St. Petersburg

views updated May 23 2018


industrialization and revolution

Europe's "long nineteenth century" witnessed both the apogee of the Russian Empire and the beginnings of its collapse. Sharing the empire's fate in every major respect was its capital, St. Petersburg. Founded in 1703 by Peter the Great as a naval base and trading post, St. Petersburg had become, by 1914, the empire's largest city as well as its administrative headquarters, a bustling Baltic seaport and booming industrial site, an international center of art and fashion, and the crucible of a revolution that many historians would judge the single most important event of the ensuing twentieth century.


No major city of the modern world is more closely connected with its founder than St. Petersburg is with Peter I (known as Peter the Great), tsar and first Russian emperor (r. 1682–1725), whose patron saint is commemorated in the city's very name. Many of St. Petersburg's extant buildings date directly from Peter's time, including the central fortress and its church, where he is interred; his domik, or the little house that was his first home in the city; the Summer Palace, built for him from 1710 to 1714 by the city's first architect, Domenico Trezzini; and suburban Peterhof, as Peter called it, the complex of palaces and parks overlooking the Finnish Gulf that was his favorite retreat. The origins of numerous other important buildings, if not always their present structures, also go back to Peter's time: the Winter Palace; the Admiralty; the Academy of Sciences; the Kunstkamera, or natural history museum; the Menshikov Palace, residence of the region's first governor; the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, burial place of Russian heroes; and the Building of the Twelve Colleges, erected to house the administrative offices—of war, justice, foreign affairs, and so on—created in conjunction with Peter's drastic reorganization of Russia's central government and now, like Peterhof, part of St. Petersburg State University. Countless other mementos of Russia's first emperor are to be found in the city as well—museum exhibits, historic sites, shop signs, street names, and monumental statues, including, most famously, the statue of Peter known as the Bronze Horseman, which was dedicated in 1782 by Catherine II (known as Catherine the Great) and later celebrated in a long poem of that name by Alexander Pushkin (1799–1837), who is often called Russia's greatest poet. Even the popular nickname in Russian for St. Petersburg, "Piter," from the Dutch form of his name that he liked to use when corresponding with his close companions, evokes the sailor-tsar. These elements of St. Petersburg today all constitute tangible links with Peter the Great; all are enduring reminders of his life and reign. Yet more, in both its inception and its subsequent history, St. Petersburg embodies the revolution in Russia's government, culture, and international standing that was engineered by his regime. The whole city has an abiding historical significance, in other words, that goes well beyond its connections with the person of its founder.

"I love thee, creation of Peter,
Thy severe and stately aspect,
The mighty Neva coursing
'Twixt its granite banks;
The iron lacework of thy fences,
Thy wistful, moonless nights…."

Alexander Pushkin, The Bronze Horseman: A Petersburg Tale, 1833.

Russia before Peter's reign was a vast yet sparsely populated kingdom centered in medieval Moscow, its sole city of any significant size and accessible from the centers of either European or Asian civilization only by a very long and perilous journey. Muscovite Russia's relative isolation was thus cultural as well as geographical: a "rude and barbarous kingdom," in the words of a later sixteenth-century English visitor; its capital, in those of a later seventeenth-century German resident, "built without any architectural order or art." Thus from the outset St. Petersburg's elegant parks and public buildings, broad boulevards, and symmetrical layout sharply distinguished its architecture from that of cloistered, cluttered, picturesque old Moscow (or any other Russian town). Even its very location, where the Neva River empties into the Baltic Sea's Gulf of Finland, at the extreme western edge of Russia—in fact, on land recently conquered from Sweden and aboriginally inhabited by Finns—is indicative of Peter's determination to make his city the capital of a cosmopolitan European empire.

And so it progressively became. Between 1703 and Peter's death in 1725 anywhere from ten thousand to thirty thousand workers labored annually on the construction of the city, their efforts directed by the thousand or more architects, masons, and interior decorators recruited for the purpose in Italy, Germany, Holland, and France. The architects included, besides Trezzini, a Swiss-Italian lured from the Danish king's service in 1703, Alexandre Le Blond, hired by the tsar's agents in Paris in 1716; Andreas Schlüter, a sculptor and architect famous for his work in Poland and Prussia; Niccolò Michetti, recruited in Rome; and Mikhail Zemtsov, the ablest of their Russian pupils. Almost as important were the first engineers, hired in England and the Netherlands, who built the sluices, canals, and dikes needed to tame the Neva delta on which the new city arose. The diverse skills and nationalities of these and the other first builders of St. Petersburg imparted to its architecture a distinctive baroque style, one that combined with its canalized seaboard site to produce, as it was soon said, a "second Amsterdam" or "another Venice." St. Petersburg's first builders also made the city the architectural trendsetter of the Russian Empire. Right down to the empire's demise in 1917, new construction even in Moscow would replicate the successive European architectural styles—baroque, neoclassical, empire, modernist—dominant in the capital by the Baltic.

"Petersbourg may with reason be looked upon as a Wonder of the World, considering its magnificent palaces, sixty odd thousand houses, and the short time that was employed in the building of it." (F. C. Weber [German diplomat], 1720)

"The richness and splendour of the Russian court surpasses description. It retains many traces of its antient Asiatic pomp, blended with European refinement. An immense retinue of courtiers always preceded and followed the empress [Catherine II]; the costliness and glare of their apparel, and a profusion of precious stones, created a splendour, of which the magnificence of other courts can give us only a faint idea." (Dr. William Coxe [English visitor], 1784)

"The prevailing taste here is the brilliant and the striking: spires, gilded and tapering like electric conductors; porticoes, the bases of which almost disappear under the water; squares, ornamented with columns which seem lost in the immense space that surrounds them; antique statues, the character and attire of which so ill accord with the aspect of this country, the tint of the sky, the cos tumes and manners of the inhabitants, as to sug gest captive heroes in a hostile land…."

(Marquis de Custine [French visitor], 1839)

"Is there anything more buoyant, more brilliant, more resplendent than this beautiful street of our capital?… The gay carriages, the handsome men, the beautiful women—all lend it a carnival air, an air that you can almost inhale the moment you set foot on Nevsky Prospect!" (Nikolai Gogol [Ukrainian-Russian writer], 1842)

"Petersburg lived a restless, cold, satiated, semi-nocturnal life. Phosphorescent, crazy, volup tuous summer nights; green tables and the clink of gold; music, whirling couples behind windows, gal loping troikas, gypsies, duels at daybreak, ceremo nial military parades marching to the whistling of icy winds and the squealing of fifes before the Byzantine gaze of the Emperor—such was the life of the city… in 1914." (Alexei Tolstoy, The Road to Calvary, 1921)

Indeed, it was as the new cultural capital of Russia that St. Petersburg best embodied the Petrine revolution. The first systematic training in Russia in modern (post-Renaissance) European painting and sculpture as well as in architecture and the graphic arts was instituted in St. Petersburg, a development that culminated in the foundation by Peter's daughter, Empress Elizabeth, of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts (1757). The St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, after its founding in 1724,

rapidly became the institutional hub for the development of mathematics and the natural sciences in Russia. The academy was the home, too, of Russia's first law professors, historians, archaeologists, ethnographers, and modern literary specialists. Equally critical was St. Petersburg's function, from its founder's time, as the wellspring in Russia of modern European music and dance as well as the visual arts, all of which would flourish brilliantly in the new capital until reaching their climax in the "Silver Age" of the decades before 1917, an age associated with such masters as Vasily Kandinsky in painting, Igor Stravinsky in music, and Sergei Diaghilev in dance.


St. Petersburg's international prestige, like that of the empire itself, reached its apogee in the century or so that elapsed between the accession of Catherine II in 1762 and the death of Nicholas I in 1855. Catherine especially left her mark on the city. To Empress Elizabeth's colossal, flamboyantly baroque Winter Palace (designed by Bartolomeo Rastrelli) Catherine added a more intimate if still palatial "Hermitage," the first of three such additions (successively designated the Small Hermitage, Large Hermitage, and New Hermitage), together with an elegant court theater, which was subsequently also attached to the Winter Palace complex and named the Hermitage Theater. Giacomo Quarenghi built the theater in the restrained neoclassical style that Catherine favored, and he alone designed forty-five buildings in the city, mostly aristocratic palaces but also a splendid new home for the Academy of Sciences and another for what later became the Imperial State Bank. Other distinguished architects, Russian and foreign, designed the magnificent Imperial Academy of Fine Arts, the Marble Palace, and the Taurida Palace, each built for a leading court favorite, and the Smolny Institute, a school founded by Catherine for the education of noble-women, which the Bolsheviks under Vladimir Lenin took over as their headquarters in 1917. Equally if not more important for St. Petersburg's future were the massive granite embankments built on Catherine's orders to restrain the turbulent Neva River and its tributaries, thereby providing protection from the recurrent floods that inundated the city. At Catherine's death in 1796 St. Petersburg's population had risen to more than two hundred thousand, up from forty thousand in 1725; its amenities rivaled those of any great city in Europe; and visitors had begun to call it, evoking the fabled metropolis of the ancient Middle East, the Palmyra of the North.

The similarly long reigns of Catherine's grandsons Alexander I (1801–1825) and Nicholas I (1825–1855) confirmed St. Petersburg's status as the seat of a mighty empire, an empire that by 1815 had defeated, more so than any other land power in Europe, the empire of Napoleon. This great victory was variously commemorated in the Russian capital, most notably by the erection of the huge Alexander Column in the immense square adjoining the Winter Palace. Two enormous churches were also built to affirm, if not loudly proclaim, Russia's arrival as a great European power. The first, completed under Alexander I, was a sternly neoclassical edifice called the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan (after a revered icon of that name) and prominently located on St. Petersburg's central thoroughfare, the Nevsky Prospect, whose perpetual throngs of every rank and nationality testified to the empire's vast size, multiethnic character, and international importance. A second, even grander church, constructed in a late neoclassical style of the most opulent materials available, arose under Nicholas I, whose reactionary policies at home and abroad earned him the nickname "the Gendarme of Europe." The Cathedral of St. Isaac, as it was called, was much less a church than a magnificent, Roman-style imperial monument. Its dome, the third largest in the world, provided a new focal point for Russia's increasingly sumptuous if not overbearing capital.

Numerous other major buildings, also still standing, were put up in St. Petersburg under Alexander I and Nicholas I in the empire style—the new or rebuilt Admiralty, Ministries of War and Foreign Affairs, offices of the Senate and Holy Synod (administering church affairs), General Staff Headquarters, and Stock Exchange—along with several

theaters, a ballet school, and still more military barracks, triumphal arches, and hero statues. Vast new parade grounds for staging the elaborate military exercises much favored by both emperors were laid out. Following grandmother Catherine's example, both rulers also made important additions to the Winter Palace complex, known today as the State Hermitage Museum. Simultaneously a major architectural monument and world-class art collection, the Hermitage remains the most impressive of St. Petersburg's many memorials to its imperial past.

industrialization and revolution

St. Petersburg's Palace Square, adjacent to the Winter Palace and site of the Alexander Column, was also the site of "Bloody Sunday," as the massacre by imperial troops of demonstrating workers one Sunday in January 1905 was quickly dubbed. The city's population had grown enormously in the half-century or so since the death of Nicholas I: from an estimated five hundred thousand inhabitants in 1857, of whom the great majority were either officials, soldiers, or servants and their families, to nearly one and a quarter million in 1900, of whom roughly a third were industrial workers and their dependents. St. Petersburg had always been the center of the empire's carriage trade, catering to the official-noble elite and innumerable foreign visitors, as witness the famous jewelry shop founded by Carl Fabergé (1846–1920). But by 1900 the opulent core city was surrounded by a rapidly growing belt of factories, among which the giant Putilov metalworks alone employed some thirteen thousand men. Heavy industry prevailed, with attendant environmental pollution; worker slums had sprung up; and streetcars, telegraph and then telephone wires, massive apartment blocks and department stores, and all the other appurtenances of industrial modernity had penetrated even the city's central districts. Rising crime rates, worker strikes, and other manifestations of popular unrest had been quick to follow, culminating in the Revolution of 1905. The revolution ushered in Russia's brief period of quasi-constitutional government (1906–1916), during which the lower legislative chamber, the Imperial Duma, met in the Taurida Palace built by Catherine II for Prince Grigory Potemkin, conqueror of the Crimea (or Taurida). In the summer of 1917 the same palace housed the All-Russian Congress of Soviets (worker, peasant, and soldier councils), in whose name, in October of that year, Lenin would seize power from the Provisional Government that had taken office the previous February and was meeting in the Winter Palace.

By the early twentieth century, in other words, the majestic imperial capital of Pushkin's poems had been transformed into the turbulent metropolis depicted in Andrei Bely's allegorical novel Petersburg, first published in serial form in 1913, and in Alexei Tolstoy's darkly evocative The Road to Calvary (a trilogy, the first part of which was published in 1921). Nicholas II, Russia's last emperor, who came to the throne in 1894 and abdicated in February 1917, never liked the city that St. Petersburg had become, much preferring to live instead in the peace and quiet of his suburban palace-estate. He and his family also spent unprecedented amounts of time in the old capital, Moscow, in specially renovated apartments in the Kremlin. Picturesque old Moscow had once more become, in an age of rampant nationalism, the national capital of Russia, the sentimental heart of the Russian nation, an attitude that paid little heed to the realities of the multiethnic empire. Nicholas II was scarcely alone among Russians in experiencing the emotional pull of the old capital and in doing his part to promote a revival of traditional Muscovite forms in art, architecture, and decoration. The revivalist movement even succeeded in planting, in the heart of St. Petersburg itself, a gigantic edifice built in neo-Muscovite style, the Church of the Resurrection, which opened in 1907 (and is also known as the Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood, in recognition of its location on the site where Alexander II was assassinated by revolutionary terrorists in 1881). The soaring cupolas and rich ornamentation of the Church of the Resurrection, restored in the late twentieth century after decades of Soviet neglect, stand in utmost architectural contrast to the austere, horizontal classicism of the surrounding buildings. Also highly indicative of the nationalist movement in late imperial Russia was the renaming of the capital itself, when war against Germany broke out in 1914, from the Germanic "St. Petersburg" of Peter the Great, now felt to be unacceptably foreign, to the more purely Russian "Petrograd."

It was as Petrograd that St. Petersburg witnessed the trauma of World War I and the Revolution of 1917. And it was the revolutionary government of Lenin and his Bolsheviks that in 1918, fearful of a German conquest, moved Russia's capital back to Moscow, where it remains. In 1924, following Lenin's death, Petrograd was renamed Leningrad in a transparent attempt to replace the aura of Peter and all it stood for with that of the founder of the Soviet Union. It was as Leningrad that the city endured the subsequent decades of Soviet rule and underwent the terrible German siege of World War II. Yet Leningraders, living amid innumerable mementos of their city's cosmopolitan past, never forgot St. Petersburg; in 1991 they voted to restore the city's original name. Russia's "Window on Europe," as it was first called (by an Italian visitor) in 1739, had been reopened.

See alsoCities and Towns; Moscow; Pushkin, Alexander; Russia.


Bater, James H. St. Petersburg: Industrialization and Change. Montreal, 1976.

Bely, Andrei. Petersburg. Translated by Robert A. Maguire and John E. Malmstad. Bloomington, Ind., 1978.

Buckler, Julie A. Mapping St. Petersburg: Imperial Text and Cityshape. Princeton, N.J., 2005. Nineteenth-century St. Petersburg as a "living cultural system."

Clark, Katerina. Petersburg: Crucible of Cultural Revolution. Cambridge, Mass., 1995. Cultural developments in the early twentieth century.

Cracraft, James. The Petrine Revolution in Russian Architecture. Chicago, 1988. Chapters 6 and 7 focus on the building and early history of St. Petersburg.

Cross, Anthony, ed. St. Petersburg, 1703–1825. Houndmills, Basingstoke, U.K., 2003. A collection of essays published to commemorate the city's tercentenary.

Kaganov, Grigory. Images of Space: St. Petersburg in the Visual and Verbal Arts. Translated by Sidney Monas. Stanford, Calif., 1997.

Lincoln, W. Bruce. Sunlight at Midnight: St. Petersburg and the Rise of Modern Russia. New York, 2000.

Norman, Geraldine. The Hermitage: The Biography of a Great Museum. New York, 1998.

Shvidkovsky, Dmitri. St. Petersburg: Architecture of the Tsars. Translated by John Goodman. New York, 1996.

Volkov, Solomon. St. Petersburg: A Cultural History. Translated by Antonina W. Bouis. New York, 1995.

James Cracraft

St. Petersburg

views updated May 11 2018


ST. PETERSBURG. Founded in 1703 and by 1712 already the capital of Russia, St. Petersburg existed in the mind of Peter the Great (ruled 16821725) and on the planning boards of his architects almost before construction began"the most abstract and intentional [or, 'premeditated'] city in the whole world," in the words of Dostoevsky (Notes from Underground, 1864). In contrast to Moscow, which grew organically over the centuries in concentric circles, St. Petersburg was planned from scratch (like Washington, D.C.) by west European architects who attempted to impose geometric street patterns on the swampy delta of the Neva River. Echoes of the city's planned origins are preserved in the not-so-romantic names of several north/south streets on Vasilii Island: Second/Third Line Street, Fourth/Fifth Line Street, and so forth (each of these streets was originally intended to be a canal, with a numbered line of houses on each side of the canal).


St. Petersburg is located far to the north, at about 60 degrees latitude, above the middle of Hudson's Bay in Canada and slightly above that of Juneau, Alaska. It is situated on the Gulf of Finland in the Baltic Sea in the delta of the Neva River, which flows from Lake Ladoga forty-six miles to the east. Though short, the Neva carries a large volume of water (sixth largest in Europe) and its currents are strong. Winding through St. Petersburg, the Neva divides at the tip (strelka, or 'arrow point') of Vasilii Island, the Large Neva to the south, the Small Neva to the right. Some one hundred islands dot the delta. The largest, Vasilii Island, was originally envisioned as the future city center, but security and supply considerations prompted a shift to the left bank. The left bank itself is not "mainland": several rivulets, notably the Moika and the Fontanka, flowed through the area and were preserved as canals in the city center. Because the flat territory of the city is close to the level of the Gulf of Finland (only six feet above it at the western end of Vasilii Island), and because storms and tides sometimes combine to back up water in the entire delta, lowlying areas of the city periodically flood. In 1703, as Peter the Great was starting to build the city's fortress (a not unwise choice, given that the area belonged to Sweden at the time), a flood carried off construction materials. In 1777 a major flood destroyed buildings and some fifty fountains in the Summer Gardens. The gardens were restored, but not the fountains; the adjacent Fontanka River/Canal was named for the fountains. Snow lies on the ground some five months a year, and the river and nearby gulf typically freeze over for two to four months each year. Nevertheless, prevailing winds from the west over the Baltic have a slight moderating effect on the climate. There is no good building stone in the area. In the early eighteenth century, a stone levy was placed on carts and boats entering the city, each one required to bring in stone for building foundations. As in Venice, many buildings in eighteenth-century St. Petersburg were set on wooden pilings driven into the mud.


Why did Peter persist in building the city in this inhospitable location? He had first tried to gain access to the Black Sea in the south, but he failed militarily to hold a position there. In any case, the Neva and the Gulf of Finland promised more direct contact with the countries of northern Europe with which he wanted to communicate and trade. From his youthful experiences among foreigners in Moscow and his two trips to western Europe, Peter was enamored with the accomplishments of west Europeans in science, industry, military and naval technology and training, and political administration. Sea power and maritime commerce captured his attention, and he determined to gain access to the sea for Russia by establishing a port city like Amsterdam. Moscow, with its narrow winding streets of logs or mud, its buildings of wood that fueled the city's frequent fires, its traditional culture, was for Peterto use a modern termbackward and underdeveloped. "Sanktpiterburkh"as he named the city in a Germano-Dutch spellingwas his initial experiment in transforming Russia into a sea power and giving his new Russian Empire an impressive European capital. In the twenty-one-year-long Great Northern War (17001721), Peter defeated Sweden's army and naval forces and formally annexed territory on the Baltic.


The rapidity with which St. Petersburg was created is remarkable. As of 1703, when the city was founded, there was one Swedish fortress in the immediate area and a few modest fishing villages. By 1725, when Peter died, St. Petersburg had some forty thousand residents and over six thousand buildings. James Cracraft, in his authoritative study The Petrine Revolution in Russian Architecture, lists the reasons why the city was built up so quickly: the government commanded the resources of the entire nation to be devoted to the cause; conscripted and convict labor was used; foreign architects and artisans were imported; Russian students were trained in architecture and building in St. Petersburg and abroad; training and city planning were standardized and coordinated by newly established government offices; and factories were established for bricks and other building materials. The costs were high; thousands of laborers perished in the harsh conditions. While St. Petersburg acquired the epithet of "Venice of the north," it was also described as "built on bones."


For Peter, architectural style per se did not matter much, but he admired the sober practicality of north European restrained baroque, and he recognized that the Dutch use of brick as a construction material was appropriate for St. Petersburg. In any case, architecture was an integral part of the west European cultural package that he sought to implant in St. Petersburg (minus restraints on the ruler's authority). His chief architect, Domenico Trezzini, a Swiss-Italian, created most early structures: the Fortress of St. Petersburg (later called the Peter and Paul Fortress, after the name of its cathedral, which Trezzini also designed), the Summer Palace and Gardens, the Twelve Colleges government administrative building, the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, and others. Peter's daughter, Empress Elizabeth (ruled 17411762) and her favorite architect, Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli, added extravagant rococo concoctions (the Winter Palace, Smolnyi Convent, the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoe Selo). During Empress Catherine II the Great's reign (ruled 17621796), the city acquired numerous neoclassical ensembles designed by west Europeans, including the Hermitage Theater and State Bank by Quarenghi, the Marble Palace and Sliding Hill Pavilion at Oranienbaum by Rinaldi, the Cameron Gallery at Tsarskoe Selo and Great Palace at Pavlovsk by Charles Cameron. In addition, Russian architects, trained in west European neoclassical principles, made contributions, notably I. E. Starov, who built the Tauride Palace and rebuilt the Trinity Cathedral in the Alexander Nevsky Monastery.

Catherine's most famous contribution to the city is the equestrian statue of Peter the Great, designed by the Frenchman Étienne-Maurice Falconet, later called the "Bronze Horseman," after Pushkin's poem (1833) of that name. St. Petersburg symbolizes Russia's turn to Western culture, and, as such, is a historic rival of Moscow, which symbolizes traditional Muscovite culture.

See also Catherine II (Russia) ; Elizabeth (Russia) ; Moscow ; Northern Wars ; Peter I (Russia) ; Russia ; Sweden .


Brumfield, William Craft. A History of Russian Architecture. Cambridge, U.K., 1993.

Cracraft, James E. The Petrine Revolution in Russian Architecture. Chicago, 1988.

Egorov, Iurii Alekseevich. The Architectural Planning of St. Petersburg. Translated by Eric Dluhosch. Athens, Ohio, 1969.

Hamilton, George Heard. The Art and Architecture of Russia. 3rd ed. London, 1983.

Shvidkovsky, Dmitri. St. Petersburg: Architecture of the Tsars. Translated from French by John Goodman. Photographs by Alexander Orloff. New York, 1996.

Jack Kollmann

St. Petersburg

views updated May 29 2018


From 1712 until 1918, St. Petersburg was the capital of the Russian Empire. Peter I (the Great) began the construction of the city as his "Window on the West" in 1703. During the subsequent three centuries, St. Petersburg was identified with the three major forces shaping Russian history: Westernization, industrialization, and revolution. The city was renamed Petrograd in 1914, at the beginning of World War I, because it sounded less German, was then named Leningrad after the death of Vladimir Lenin in 1924, and again became St. Petersburg in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed. Confusingly, the surrounding region (oblast) is still known as Leningrad.

In the early twenty-first century, with a metropolitan population of 4.8 million people, St. Petersburg is the second-largest city in Russia and the fourth-largest in Europe (behind Moscow, London, and Berlin). It is also Russia's second-most important industrial center, having benefited from Soviet investment in heavy industry, research and development, military-industrial production, and military basing and training. The city is a major international port and tourist destination, with tourists flocking there in May and June for the legendary "White Nights," during which the sun seems to never set.

capital of the russian empire

Peter the Great seized control over the confluence of the Neva River and the Gulf of Finland from Sweden in 1703. Inspired by a visit to Amsterdam, he decided to build a major city on this barren marshland to better integrate Russia into Western Europe and secure a Baltic port. Thousands of peasants and prisoners-of-war were pressed into service to build the city's numerous canals and palaces. When the harsh climate combined with malaria to kill tens of thousands of them, their bodies were dumped into the construction sites, leading to St. Petersburg's nickname as the "city built on bones." Construction was hampered by floods, which also ravaged the city in 1777, 1824, 1924, and 1955.

Empress Elizabeth, Peter's daughter, improved upon her father's vision by commissioning European architects such as Bartolomeo Rastrelli to construct baroque landmarks, including Winter Palace, the Smolny Institute, and the palaces of Tsarskoe Selo. Catherine II (the Great) subsequently purchased the paintings, drawings, and other priceless artworks that are now the core of the Hermitage Museum's holdings. She also established the Russian Academy of Arts to further aesthetic production, and she commissioned the Pavlovsk Palace, the Hermitage, and the Tauride Palace, later the meeting place of the first Duma and the Provisional Government.

The city's remarkable transformation from swamp to showcase paralleled the emergence of Russia as a major European power, from Peter's 1709 victory over the Swedes at Poltava to Alexander I's 1814 arrival in Paris. The city came to represent precisely this change from isolation to European integration. Petersburg's growing symbolic dominance preoccupied the country's intelligentsia and nobility alike, with Tsar Nicholas I

complaining that "Petersburg is Russian but it is not Russia."

During the imperial era, Russia's leading politicians, intellectuals, and cultural figures were brought together by the major institutions based in St. Petersburg to generate events that vitally affected the life of every member of Russian society. The Decembrist uprising of 1825 culminated in Senate (now Decembrist) Square. In January 1905, Father Gapon led a peaceful march of workers and their families to the Winter Palace to petition the tsar; the resulting slaughter is remembered as Bloody Sunday. Following that tragedy, the workers of St. Petersburg became increasingly militant. Forced to live and work in squalor due to Russia's rapid forced industrialization, they began to protest and strike for improved conditions.

By the dawn of the twentieth century, the city was the fifth-largest in Europe, behind London, Paris, Vienna, and Berlin, and was widely viewed as representative of imperial Russia's new military and industrial might. But with industrialization there also emerged a surging revolutionary movement, and "Red Petrograd" soon became the "cradle of the Revolution."

under the soviets

With the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, Nicholas II russified the capital city's name to Petrograd. In the early days of the war, the streets of Petrograd were filled with young men volunteering for military service. But as Russian losses mounted and the economy declined still further, Petrograd became the focus of anti-tsarist sentiment. The Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, founded in 1917 and modeled on a 1905 organization, was the most active. In March (February O.S.) 1917, workers struck and soldiers mutinied, leading to the eventual abdication of Nicholas II. A Provisional Government was installed, but constantly battled the Petrograd Soviet for control of the city. During the "July Days," the Soviet nearly succeeded in gaining power. On November 7 (October 25, O.S.), members of Trotsky's Red Guards stormed the Winter Palace, and the Provisional Government fled. For the next seventy-four years, the communists would control Russia.

The Soviet regime's shift of its seat of government to Moscow in March 1918 stripped Petrograd of many of its most creative and powerful institutions and prominent individuals. The city was renamed Leningrad after the death of Lenin in 1924. Its standing was further undermined by the December 1934 assassination of Leningrad Party leader Sergei Kirov in his office at the Smolny Institute, which precipitated Josef Stalin's mass purges. Mass graves containing the victims were still being discovered outside the city as recently as 2002.

World War II took a particularly heavy toll on Leningrad. For nine hundred days the Germans laid siege to the city, and there were anywhere from 700,000 to more than 1 million civilian deaths from attack and starvation. Although the Nazis never entered the city proper, they looted and burned many of the palaces in the environs, including Peterhof and the Catherine Palace.

During the post-Stalin era Leningrad was an important economic and intellectual center, though still trailing Moscow. Aside from Kirov, one of Leningrad's best-known political leaders was the rather ironically named Grigory Romanov. As first secretary of the Leningrad Oblast Party Committee from 1970 to 1983, Romanov encouraged production and scientific associations, as well as links among such groups to innovate and implement new technologies. As a result, Leningrad achieved enviable production levels. Romanov also made use of the city's extensive scientific establishment, linking the research and production sectors to improve production.

the post-soviet era

Although Romanov eschewed Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms, other Leningrad leaders embraced the changes. Anatoly Sobchak was elected to the first USSR Congress of People's Deputies in 1989 and in 1991 became the city's first elected mayor. A major figure in Russia's democratic movement, Sobchak oversaw a difficult transition in his city. His resistance to the hardline August 1991 putsch was critical to its defeat. Following the coup's collapse, Sobchak immediately renamed the city St. Petersburg. As the city's economy suffered under the national shift to capitalism, St. Petersburg experienced a severe rise in organized crime. Sobchak was unable to eradicate corruption, and in 1996 lost his bid for reelection to Vladmir Yakovlev.

St. Petersburg is the cultural capital of Russia. Among its most famous residents were the painters Marc Chagall and Ilya Repin; the writers Nikolai Gogol, Alexander Pushkin, Anna Akhmatova, and Fyodor Dostoevsky; the composers Peter Tchaikovsky and Dmitry Shoshtakovich; and the choreographers Marius Petipa and Sergei Diaghilev. Among its many art galleries, the Hermitage, the Russian Museum, and the Stieglitz boast collections unparalleled in the world. St. Petersburg is the home of the renowned Mariinsky ballet company (known as the Kirov in Soviet times). Shostakovich named his Seventh Symphony Leningrad. Falconet's Bronze Horseman sculpture of Peter the Great, located in Decembrist Square, was commissioned by Catherine the Great and immortalized by Pushkin in a poem of the same name. Many palaces and Orthodox churches have been restored, including the Romanovs' Winter Palace, St. Isaac's Cathedral, and the Kazan Cathedral. On the north bank of the Neva, the Peter and Paul Fortress has a long history as both a prison and, in the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, the burial site of all the Romanov tsars from Peter I to Nicholas II.

St. Petersburg had begun to recapture some its lost splendor by 2003. UNESCO designated the city a World Heritage site. Extensive renovation, funded in part by a $31 million loan from the World Bank, took place in preparation for the city's tercentennial celebration in May 2003. Partly contributing to the city's renaissance was the fact that President Vladimir Putin was born in St. Petersburg. In addition to promoting the tercentennial commemoration, Putin oversaw the renovation of the Peterhof Palace into a world-class conference center. There was also talk of creating a presidential residence in St. Petersburg and even some sentiment to move the capital from Moscow. Whether or not St. Petersburg regains the political eminence of a century ago, it remains a vibrant, culturally rich European city, much as Peter envisioned.

See also: academy of arts; admiralty; bloody sunday; catherine ii; decembrist movement and rebellion; elizabeth; museum, hermitage; peter i; peter and paul fortress; winter palace


Glantz, David M. (2002). The Battle for Leningrad, 19411944. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press.

McAuley, Mary. (1991). Bread and Justice: State and Society in Petrograd, 19171922. New York: Oxford University Press.

McKean, Robert B. (1990). St. Petersburg between the Revolutions, June 1907February 1917. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Ruble, Blair A. (1989). Leningrad: Shaping a Soviet City. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Sablinsky, Walter. (1976). The Road to Bloody Sunday: Father Gapon and the St. Petersburg Massacre of 1905. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Salisbury, Harrison E. (1969). The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad. New York: Harper & Row.

Ann E. Robertson

Blair A. Ruble

St. Petersburg

views updated May 11 2018

St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg: Introduction
St. Petersburg: Geography and Climate
St. Petersburg: History
St. Petersburg: Population Profile
St. Petersburg: Municipal Government
St. Petersburg: Economy
St. Petersburg: Education and Research
St. Petersburg: Health Care
St. Petersburg: Recreation
St. Petersburg: Convention Facilities
St. Petersburg: Transportation
St. Petersburg: Communications

The City in Brief

Founded: 1887 (incorporated 1893)

Head Official: Mayor Rick Baker (since 2001)

City Population

1980: 238,647

1990: 240,318

2000: 248,232

2003 estimate: 247,610

Percent change, 19902000: 3.2%

U.S. rank in 1980: 58th

U.S. rank in 1990: 65th (State rank: 4th)

U.S. rank in 2000: 79th (State rank: 4th)

Metropolitan Area Population

1980: 1,614,000

1990: 2,067,959

2000: 2,395,997

Percent change, 19902000: 15.8%

U.S. rank in 1980: 22nd

U.S. rank in 1990: 21st

U.S. rank in 2000: 20th

Area: 60 square miles (2000)

Elevation: Ranges from sea level to 60 feet above sea level

Average Annual Temperature: 73.1° F

Average Annual Precipitation: 44.77 inches

Major Economic Sectors: tourism, financial services, manufacturing, medical technology, information technology, marine sciences

Unemployment rate: 3.5% (December 2004)

Per Capita Income: $21,107 (1999)

2002 FBI Crime Index Total: 20,914

Major Colleges and Universities: University of South Florida, St. Petersburg College, Eckerd College, Stetson University College of Law

Daily Newspapers: St. Petersburg Times; Tampa Tribune, Pinellas Edition


views updated May 23 2018

Leningrad between 1924 and 1991, the name given to St Petersburg in honour of Vladimir Ilich Lenin (1870–1924), the principal figure in the Russian Revolution and first Premier of the Soviet Union 1918–24.


views updated May 29 2018

Leningrad Former name for St Petersburg

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Saint Petersburg Russia