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Saint Petersburg: Brief History

Saint Petersburg: Brief History

Saint Petersburg: Brief History

Saint Petersburg ( in Russian Sankt-Peterburg) formerly Petrograd (1914–24) , Leningrad (1924–91).

St. Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. It’s history is relatively short , 315 years, but this city is of significant historical importance.

Peter the Great founded St. Petersburg in 1703 after he liberated the lands from Sweden. The city was named after his patron saint, the apostle Peter.


The first building of the city was a fortress, known today as Peter and Paul Fortress. It was built on the smallest of the city’s islands – Zayachy island and located close to the Neva’s right bank, just three kilometers from the Baltic Sea. Marshlands in the area were drained and the city spread out from the location of the fortress.

Workers, builders and carpenters were conscripted from around the country to buid a new city of Russia. Architects and engineers were hired from Europe to design the city in a European manner. St. Petersburg was to become Russia’s window to Europe.

Government buildings and private palaces and houses appeared soon.

Later in 1712 Peter the Great moved the capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg.
The tzar loved his new creation and called it “my paradise”. He dreamed to push Russia into closer relations with Europe, and leave conservative Russian tradition behind.

That time Peter developed in St.Petersburg Russia’s first naval forces.
Industry soon began to develop.

The Admiralty shipyard was first founded and later other enterprises —a foundry to produce cannons, a gunpowder factory, and a tar works. Merchantmen as well as navy ships were built and before the end of the 18th century, papermaking, printing, and food, clothing, and footwear industries were established.
In 1744 the first porcelain manufacture was founded.

City’s population had grown and by the end of the century it reached 220,200.
Peter’s successors continued to develop St. Petersburg and a number of magnificent palaces and cathedrals was built in the city in the 18-19th centuries. The growing city displayed a remarkable richness of architecture and harmony of style.

Cultural life of the city developed and flourished. The University of St. Petersburg was founded in 1724. In 1738 the first ballet school in Russia was opened in St. Petersburg.
In 1773 the Institute of Mines was established. In 1862 the first conservatory of music in Russia opened its doors in St. Petersburg, and there the premieres of works by Tchaikovsky were performed.

Many famous Russians had worked or lived in St. Petersburg: Lomonosov, Mendeleyev, Ivan Pavlov, Pushkin, Leo Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninof, Nijinsky, Karsavina, Anna Pavlova and many others.

In 1861 Alexander II made a number of reforms that led to the emancipation of the serfs which caused a huge stream of people to arrive to the city. During the 19th century there was much industrial growth in the city, accelerated by improvements in communications and extension of trade. By the 1840s more than three-fifths of Russian imports were entering by way of St. Petersburg.

By the turn of the century St. Petersburg had outgrown Moscow in population, the population rose to about 1,500,000 in 1900. By 1917 it became 2,500,000.

The factory environment in St. Petersburg became a breeding ground for revolution.
With the development of metalworking and engineering as the primary industries, there arose a skilled labour force.
During the 19th century, workers’ revolutionary activity increased, with more frequent strikes. These culminated in the general strike, when 150,000 workers took part. It became known as Bloody Sunday. On January 9 a peacefull demonstration bearing a petition to the tsar was met by military troops who opened fire. More than 100 people were killed and hundreds more wounded.

The situation developed into revolution, spreading throughout Russia. It was crushed, but underground revolutionary activity continued.

St. Petersburg changed it’s name to Petrograd after World War I broke out in Europe. It was thought that ‘Sankt Peterburg’ sounded too German.

The military disasters of the war and severe shortage of food broke out a disorder. The authorities lost all control. The Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies was formed in February 1917. On March 2 the tzar abdicated.
A provisional government was set up.
In April of the same year Vladimir Lenin set about organizing the overthrow of the provisional government. On October 25 Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace, deposing the provisional government and establishing the Bolshevik Party in power.

In 1918 Lenin moved the government back to Moscow. The city was named ‘Leningrad’ after the death of Lenin in 1924.

The city’s population had suffered a lot during the severe siege of Leningrad from September 1941 to January 1944. The city was encircled, bombed and shelled. In this period well over one million people perished in the city from both the bombing and starvation. Leningrad never surrendered, nor was it captured by German forces. After 29 long months of death, starvation and destruction the siege was broken. After the war the city was granted the status of ‘Hero City’.

The first postwar years were dedicated to reconstruction of the city’s industry and restoration of its architectural heritage. In the late 1950s a program of housing construction got under way.

In the 1970s modernization of the infrastructure and continuing construction became major problems. The Leningrad Metro was also built to service the city.

In 1991 Leningrad was renamed Saint Peterburg after an election within the city.

Today it is a cultural, educational and industrial center of Russia.  About 5.2 million people live in St. Petersburg.

The historic center was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The beauty and history of this city makes it an important stop on the itinerary of everyone travelling around Russia. Fabulous palaces, magnificent cathedrals, museums and theaters with their extraordinary history amaze tourists from all over the world.

Recommended Books For Learning Russian history:

-Robert Massie “Peter the Great”, “Catherine the Great”, “Nicolas and Alexandra”
-Susan Massie “Land of the Firebird: The Beauty of Old Russia’
-Debra Dean “The Madonnas of Leningrad”
-Debra Dean “The Mirrored World”
-Ayn Rand  “We the living”
-Leo Tolstoy “War and Peace”, “Anna Karenina”

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