The only image of St. Petersburg more plentiful in western books about 19th century Russia than the bronze horseman, is the ice hill, or “flying mountain,” a peculiarly Russian entertainment that may have something to do with the fact that Petersburgers are flatlanders. Paris, Rome, Athens, and Lawrence have their high points, hogbacks, and hills, but at no point on the delta on which Peter built his city is there a spot over thirty feet above sea-level. Of all the ailments that have plagued that city – typhoid fever, typhus, cholera, giardia, influenza, malaria, diphtheria, syphilis, smallpox, and the common cold – altitude sickness has not been one of them, and actually the hill provides some relief from high barometric pressure if not from a queasy stomach.
Scenes in Russia; Describing the Manners, Customs, Diversions, Modes of traveling, &c. of the Inhabitants of that Country. London: printed for J. And E. Wallis, 1814. Call Number: Children 5310 (click image to enlarge).
This contraption seems to be a combination of ski-jump and roller coaster: each person climbs into a small 4-wheeled shallow sided box at the top of a platform and careens downhill on a track. Sometimes ridges (moguls?) are added to increase velocity coming down enough to send them up the other side. When the River Neva is frozen the flying mountains are erected on the ice.
Adapted from the Spencer Research Library exhibit, Frosted Windows: 300 Years of St. Petersburg Through Western Eyes.
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