Standing on a roof in central Saint Petersburg, Marta Granadeiro gasped as she watched the statues on the Hermitage Museum’s facade gleam in the sunset.
The rusty rooftops of Russia’s tsarist-era capital, with its romantic skyline of elegant onion domes and pre-revolutionary buildings, have long been a coveted destination for illegal excursions.
To convince officials to let tourists admire the city from above, the agency PanoramicRoof spent four years navigating bureaucratic hoops to get the necessary permits.
Previously tourists could only surreptitiously access the building’s roof. Those living in the flats below sometimes called the police when they spotted visitors clambering up the stairwell.
Eventually the agency decided to strike a deal with the residents, offering to repair the stairwell in exchange for access to the roof.
Only for foreigners?
The city of 5.3 million annually draws in throngs of visitors – 6.9 million in 2016 – eager to see sights associated with the rule of the Russian monarchs and gape at its museum collections.
But some tourists are also drawn to go off the beaten path for a more adventurous experience. Rooftops offer the best view of the city’s skyline, which has remained lowrise in the historic centre.
The city’s 18th-century founder Tsar Peter the Great ordered architects not to build anything higher than the Peter and Paul Fortress: 122.5 metres (402 feet).
Before going out to the open air, safety instructions: don’t walk too fast and carefully follow the guide. He distributed hard hats and binoculars.