St Petersburg (previously known as Petrograd, then Leningrad) on the river Neva, is Russia’s second largest city. St Petersburg is beautifully located at the top of the Baltic Sea’s Gulf of Finland and is an important port. Initially founded by (Tsar) Peter the Great in 1703, St Petersburg served as the Imperial capital of Russia twice, until this title was given to Moscow during the early 20th century. Saint Petersburg, the most Western-style city of Russia, is a major European cultural hub, with its Hermitage one of the world’s largest art museums and its Historic Centre a UNESCO World Heritage Site with over 8000 monuments. However, St Petersburg is also a major financial and trading centre.
The city’s history is incredibly rich and complex. In 1611 it was a Swedish fortress on the River Neva, that grew into a town. Peter the Great captured it and replaced the defences with the Peter and Paul Fortress on Zayachy Island. He then built a new city using Swedish war prisoners and conscripted peasant labour, eventually turning St Petersburg into Russia’s capital.
The Petrine Baroque style is evident in the Kunstkamera, Peter and Paul Cathedral and Menshikov Palace buildings, with the slightly later University and Academic Gymnasium and the Academy of Sciences buildings constructed in the same style.
Although the city lost its position after Peter the Great’s death, Empress Anna of Russia re-established it as the capital and St Petersburg became the seat of the Russian government, Imperial Court of the Russian Tsars and the seat of the Romanov Dynasty. In 1917, the Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace in St Petersburg, marking the start of the Communist Era. The October Revolution, the Soviet-initiated transfer of the government to Moscow and Leon Trotsky’s saving of the city from foreign invaders followed.
Later, Stalinist-style imposing architecture was introduced and the Great Purge was followed by German occupation during WW2, when over 1 million residents died and much of the city was destroyed.
The opulent Metro was opened in 1955. Later day preservation of the city both by Russian and international efforts has resulted in its remaining character of today.
The Hermitage Museum/Winter Palace with over 3 million exhibits including Da Vinci, Rembrandt and Reubens works is the city’s main attraction and a guide is strongly recommended. Students enter free, as do all visitors on the first Thursday of every month.
The Peter and Paul Fortress is free to enter, but there is a fee for the most interesting part to visit, the church, where all of the Romanovs are buried. The nearby Museum of Artillery, Combat Engineers and Signal Troops is housed in a fortress.
The Russian Museum with its extensive collection of Russian art is pretty unique. The nearby Ethnographic Museum has a great and comprehensive collection of traditional costumes from the far-flung corners of the Russian Empire.
You should also make some time to walk over, view and take in the flavour of the numerous bridges over the river Neva, some of which lift to allow marine traffic through.
Posted : Thursday, September 6th, 2012 at 10:00
As well as writing about travel, Karen Bryan offers tips on saving money, frugal living and how to live well on less, on her site Help Me To Save