One of St. Petersburg's best-known landmarks, a gigantic equestrian statue of Peter the Great, dominates this square that from 1925 through 2008 was known as "Decembrists' Square," a reference to the dramatic events that unfolded here on December 14, 1825. Following the death of Tsar Alexander I (1777–1825), a group of aristocrats, some of whom were army officers, staged a rebellion on the square in an attempt to prevent the crowning of Nicholas I (1796–1855) as the new tsar, and perhaps do away with the monarchy altogether. Their coup was suppressed with much bloodshed by troops who were loyal to Nicholas, and those rebels who were not executed were banished to Siberia. Although the Decembrists, as they came to be known, did not bring significant change to Russia in their time, their attempts at liberal reform were often cited by the Soviet regime as proof of deep-rooted revolutionary fervor in Russian society.
In the center of the square is the grand statue called the Medny
Vsadnik (Bronze Horseman), erected as a memorial from Catherine the Great to her predecessor, Peter the Great. The simple inscription on the base reads, "To Peter the First from Catherine the Second, 1782." Created by the French sculptor Étienne Falconet and his student Marie Collot, the statue depicts the powerful Peter, crowned with a laurel wreath, astride a rearing horse that symbolizes Russia, trampling a serpent representing the forces of evil. The enormous granite rock on which the statue is balanced comes from the Gulf of Finland. Reportedly, Peter liked to stand on it to survey his city from afar. Moving it was a Herculean effort, requiring a special barge and machines and nearly a year's work. The statue was immortalized in a poem of the same name by Alexander Pushkin, who wrote that the tsar "by whose fateful will the city was founded beside the sea, stands here aloft at the very brink of a precipice, having reared up Russia with his iron curb."