About the city of Saint Petersburg

The Russian northern capital is all pierced through and veiled in the spirit of preceding centuries. It even has its own manner of speech and it still circulates the vocabulary not heard anywhere else in this large country. In contrast to some older Russian cities, Saint Petersburg – with its strict geometric lines and perfectly planned architecture – is almost too European to be Russian. And yet it is too Russian to be European. It is spread over 44 islands on the Neva river delta and it is famous for its bridges, embankments, museums, and of course the magical White Nights.

In the summer whilst visiting the royal palaces, the fountains and the gardens, rent a historical costume so you can walk through all this beauty knowing how the nobility used to walk there, feeling like yesterday, holding arms and parasols. The city is often called Russia´s cultural capital for its historical heritage, diverse museums and well-preserved sights of royal pre-revolutionary Russia. It is the birthplace of Russia´s most vivid cultural achievements, literature, the setting for Dostoyevsky´s Raskolnikov and Pushkin´s Eugene Onegin.

The city´s name means the City of St Peter, who was Peter the Great´s angelic patron and it is after this saint the Northern Capital of Russia was named and not after the city´s founder, as many mistakenly assume. St Petersburg´s name was also borrowed for a city in Florida by a Russian-born railroad builder named Pyotr Dementyev in the United States.

Until 1918 St Petersburg was Russia´s official capital. The city was renamed in August 1914 and until February 1924 was called Petrograd, then from that same February and until July 1991 it was Leningrad. For the past 17 years it has retained its historic name of Saint Petersburg, whereas the Russians still refer to it as simply Piter – a rose that smells just as magnificent and remains just as Russian by any given name.

St Petersburg was founded on 27 May 1703. It is the most Northern city in the world with a population of over 1 million.

What natural phenomenon makes Petersburg attractive for the tourists from all over the world? White Nights enchant everyone. It is an astonishing time between May and July when it´s still fairly light on the streets at midnight and the city almost ceases to sleep. June, 21 and 22 are the longest days of the year, they last 18 hours 53 minutes.
The Neva River is the main water thoroughfare of St. Petersburg. Just 74 kilometers in length, it carries more water than the Dnepr or the Don. In fact, it´s barely a river – it´s more akin to a canal running between the Ladoga Lake and the Baltic Sea. For centuries, this region was considered to be bad: devastating floods, strong winds, and mosquitoes. Only “the Finnish fishermen, contemptible outcasts of nature” could inhabit these “frail, stunted shores” (Pushkin). Thus, Peter the Great´s decision to create a new Russian capital here seemed (and, in fact, was) entirely absurd. Genius, however, is capable of overcoming circumstance.
St. Petersburg is the European champion in terms of bridges, and a silver medalist in the canal and islands stakes. If you include the suburbs, you find 64 rivers, 48 canals, 170 kilometers of embankment, almost 44 islands and 800 bridges (Venice has more canals and islands but less bridges). The number of tour boats, motorboats and small craft is growing every year, and failing to view the city from the water is unforgivable.

Built on a series of islands, St Petersburg often requires the crossing of one or more bridges for getting from one point to another. Some of the bridges are considered to be quite unique architectural constructions. The greatest artists of their time were summoned there in the 18th century to transform the city into a symphony of marble, malachite, and gold.
The world famous Hermitage museum, St Isaac´s Cathedral – the second largest basilica in the world – and the Peter and Paul Fortress, the resting place of the last Russian Tsar Nicolas II, are just a few of the main beauties to see, both for their architecture and inner contents. The Hermitage alone will take a few days to walk through.

The world-famous ballet-school at Marijnsky theatre (also known as the Kirov ballet) has performances to satisfy the highest of expectations. From here, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, and Rimsky-Korsakov went forth to conquer the world and make Russian music and dance a standard of class, to which nothing compares even today.

A historical collection of natural misfortunes are assembled at the Kunstkamera. It was the first museum in Russia, established by Peter the Great on the Neva Riverfront facing the Winter Palace. The museum was dedicated to preserving natural and human curiosities and rarities. The tsar´s personal collection features a large assortment of human and animal fetses with anatomical deficiencies, which Peter bought from foreign anatomists and pharmacologists. Some of the most gruesome items are the heads of Catherine I´s lover and his sister, preserved in alcohol and still being exhibited. In the 1830s, the Kunstkamera collections were distributed among newly established imperial museums, the most important being the Museum of Anthropology and Etnography, with a collection approaching 2.000,000 items.

The transfer of the capital to Moscow in 1918 had its benefits for St. Petersburg, allowing the uniquely high proportion of old buildings in the center to be preserved. During the Soviet era, Leningrad was considered to be a provincial city, and shortages in financing left the masterpieces of socialist architecture out of the city. There wasn´t even enough dynamite to demolish churches, and new housing construction was carried out on the outskirts of the city. As a result, a vast number of residential stone buildings of the pre-Revolutionary period were preserved — about 8,000 in total. From Obvodny Canal to the Bolshaya Nevka River, and from the Alexandro-Nevskaya Lavra to the trading port, the city remains almost as it was in 1917.
St. Petersburg is a dangerous city for the authorities. Before the revolution, the heir to the throne, Prince Alexei Petrovich, three emperors (Peter III, Paul I and Alexander II), two internal affairs ministers and one leader of the city were killed (another city leader was severely injured). Since its foundation, there have been five palace coups, the Decembrist uprising and three revolutions. The Bolsheviks executed three grand dukes here. Among the leaders of the city communist organizations, nine were shot and one – Kirov – was murdered under mysterious circumstances. Zhdanov, was almost poisoned.
Russian civic alphabet was created in Saint Petersburg. For centuries Russians used a very complicated Orthodox alphabet and only in 1710 Peter the Great ordered to prepare a special list with images of Slavic block and written letters from where he cut out all the inappropriate symbols.

The loss of its status as a capital has given Petersburgers a unique outlook on the world. The pace of life here is less intensive. On the other hand, however, in no other city you can find such a vast quantity of connoisseurs of local landmarks and legends. This is a city of bookworms, cranks, scholars and unacknowledged geniuses. “Leningrad possesses the painful complex of a spiritual center that has been somewhat deprived of its administrative rights. The combination of inferiority and superiority makes him a very sarcastic gentleman.” Dovlatov wrote.
St. Petersburg is a firm city. As if two neutron bombs have been detonated over the city for the last 100 years – once during the Civil War and once during the Siege of Leningrad: the population was massively reduced, but the buildings remained almost untouched. And each time, Saint Petersburg managed to survive and keep its unique spirit and character.
Peterhof is the ensemble of palaces and gardens situated on the Gulf of Finland west of Saint Petersburg, designed and built by Peter the Great to be a summer residence. It is also the name of an adjacent town of 82,000 people. The area was extensively damaged during World War II during occupation by Nazi Germany. Reconstruction efforts began almost immediately following the war, and they are still underway.

Peterhof is a Dutch word meaning "Peter´s Court". Peter was fascinated by the West and took on many of its customs in his court, switched to the Julian calendar, and so on. European influence is abound in the Peterhof, called the Russian Versailles.

The palace-ensemble along with the city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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