The Alexander Column
The Installation of the Column
Before starting to construct the scaffolding, Montferrand made a half-scale model to show to different specialists and to work out the lifting technique and the arrangement of the scaffolding.
To install the column scaffolding was raised on its two sides. The main set, with a height of 32 metres, consisted of 30 uprights, the ten tallest of which were load-bearing. They were linked at the top by five trusses from which the lifting gear - blocks and tackle - was hung. A gap slightly over 6 metres wide was left between the scaffolding for the column itself. Reverse rotation blocks were attached to the ledgers of the twelve main uprights. The scaffolding was set up in the centre of a square platform on which sixty steel capstans were arranged in circles. The column was moved onto the platform up a slope and then wound round with loops of cable to which blocks were attached.
30 August 1832 was the date appointed for the installation of the column on the pedestal. Montferrand described the day in detail in his book: “The streets leading to Palace Square, the Admiralty and the Senate were completely blocked with the public. The crowd was so dense that horses, carriages and people merged into a single whole. The houses were filled with people to the very roofs. Not a single window, not a single ledge remained unoccupied, so great was the interest in the monument. The semicircular building of the General Staff on that day resembled an amphitheatre in Ancient Rome and accommodated more than 10,000 spectators. People got up on the roof, crowded around the Chariot of Glory. Opposite, from the windows of the first floor of the Winter Palace, the ladies of the court watched what was taking place.”
Smart pavilions that Montferrand himself had designed contained Nicholas I and his family, the ambassadors of Austria, Britain and France, the ministers and the foreign diplomatic corps. The lifting operation was attended by representatives of the Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Arts, professors from the university and also European artists. Memoirists recalled that the public were making bets one after another. The bets were mainly about at which point during the lift the column would fall and in which direction.
When the Winter Palace clock struck two, three rings of a bell gave the signal for the operation to begin. The necessary manpower was provided by 2,000 soldiers who had taken part in the Patriotic War against Napoleon in 1812 and 400 workers. With the aid of the sixty capstans, a host of blocks and cables the column was set upon its pedestal in 100 minutes. The 600-tonne shaft of the column is kept on the pedestal by its own weight, without any fastenings.