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Saint Petersburg

Saint Petersburg is a port city on the Baltic Sea and with a population of around 5 million, the second largest city in Russia. Since being named so in 1703, it has also historically been known as Petrograd from 1914, Leningrad from 1924 and from 1991, Saint Petersburg once again. The city is a federal subject (a federal city) and located some 420 miles (676km) from Moscow, forming the centre of an important industrial region in the northwest of the country. The city was founded in 1703 by Peter the Great and was the imperial capital for 2 centuries. It has been the Russian city historically most linked to Western Europe, As well as being economically important, the city has been (and remains) the country’s cultural centre with many theatres, such as the Mariinsky Theatre, which hosts world-class ballet and opera, and a collection of museums many cities would find hard to rival.

Above: The Hermitage Museum complex (left to right: Hermitage Theatre, Old Hermitage, Small Hermitage and the Winter Palace)

The city was constructed where the Neva River flows into the Gulf of Finland, the easternmost arm of the Baltic Sea. It is often referred to as "the Venice of the North" as it is almost entirely built on a series of islands across the river's delta. The exact number of islands it stands on was counted as 42 in 1975, however, at the end of the 19th century this figure was put at 101. Lying approximately 60° north of the equator, it is one of the northernmost major cities in the world and as one might figure out, the day length consequentially varies significantly across the seasons, as does the weather. Each summer, for about 3 weeks, the sun never fully sets and the city undergoes a "White Night" twilight period each day, that lasts for about half an hour.

Above: The Bronze Horseman (1768 - 1782), an equestrian statue of Peter the Great which was commissioned by Catherine the Great

During the Second World War, Saint Petersburg became a symbol of resistance to the Nazis. The citizens held out during a 900 day German siege, during which over 800,000 civilians died. The city's inhabitants lost during the siege are remembered throughout the city including at the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery, where in the region of 420,000 civilians and 50,000 soldiers of the Leningrad Front were buried in 186 mass graves. Today, the city is a thriving metropolis which operates throughout the year as Russia's largest seaport which is kept open in winter by icebreakers. Over 60 rivers, canals and water channels cut through the city which is linked up by some 365 bridges of varying size. In addition to the port, other economic activities in Saint Petersburg include industries such as engineering (naturally including shipbuilding), electrical and consumer goods, chemicals, textiles and food processing. A large number of international corporations have a presence in the city.

Above: Saint Isaac's Cathedral (completed 1858), the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in the city. In front of the cathedral on St Isaac's Square stands The Monument to Nicholas I, a bronze equestrian monument. Nicholas I was Emperor of Russia (amongst other titles) from 1825 until 1855, the year he died in the city's Winter Palace.

Many visitors are attracted to Saint Petersburg because of its rich historical and cultural heritage. The city contains an ensemble of many unaltered 18th and 19th-century buildings and here is represented various European architectural styles from the past three centuries. The loss of its status as capital city to Moscow, meant many of the city's pre-revolutionary buildings were retained and many of the Soviet's grandest of mid-to-late-20th-century architectural projects were focused on Moscow. This helped with maintaining Saint Petersburg's historic city centre. Of the comparatively large number of museums in the city (some of which are fascinatingly specialist in subject), the most famous is The State Hermitage, which is one of the largest and oldest art museums in the world. The Russian Museum has a rich collection for those interested in Russian art and also a popular draw are the palaces of Saint Petersburg and its suburbs (one of which, Peterhof, I have featured on a separate page here). In addition, Saint Petersburg also boasts a large number of festivals and international events each year. The Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Some further photos from my visit to this great city (which was in the mid 1990's) follow below.

Above: Mariinsky Palace, where The city assembly meets. Completed in 1844, this was the last Neoclassical Imperial Palace to be constructed in the city.

Above: Church of the Saviour on Blood (1882-1907) was built on the site of the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. The church stands as a lone ecclesiastical representative of the so-called neo-nationalist style [Reference 1, p215].

Above: Smolny Convent, located on Ploschad Rastrelli, on the bank of the River Neva

Above: Panoramic stitch of the Winter Palace, From 1732 to 1917, it was the official residence of the Russian monarchs. Today, it forms part of the complex of buildings housing the Hermitage Museum.

Above: View of Palace Square with the Alexander Column from the Hermitage Museum in the Winter Palace.

Above: The Alexander Column on Palace Square. Named for Emperor Alexander I of Russia, who reigned from 1801–25, the monument was raised after the Russian victory in the war with Napoleonic France.

Above: View towards the Peter and Paul Fortress, the original citadel of Saint Petersburg. It was founded by Peter the Great in 1703.

Above (and Below, views from): The Pribaltiyskaya Hotel (now a Park Inn by Radisson) is approximately 5 miles from the centre of Saint Petersburg and offers views over the Gulf of Finland.

Above: Suburban Soviet era apartment buildings - Note the cars (Lada's) date my photographs - Many Russians today drive much more modern vehicles!

References and Further Reading

1. Milner-Gulland, R. and Dejevsky, N. (1998). Cultural atlas of Russia and the former Soviet Union. New York: Checkmark Books.

2. Brown, A., Kaser, M. and Smith, G. (1994). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Russia and the Former Soviet Union. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire]: Cambridge University Press.

3. (2016). - travel and event guide for St. Petersburg, Russia. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Apr. 2016].

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