Saint Petersburg is a city and a federal subject located in the Northwestern Federal District of Russia on the Neva River at the east end of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. St. Petersburg's informal named, Piter, is based on how Peter the Great was called by foreigners. The city's other names were Petrograd, 1914–1924 and Leningrad, 1924–1991.
Founded by Tsar Peter the Great on May 27, 1703, it was capital of the Russian Empire for more than two hundred years (1712-1728, 1732-1918). St. Petersburg ceased being the capital in 1918 after the Russian Revolution of 1917. It is Russia's second largest and Europe's fourth largest city (by city limit) after Moscow, London and Paris. 4.6 million people live in the city, and over 6 million people live in the city's vicinity. Saint Petersburg is a major European cultural center, and important Russian port on the Baltic Sea. The city, as federal subject, has a total area of 1,439 square kilometers (556 sq mi).
St. Petersburg enjoys the image of being the most Western European styled city of Russia. The Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Russia's political and cultural center for 200 years, the city is impressive, and is sometimes referred to in Russia as "the Northern Capital”.
On May 1, 1703 Peter the Great took the Swedish fortress of Nyenskans and the city Nyen on the Neva river. On May 27, 1703 (May 16, Old Style) he founded Saint Petersburg after reconquering the Ingrian land from Sweden in the Great Northern War. He named the city after his patron saint, the apostle Saint Peter. The original name Sankt Pietersburg was borrowed from Dutch, because Peter had lived and studied in the Netherlands; he also spent three months in Britain and was influenced by his experience in the rest of Europe.
The city was built under adverse weather and geographical conditions. High mortality rate required a constant supply of workers. Peter ordered a yearly conscription of 40,000 serfs, one conscript for every nine to 16 households. Conscripts had to provide their own tools and food for the journey of hundreds of kilometers, on foot, in gangs, often escorted by military guards and shackled to prevent desertion. Many escaped, however, and others died from disease and exposure under the harsh conditions. The new city's first building was the Peter and Paul Fortress. It originally also bore the name of Sankt Pietersburg. It was laid down on Hare's Island, just off the right bank of the Neva, three miles (5 km) inland from the gulf. The marshland was drained and the city spread outward from the fortress under the supervision of German and Dutch engineers whom Peter had invited to Russia. Peter restricted the construction of stone buildings in all of Russia outside of St. Petersburg, so that all stonemasons would come to help build the new city.
At the same time, Peter hired a large number of engineers, architects, shipbuilders, scientists and businessmen from all countries of Europe. Substantial immigration of educated professionals eventually turned St. Petersburg into a much more cosmopolitan city than Moscow and the rest of Russia. Peter's efforts to push for modernization in Moscow and the rest of Russia were completely misunderstood by the old-fashioned Russian nobility and eventually failed. This resulted in considerable opposition, including several attempts on his life and a treason case involving his own son.
Peter moved the capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg in 1712, nine years before the Treaty of Nystad. It was a seaport and also a base for Peter's navy, protected by the fortress of Kronstadt. The first person to build a home in St. Petersburg was Cornelis Cruys, commander of the Baltic Fleet. Inspired by Venice and Amsterdam, Peter the Great proposed boats and coracles as means of transport in his city of canals. Initially there were only 12 permanent bridges over smaller waterways, while the Bolshaya Neva was crossed by boats in the summertime and by foot or horse carriages during winter. A pontoon bridge over the Neva was built every summer. Today there are more than 800 bridges.
Peter was impressed by Versailles and other palaces in Western Europe. His official palace of a comparable importance in Peterhof was the first suburban palace permanently used by the tsar as the primary official residence and the place for official receptions and state balls. The waterfront palace, Monplaisir, and the Great Peterhof Palace were built between 1714 and 1725. In 1716, Prussia's King presented a gift to Tsar Peter: the Amber Room.
Alexander Danilovich Menshikov, Peter's best friend, was the first Governor General of Saint Petersburg Governorate in 1703-1727. In 1724 St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences was established in the city. After the death of Peter the Great, Menshikov was arrested and exiled to Siberia. In 1728 Peter II of Russia moved the capital back to Moscow. But four years later in 1732, St. Petersburg again became the capital of Russia and remained the seat of the government for about two centuries.
St. Petersburg prospered under the rule of two of the most powerful women in Russian history. Peter's daughter, Empress Elizabeth, reigned from 1740 to 1762, without a single execution in 22 years. She cut taxes, downsized government and was known for masquerades and festivities, amassing a wardrobe of about 12,000 dresses, most of them now preserved as museum art pieces. She supported the Russian Academy of Sciences and completed both the Winter Palace and the Summer Palace, which then became residencies of Empress Catherine the Great, who reigned for 34 years, from 1762 to 1796. Under her rule, which exemplified that of an enlightened despot, more palaces were built in St. Petersburg than in any other capital in the world.
Several revolutions, uprisings, assassinations of Tsars, and power takeovers in St. Petersburg had shaped the course of history in Russia and influenced the world. In 1801, after the assassination of the Emperor Paul I, his son became the Emperor Alexander I. Alexander I ruled Russia during the Napoleonic Wars and expanded his Empire by acquisitions of Finland and part of Poland. His mysterious death in 1825 was marked by the Decembrist revolt, which was suppressed by the Emperor Nicholas I, who ordered execution of leaders and exiled hundreds of their followers to Siberia. Nicholas I then pushed for Russian nationalism by suppressing non-Russian nationalities and religions.
The Cultural revolution that followed after the Napoleonic wars had further opened St. Petersburg up, in spite of repressions. The city's wealth and rapid growth had always attracted prominent intellectuals, scientists, writers and artists. St. Petersburg eventually gained international recognition as a gateway for trade and business, as well as a cosmopolitan cultural hub. The works of Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol, Ivan Turgenev, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and numerous others brought Russian literature to the world. Music, theatre and ballet became firmly established and gained international stature.
The son of Tsar Nicholas I, Tsar Alexander II implemented the most challenging reforms undertaken in Russia since the reign of Peter the Great. The emancipation of the serfs (1861) caused the influx of large numbers of poor into the capital. Tenements were erected on the outskirts, and nascent industry sprang up, surpassing Moscow in population and industrial growth. By 1900, St. Petersburg had grown into one of the largest industrial hubs in Europe, an important international center of power, business and politics, and the 4th largest city in Europe.
With the growth of industry, radical movements were also astir. Socialist organizations were responsible for the assassinations of many public figures, government officials, members of the royal family, and the Tsar himself. Tsar Alexander II was killed by a suicide bomber Ignacy Hryniewiecki in 1881, in a plot with connections to the family of Lenin and other revolutionaries. The Revolution of 1905 initiated here and spread rapidly into the provinces. During World War I, the name Sankt Petersburg was seen to be too German, so the city was renamed to Petrograd.
The city's proximity to anti-Soviet armies, forced communist leader Vladimir Lenin to move his government to Moscow on March 5, 1918. The move was disguised as temporary, but Moscow has remained the capital ever since. On January 24, 1924, three days after Lenin's death, Petrograd was renamed Leningrad. The Communist party's reason for renaming the city again was that Lenin had led the revolution. Deeper reasons existed at the level of political propaganda: Saint Petersburg had stood as the symbol of capitalist culture and the Tsarist era, but the Soviet empire needed to destroy that. After the Civil War, and murder of the Tsar Nicholas II and his family, as well as millions of anti-Soviet people, the renaming to Leningrad was designed to destroy last hopes among the resistance, and show strong dictatorship of Lenin's communist party and the Soviet regime.
St. Petersburg was devastated by Lenin's Red Terror then by Stalin's Great Purge in addition to crime and vandalism in the series of revolutions and wars. Between 1917 and 1930s, about two million people fled the city, including hundreds of thousands of educated intellectuals and aristocracy, who emigrated to Europe and America. At the same time many political, social and paramilitary groups had followed the communist government in their move to Moscow, as the benefits of capital status had left the city. In 1931 Leningrad administratively separated from Leningrad Oblast.
In 1934 the popular governor of Leningrad, Kirov, was assassinated, because Stalin apparently became increasingly paranoid about Kirov's growth. The death of Kirov was used to ignite the Great Purge where supporters of Trotsky and other suspected "enemies of the Soviet state" were arrested. Then a series of "criminal" cases, known as the Leningrad Centre and Leningrad Affair were fabricated and resulted in death sentences for many top leaders of Leningrad, and severe repressions of thousands of top officials and intellectuals.
Siege of Leningrad
During World War II, Leningrad was surrounded and besieged by the German Wehrmacht from September 8, 1941 to January 27, 1944, a total of 29 months. By Hitler's order the Wehrmacht constantly shelled and bombed the city and systematically isolated it from any supplies, causing death of more than 1 million civilians in 3 years; 1942 alone saw 650,000 people die. The secret instruction from 23 September 1941 said: "Hitler is determined to eliminate the city of Petersburg from the face of earth. There is no reason whatsoever for subsequent existence of this large-scale city after the neutralization of the Soviet Russia." Starting in early 1942, the Ingermanland region was included into the Generalplan Ost annexation plans as the "German settlement area". This implied the genocide of 3 million Leningrad residents, who had no place in Hitler's "New East European Order".
Hitler ordered preparations for victory celebrations at the Tsar's Palaces. The Nazis looted art from museums and palaces, as well as from private homes. All looted treasures, such as the Amber Room, gold statues of Peterhof, paintings and other valuable art were taken to Germany. Hitler also prepared a party to celebrate his victory at the hotel Astoria. A printed invitation to Hitler's reception ball at the Hotel Astoria is now on display at the City Museum of St. Petersburg.
During the Nazi siege of 1941 - 1944, the only ways to supply the city, and suburbs, inhabited by several millions, were by aircraft or by cars crossing the frozen Lake Ladoga. The Nazis systematically shelled this route, called the Road of Life, so thousands of cars with people and food supplies sank in the lake. The situation in the city was especially horrible in the winter of 1941 - 1942. The German bombing raids destroyed most of the food reserves. Daily food ration was cut in October to 400 grams (14 oz) of bread for a worker and 200 grams (7 oz) for a woman or child. On 20 November 1941, the rations were reduced to 250 g (9 oz) and 125 g (4 oz). Those grams of bread were the bulk of a daily meal for a person in the city. The water supply was destroyed. The situation further worsened in winter due to lack of heating fuel. In December 1941 alone some 53,000 people in Leningrad died of starvation, many corpses were scattered in the streets all over the city.
"Savichevs died. Everyone died. Only Tanya is left," wrote 11-year-old Leningrad girl Tanya Savicheva in her diary. This diary became one of the symbols of the blockade tragedy and was shown as one of many documents at the Nuremberg trials.
The city suffered severe destruction - the Wehrmacht fired about 150,000 shells at Leningrad and the Luftwaffe dropped about 100,000 air bombs. Many houses, schools, hospitals and other buildings were leveled, and those in the occupied territory were plundered by German troops. As a result of the Nazi siege, about 1.2 million of 3 million Leningrad civilians lost their lives because of bombardment, starvation, infections and stress. Hundreds of thousands of unregistered civilians, who lived in Leningrad prior to WWII, had perished in the Nazi siege without any record at all. About 1 million civilians escaped with evacuation, mainly by foot. After two years of the siege, Leningrad became an empty "ghost-city" with thousands of ruined and abandoned homes.
Historians speak about the Nazi genocide of the Leningrad residents in terms of the "racially motivated starvation policy" which became the integral part of the unprecedented German war of extermination against the civilian population of the Soviet Union.
After the Victory in WWII search for the looted treasures from museums and palaces of Leningrad and suburbs was continued in Germany.
For the heroic resistance of the city and tenacity of the survivors of the Siege, Leningrad was the first city in the former USSR to be awarded the title Hero City in 1945. Some performance and cinema theatres were opened for public by middle of the 1946, and in May of 1947 the famous fountains of the Peterhof park were re-constructed from ruins and opened for public again. However the palaces of the Tsars were in ruins for the next several decades as the country recovered from war.
The war damaged the city and killed many old Petersburgers who had not fled after the revolution and did not perish in the mass purges before the war. Nonetheless, Leningrad and many of its suburbs were rebuilt over the post-war decades, partially according to the pre-war plans. In 1950 the Kirov Stadium was opened and soon set a record when 110,000 fans attended a football match.
The Leningrad Metro, which was designed before the war in the 1930s, was finally completed and opened in 1955 with its first seven stations decorated with marble and bronze. It became the second underground rapid transit system in Russia. Population of Leningrad with suburbs had increased slowly in the 10 post-war years from under 0.8 million to about 4 million.
In 1990’s, original names returned to 39 streets, six bridges, three Saint Petersburg Metro stations and six parks. Older people sometimes use old names and old mailing addresses. The name Leningrad was heavily promoted in media, mainly in connection with the siege, so even authorities may call it "Hero city Leningrad." Young people may use Leningrad as a vague protest against some social and economic changes. Leningrad Oblast retained its name after a popular vote. It is a separate federal subject of Russia of which the city of St. Petersburg is the capital.
Today, St. Petersburg is a major trade gateway, financial and industrial center of Russia specializing in oil and gas trade, shipbuilding yards, aerospace industry, radio and electronics, software and computers; machine building, heavy machinery and transport, including tanks and other military equipment, mining, instrument manufacture, ferrous and nonferrous metallurgy (production of aluminum alloys), chemicals, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, publishing and printing, food and catering, wholesale and retail, textile and apparel industries, and many other businesses.
St. Petersburg has three large cargo seaports: Bolshoi Port St. Petersburg, Kronstadt, and Lomonosov. International cruise liners are served at the passenger port at Morskoy Vokzal on the west end of the Vasilevsky Island. A complex system of riverports on both banks of the Neva river are interconnected with the system of seaports, thus making St. Petersburg the main link between the Baltic sea and the rest of Russia through the Volga-Baltic Waterway.
Saint Petersburg is also known as the "beer capital" of Russia, due to the supply and quality of local water, contributing over 30% of the domestic production of beer with its five large-scale breweries including Europe's second largest brewery Baltika, Vena (both operated by BBH), Heineken Brewery, Stepan Razin (both by Heineken) and Tinkoff brewery (SUN-InBev). St. Petersburg has the second largest construction industry in Russia, including commercial, housing and road construction.
The majestic appearance of St. Petersburg is achieved through a variety of architectural details including long, straight boulevards, vast spaces, gardens and parks, decorative wrought-iron fences, monuments and decorative sculptures. The Neva River itself, together with its many canals and their granite embankments and bridges gives the city a unique and striking ambience.
While many cathedrals and buildings formerly owned by churches and monasteries still belong to the Russian government, since their seizure in 1917, some were eventually returned to congregations. The largest cathedral in the city is St Isaac's Cathedral (1818–1858), it is the biggest gold-plated dome in the world. It was constructed over 40 years under supervision of architects Auguste de Montferrand and Vasily Stasov. The Kazan Cathedral on the Nevsky Prospekt is a national landmark in the Empire style, modeled after St Peter's, Vatican. The Church of the Savior on Blood (1883–1907), is a monument in the old Russian style which marks the spot of Alexander II's assassination. The Peter and Paul Cathedral (1712–1732), a long-time symbol of the city, contains the sepulchers of Peter the Great and other Russian emperors.
St. Petersburg has a longstanding and world famous tradition in literature. Dostoyevsky called it “The most abstract and intentional city in the world," emphasizing its artificiality, but it was also a symbol of modern disorder in a changing Russia. It frequently appeared to Russian writers as a menacing and inhuman mechanism. The grotesque and often nightmarish image of the city is featured in Pushkin's last poems, the Petersburg stories of Gogol, the novels of Dostoyevsky, the verse of Alexander Blok and Osip Mandelshtam, and in the symbolist novel Petersburg by Andrey Bely.
Anna Akhmatova became an important leader for Russian poetry. Her poem Requiem focuses on the tragedies of living during the time of the Stalinist terror. Another notable 20th century writer from St. Petersburg is Joseph Brodsky, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature (1987). While living in the United States, his writings in English reflected on life in St. Petersburg from the unique perspective of being both an insider and an outsider to the city in essays such as, "A Guide to a Renamed City" and the nostalgic "In a Room and a Half".