Saint Petersburg (Санкт-Петербу́рг)Leningrad (Ленингра́д) , Petrograd (Петрогра́д), Sankt-Peterburg, St. Petersburg.
Saint Petersburg is one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Often referred to as the Venice of the North. It’s long northern summer nights are contrasted by the cold dark winters. Despite it’s relatively short 300 year history, Saint Petersburg is a place of significant historical importance. Saint Petersburg was the capital of the Russian empire for more than 200 years. It is a city that captures the imagination with its European design and feel, but in so many mays Saint Petersburg is still a city that is distinctly Russian. Around 4.5 million people live in Saint Petersburg.
The combined imperial beauty and history of the city make it an important stop on the itinerary of anyone travelling through Russia. The beautiful imperial age buildings of the Winter Palace house the world’s largest and possibly grandest museum in the world “The Hermitage”. Beautiful cathedrals and buildings adorn the sides of St Petersburg’s many canals, and huge draw bridges cross the Neva river as it nears its mouth at the Baltic sea.
A brief history of Saint Petersburg.
Peter the Great founded Saint Petersburg in 1703 after re conquering the lands from Sweden. The city was named after his patron saint, the apostle Saint Peter.
Saint Peterburg’s first building was a fortification, known today as the Peter and Paul Fortress. It is built on Zayachy Island which is located close to the Neva’s right bank, just three miles upstream from the gulf. Marshlands in the area were drained and the city spread out from the location of the fortress.
Serfs were conscripted from around the empire to construct Saint Petersburg. Construction was difficult owing to the adverse weather and geological conditions in the area and many lives were lost in the process. Peter even restricted stone construction in other cities so that masons would be forced to move to the city. Architects and engineers were hired from Europe help design the city in a European manner. Saint Petersburg was to become Russia’s window to Europe.
Peter moved the capital from Moscow to Saint Petersburg in 1712. This move would push Russia into closer relations with the west, and leave conservative Russian tradition behind in Moscow. Peter also built Russia’s first naval forces and based them in Saint Petersburg.
The lavish expansion of Saint Petersburg continued under Peter’s successors, in particular Empress Elizabeth and Catherine the Great. A large number of palaces were built around the city during this period including the Winter Palace.
Saint Petersburg remained the seat of the Russian government during the Napoleonic wars while Moscow was burned by Napoleon. Russia’s eventual victory sparked a huge cultural growth in Russia centred in Saint Petersburg and the city soon became a centre of both science and the arts.
In 1861 Alexander II made a number of reforms that led to the emancipation of the serfs which caused a huge influx of people to arrive in the city. Industry prospered in the city. By the turn of the century Saint Petersburg had outgrown Moscow in population. It was now a large industrial hub and the fourth biggest city in Europe. Saint Petersburg was renamed Petrograd after World War I broke out across Europe. It was thought that ‘Sankt Peterburg’ sounded too German.
The Russian revolution took place in 1917. It was the year imperial power was to come to an end as Lenin and Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace. It was to be the last year that Russia was ruled from Saint Petersburg. In 1918 Lenin moved the government back to Moscow. The city was renamed ‘Leningrad’ after the death of Lenin in 1924. The city was to suffer under Soviet rule. Even before the outbreak of war more than 2 million people had left the city.
Hitler laid siege to Leningrad from September 1941 to January 1944. The city was encircled, bombed and shelled. In this period well over one million people perished in the city from both the bombing and starvation. Leningrad never surrendered, nor was it captured by German forces. After 29 long months of death, starvation and destruction the siege was broken. After the war the city was granted the status of ‘Hero City’.
After the war the city was largely rebuilt. Soviet era architecture also appeared in the city, however for the most part, the centre of the city still retains its imperial look and feel. The Leningrad Metro was also built to service the city.
In 1991 Leningrad was renamed Saint Peterburg after an election within the city. The surrounding region still retains the name and is called the Leningrad Oblast. In recent times, quite some effort has been made to decorate and restore parts of the city.