St. Petersburg History

Saint Petersburg is a young city by the European standards. It was founded on May 27, 1703 by the Tsar Peter the Great (who was one of the most powerful kings of Russia), after he took the Swedish fortress of “Nyenskans” at the Neva river. The Tsar named “Saint Petersburg” the city in honor to the Peter apostle (his patron).  Peter the Great lived many time in Netherlands and Great Britain, therefore he was very influenced by the western ideas, which influenced the reforms made by the Tsar. The first of them was change the capital of the Russian Empire from Moscow to Saint Petersburg.

Saint Petersburg, Russia

The city’s construction was very hard; since it was built under adverse climate and geographical conditions. During the construction works many workers died because of the extreme work conditions. So, the Tsar ordered a yearly conscription of 40000 men to continue the construction. The first building in the city was the “Peter and Paul Fortress” which was built to defend the city against Swedish army, but it was never used to this goal.

Peter the Great brought to the city, the main European intellectuals (engineers, scientist, architects, etc) of that time, because of this massive immigration the city was turned the most cosmopolitan city in Russia and one of the most important in Europe.

Nevertheless, the modern reforms initiated by the Tsar were repelled by the Russian aristocracy; who opposed them and devised several plots and attacks against Peter, including a conspiracy of his own son. Fortunately to Peter and the city these complots failed and in 1712, the Tsar moved officially the capital from Moscow to Saint Petersburg.  The city was the Russian capital until XX century; during these two hundred years, many palaces and buildings were constructed in the city, like Peterhof, Winter Palace, Catherine Palace, Russian Academy of Sciences, etc. The city was turned a cultural hub which attracted many international intellectuals; this period was a golden time to the Russian literature with great writers like Aleksander Pushkin, Ivan Turgenev, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and other living and working in Saint Petersburg. Also, it was a great time to the industry and the science, since the city was one of the main industrial centers in the World.


Nevertheless, during that time the city was also scenery of several revolutions and attacks against the Tsars, like the Decembrist revolt in 1825 or the assassinated of the Tsar Alexander II (who implemented many reforms) in 1861.


After the World War I the city changed its name for Petrogrado. Later in 1917 because of the Russian revolution, the Tsar Nicholas II and his family were arrested and then executed by the communist party led by Lenin, who also decided moved again the capital to Moscow; since in Saint Petersburg there had many population anti soviet. Therefore, the city was devastated and looted by the communists and many intellectuals and other citizens were killed or they  fled.

On January 24, 1924 after Lenin’s death the city was named Leningrado in his honor and to try to erase the name of the greatest symbol of the Russian capitalism.


During the World War II between 1941 and 1944 the city was scenery of the most dramatic episode in its history, the “Siege of Leningrad”. The German “Wehrmacht” (army) and Luftwave (air force) shelled and bombed during almost three years (900 days) the city; causing the death of almost half population (around one million civilians). But the city resisted heroically and the nazis took never this place. Therefore, Leningrad was the first city in the former Soviet Union awarded with the title "Hero city" in 1945.


After the war the city was completely destroyed and it was almost a ghost town. During 1950s the city was reconstructed and it built several places like the Kirov Stadium one of the biggest stadiums in the world (with capacity to 110000 people); besides it was also built the city metro, the second transport system in the country after Moscow’s metro; whose stations are decorated with marble and bronze. But during the second half of the XX century the city was neglected for Moscow; since Leningrad suffered from the imbalanced distribution of wealth, because the Soviet leadership drained the city's resources to subsidize higher standards of living in Moscow as well as some underperforming parts of the Soviet Union and beyond. This was one of the reasons that explain the collapse of the USSR.


After the communism fall; on June 12 1991, the same day of the first Russian presidential election, most of people decided to restore the original name of the City “Saint Petersburg”; besides, in September of the same year Anatoly Sobchack became the first democratically elected mayor of the city. After this fact many places like squares and streets returned to their original names and the name Leningrad is less used each day. Nevertheless, the Perestroika disappeared rapidly the economic stability reached by the city during 1970s and 1980s. But, now the city is recovered and it look optimistically the future.

Every day the city earns more prominence in Russia; thus in 2008 according to Russian Constitution the Senate seat should be moved to Saint Petersburg; little by little the city is again the main cultural and political center in the country.

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