2007 the solution that Russian engineers used was to employ bascule-type drawbridges, and to open them only late at night, when the city traffic was minimal.
As a result, around 2 o’clock every night, a floating parade passes up and down the Neva, carrying commercial traffic passing between the Baltic Sea and other seas adjacent to European Russia. The spectacle provides night-clubbers and insomniacs with a great reason to gather along the Neva in the middle of the night.
There are 4 beautifully lighted bridges within the city center of St. Petersburg: the Annunciation, Palace, Trinity, and the Foundry bridges (see their descriptions below). Further upstream are four more drawbridges: the Great Okhta, Alexander Nevsky, Finland Railway, and Volodarsky bridges. Until recently, these were the only passageways between the north and south on St. Petersburg’s main river, and no traffic could cross the river while the ships made their passage. Then in 2007 the first non-drawbridge crossing of the Neva - the twin cable-stayed spans of the Great Obukhovsky Bridge, opened to traffic, allowing 24-hour Neva crossing at St. Petersburg for the first time since shipping began to use the river.
Annunciation (or Blagoveshchensky) Bridge
Formerly the Lieutenant Schmidt Bridge, this bridge opens at 1:25 a.m. for river traffic, staying open until 5 a.m., except for a 25 minute period starting at 2:50 a.m. to allow passage of taxis coming from the city’s nightspots. This was the first bascule-type drawbridge built across the Neva (built after Tsar Nicholas I rescinded Peter the Great’s prohibition of building bridges across this river). Completed after 7 years of construction in 1850 by a Polish engineer named Stanisław Kierbedź, it was renamed for Nicholas at his death in 1855, and then renamed again by the Soviets for Pyotr Schmidt, who led an uprising of the Black Sea fleet in the 1905 nationwide rebellion. In 2007, the bridge underwent significant repairs and St. Petersburg citizens voted to return the bridge its original 1850 name it carries today - Blagoveshchensky. It connects the English Embankment of the Admiralty Island and the Lieutenant Schmidt Embankment of Vasilievsky Island.
The Palace (or Dvortsovy) Bridge
This bridge opens at 1:25 a.m. for river traffic, staying open until 4:55 a.m. The Palace Bridge was a more recent construction, one that underwent 54 design changes before a French company finally got the go-ahead by Tsar Nicholas II to start building. The main restriction was that the new bridge could not obstruct the view from the Winter Palace to several important buildings on Vasilievsky Island. After four years of work, the Palace Bridge was finally opened just before Christmas in 1916. When the Bolsheviks took Moscow a year later, the bridge was renamed the Republican Bridge until the end of the Great Patriotic War, when Stalin ordered the original name restored. It connects the Admiralty and Palace Embankments of Admiralty Island with the University Embankment of Vasilievsky Island.
The Trinity (or Troitsy) Bridge
This bridge opens at 1:35 a.m. for river traffic, staying open until 4:50 a.m. The right to design the Trinity Bridge, a permanent Art-Nouveau-style replacement of a floating bridge once located at the same site, was won after an intense competition (in which Gustav Eiffel, the designer of the Eiffel Tower, took part) by a three-man team from France, at the time a strong ally of Imperial Russia. Named for the Old Trinity Cathedral, the nearby church where Peter the Great's coronation took place, the bridge was completed after six years of work, just in time for the city’s bicentennial in 1903. The Bolsheviks originally renamed it the Equality Bridge, again renaming the structure after the Azerbaijan-born leader of the Leningrad Communist Party Sergei Kirov. It was the scene of one of the most vaunted aerobatic stunts carried out by the great Soviet pilot Valery Chkalov in 1924, when he flew a plain under its spans (he would later become one of the first to fly over the North Pole in a 63-hour flight from Moscow to Vancouver in the U.S. state of Washington). A couple months before the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, the original name was restored. It connects the Palace Embankment on Admiralty Island with the Peter Embankment on Petrogradsky Island.
The Foundry (or Liteyny) Bridge
This bridge opens for river traffic at 1:40 a.m., staying open until 4:45 a.m. On April 4, 1865, a temporary floating bridge was destroyed at this ancient crossing location (used by the Swedes for many years before Peter the Great conquered the Neva delta), prompting Tsar Alexander II to open bids for a new permanent bridge at this location. Between 1875 and 1879, work was carried out under very difficult circumstances by the engineer Amand Stuve, under such odd constraints as using only iron from England or Germany. When the structure was finally built, though, it became the first to use electrical lights for illumination (the gas monopoly in the city opposed electrification of lights closer in to the city center). As with many of the drawbridges on the Neva, when the Baltic-Volga Waterway first opened in 1967, the bridge had to be refurbished. Today, it connects the Kutuzov and Robespierre embankments of the river’s left bank with the Arsenal and Pirogovskaya embankments of the right bank.