RS Oh, how spacious is my native country “Oh act of Peter, I’m in love”

“Oh act of Peter, I’m in love”

RS is opening up a new heading called “OH, HOW SPACIOUS IS MY NATIVE COUNTRY” where we will tell our readers about Russia—its regions, cities and astoundingly beautiful places. This will take you from Moscow to the most remote corners of the country!

The international economic forum will be held in Saint Petersburg from June 21st-23rd of this year. The main forum topics include “Securing the future”, “Realising Russia’s Potential” and “Responding to Impact Technologies”. Within the context of “Realising Russia’s Potential” members of the Russian government will take part in numerous briefings entitled “The Russian Reform Agenda – an Economic Blueprint for the Coming Decade”. Additionally, the Russian Direct Investment Fund will gauge its success, multiple panel discussions will be devoted to issues of strategy development in Eastern Siberia and the Far East, Eurasian economic integration, modernising Russian infrastructure, increasing the effectiveness of free economic zones, how to change the investment climate in Russian regions and others.

World-renown entrepreneurs, economists and politicians will take part in the forum. Traditionally, the President of the Russian Federation opens the Forum plenary meeting with a speech.

Therefore, in light of the upcoming grand-scale event in the country’s economic life we think it is appropriate to start our trip around Russia with the city that Peter built on the bank of the Neva river.

“Oh act of Peter, I’m in love”
(Alexander Pushkin,
poem “The Bronze Horseman”)

On May 16th (27th using the old Church calendar) 1703 the Russian Tsar Peter the Great laid the foundation for the fortress Sankt-Piter-Burkh (this eventually became the city’s name) on the land (formerly called Ingermanland) he captured from the Swedes. The name was chosen by Peter the Great and was in honour of the saint apostle Peter. In 1712 the city was proclaimed the capital city of the whole Russian empire. All official government institutions and the tsar’s court were moved to the city from Moscow. In 1720 Sankt-Piter-Burkh changed its name to Saint Petersburg.

One cannot help but give credit where credit is due to the outstanding architects, talented craftsmen and restorers who built (and reconstructed amazing palace-park ensembles which were destroyed during WW2) this intoxicatingly beautiful and unique gem of a city on the Neva river. An elegant mix of architecture from different time periods, enchanting palaces and churches, numerous rivers and canals, bridges and embankments, beautiful streets and parks, the marvelous “White Nights” all give Saint Petersburg a distinctive charm. An incredible amount of tourists from all corners of the earth are without a doubt drawn to the “city on the Neva” due to its numerous sights, magical mansions and suburbs, combined with famous and intriguing history.

During Petersburg’s rich 300-year history it has accumulated many epithets including but not limited to: ‘the city of three revolutions’, ‘cradle of the Great October, ‘the hero city’, ‘Russia’s northern capital’, ‘the window to Europe’, ‘Russia’s cultural capital’, ‘Venice of the North’, ‘the outdoor museum’, ‘the city of white nights’ and ‘the architectural gem’. It is a bit surprising that one relatively small city could have so many names. But those who have ever been to Saint Petersburg will definitely agree that this city is truly worthy of such admiration.

Saint Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It has been called ‘the city of three revolutions’, ‘cradle of the Great October, ‘the hero city’, ‘Russia’s northern capital’, ‘the window to Europe’, ‘Russia’s cultural capital’, ‘Venice of the North’, ‘the outdoor museum’, ‘the city of white nights’ and ‘the architectural gem’

During the 20th century the city changed its name three times (which is practically unheard of). It was Saint Petersburg until 1914, from 1914 to 24 it switched to Petrograd and from 1924 to 91 it was called Leningrad. Now it has taken up the name Saint Petersburg again.

There is no hint of an old feel to the city, but in Petersburg Russia after Peter the Great is displayed better than in any other Russian city. No other city has preserved the architectural styles of neo-classicism, eclectic, modern and retrospectivism. Petersburg’s historical centre and its suburban palace-park ensembles have been included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site List.

Saint Petersburg is known for its architecture. Unlike many other outstanding European cities, Saint Petersburg’s architectural system encompasses a wide variety of styles reflected in its many squares, cities, embankments and parks. The city was built in harsh climatic conditions on a swamp with the use of poles and complex irrigation works.

The city has also been called “The Symphony in stone”. Islands, winding rivers and canals surely give the city its own look and feel. Small shiny-gold, elaborately designed bridges and mosaic church domes and amazing palace facades all catch one’s eye.

Saint Petersburg’s architectural landmarks have brought fame to the Northern capital even abroad. Numerous incredible palaces, castles and various government institution buildings were built based on the plans of the most famous Russian and foreign architects. Today not only do these architectural landmarks decorate the city on the Neva, but they also have a great cultural and historical value. Saint Petersburg’s architectural landmarks greatly contribute to the city’s overwhelming charm. White nights, cross bridges, the bubbling cultural life and the completely unique atmosphere of this city have demanded people’s attention since it was founded.

White nights, raising the  bridges
White nights, raising the bridges

Saint Petersburg was erected in very difficult climatic conditions. The marshy land and not particularly inviting weather stalled construction. Besides all of that, architects needed to take into consideration the fact that in the region which was chosen for the city construction it is predominately overcast and there is a lack of distinct shades. Therefore, architects had to experiment with different types of facade colour to emphasise as much as possible the architectural forms and decorative details of the buildings being constructed. But it is worth noting that people took the facade colours matter very seriously since the colour scheme was regulated and formulated by special orders from the Tsar.

Since the builders envisioned that the city would become a fortress and sea port and it developed like Russia’s new capital from its inception, Saint Petersburg’s “architectural image” is dramatically different than other Russian cities. Squares, cities, embankments and parks are all linked to form harmonious architecture ensembles. Petersburg’s initial structure plan has been preserved to this day in a slightly modified form. Architectural landmarks such as Petropavlovsk fortress, Admiralty, Cabin of Peter the Great and many others have stood the test of time and continue to distinguish Petersburg from other cities. The talented city-builder P. Eropkin, who from 1737-1740 developed a well-designed plan for reconstructing and further developing the city, made a large contribution in terms of forming the city’s architectural image. A three-pronged blueprint of the city centre (which was crafted when the city had just originated) served as the plan’s foundation. The most important plan details were brought to life and are still present to this day.

Panoramic view of Peter and Paul Fortress and spire of the Admiralty
Panoramic view of Peter and Paul Fortress and spire of the Admiralty

Thanks to this plan Saint Petersburg was built on fairly even lowlands. Up until the 19th century the city’s buildings were roughly all the same height. The spires of the Peter and Paul Cathedral, the Admiralty Needle and the shiny-gold top of Saint Isaac's Cathedral (which is one of the largest in the world) “topped off” Petersburg. Architects constructed this church for 40 years and 400 kilogrammes of gold and 16 tonnes of green malachite were used on its furnishings. Trezini, Rastrelli, Kvasov, Voronikhin, Rossi, Stasov, Kvarengi, Monfferan and other world-famous architects graced Saint Petersburg with their works of art. A lot has changed over the course of time. In 1924 Saint Petersburg was renamed Leningrad and despite the fact that the city regained its original name, the name Leningrad occupies a firm place in the world history due to its heroic resistance during the blockade of the city in the Great Patriotic War.

Soviet architects who worked on new buildings in Leningrad tried to not only add to the city’s beauty, but first and foremost, ensure its “architectural harmony”. Therefore, these masters called upon past city-building traditions. Many buildings erected during the Soviet period were in a neo-classical style and imitate those structures built during Peter the Great’s time.

Petersburg, designed to be the capital and the main imperial residence, is a city of palaces. Palaces and castles for the “reigning rulers” served as residences (there were summer and winter residencies). Every tsar had his own unique preferences and they thought that the already built constructions were hardly enough. That is part of the reason why there is an abundance of palaces and castles in Petersburg and its suburbs.

Without a doubt, one of the most famous and widely-known palaces in Saint Petersburg is the Winter Palace. The palace was constructed in honour of the city’s 50th anniversary and Empress Elizaveta (Peter the Great’s daughter) even ordered that the Winter Palace be built. The famous Franchesko Rastrelli headed up this project. The magnificent facade and incredible interiors have made visitors of this palace in Saint Petersburg feel a sense of awe for the past few centuries.

None of Saint Petersburg’s numerous palaces are identical and they all have their own unique history.

View of the Moika River and the St. Isaac's Cathedral
View of the Moika River and the St. Isaac's Cathedral

Saint Petersburg’s suburbs are no less popular than the city itself. It is almost impossible to say which one of Petersburg’s suburbs is the most interesting and beautiful since they all have their very own bright personality, unique fate and history.

A quick day-trip to the suburbs will not even give you a taste for all the sights, let alone completely appreciate their beauty. One should scope out Petersburg by staying for at least a week.

Petersburg’s suburban palace complexes astound visitors with their elegancy and overwhelming scale:

Peterhof which was the grand imperial country residence designed by Peter the Great is well-known for its fountains, palaces and parks;

Tsarskoe Selo, Catherine the Great’s favorite residence, is a “constellation” of palaces, pavilions and triumphant monuments. The Tsarskoe Selo Lyceum is forever linked with boyhood years of the amazing Pushkin (he studied there);

Pavlovsk is the most comprehensive of all the country residences and it has a picturesque park;

Oranienbaum is an embodiment of the rococo style. All of Oranienbaum monuments (down to the very last one) have been preserved to this day;

Gatchina, an enormous park with Pavel’s palace (it has an underground tunnel), a garden, a pavilion “Berezovy domik (Birch house) and “Venera’s Pavilion”, was ideal for those seeking “unparalleled” isolation. RS

Did you know?

  • Saint Petersburg is the most northern of all large cities in the world and it is the largest of all northern cities: the 60th parallel (where the city is situated) goes through Greenland, Alaska (the city of Anchorage), Magadan and the capital of Norway (Oslo). Therefore, naturally one of the main draws for tourists is “White Nights” (especially May and June when even at midnight it is relatively light still outside and the city practically does not sleep). However, there is one major drawback—the harsh winters when slush, dirt and cold temperatures combined with incredible dampness make one want to go into hibernation.
  • Numerous rivers (in addition to the Neva), streams and canals (there are 53 of them) have made a significant impact upon the city’s formation. The water surface area of the city is approximately 1/10 of the whole city area. 308 bridges (taking into account suburban bridges there are more than 534), including 22 cross-bridges, were erected for crossing these bodies of water. The overall length of the city’s bridges amounts to about 16 kilometers. The Alexander Nevsky bridge (909 meters) is the longest bridge across the Neva, while the widest one is the Siny bridge (at 99.5 meters) across the Moika river.
  • Saint Petersburg is situated on 47 islands on the Nevsky delta. Vasilievsky and Petrograd islands are the largest of them all.
  • Floods have been known to hit the city. More often than not they occur in the autumn when hurricane winds blow from the west. The Neva has risen above its normal water level more than 300 times since the city was founded. The largest flood occurred on November 7th, 1824 when the water level rose 4.1 meters above the “norm”.
  • Saint Petersburg is a cultural centre with world-wide significance. There are 182 museums in the city (the cherry on the top of the cake is the world-renown Hermitage). There are 62 theaters in the city (the Marinsky Theatre of Opera and Ballet was the first and is the main one). There are 38 concert halls in the city and 900 various exhibitions are held annually.

Useful information:

  • White Nights “dawn” on May 25-26 when the sun dips no more than 9 degrees beyond the horizon. One can hardly even capture the moment when the evening turns into the morning. The longest day of the year is June 21st-22nd (18 hrs. 53 mins.). “White Nights” end on July 16th-17th. Overall, “White Nights” last for more than 50 days.
  • Saint Petersburg weather is a bit erratic, damp and there is a lot of precipitation. The average winter temperature is -8 degrees Celsius, the average summer temperature is +18 Celsius, but during dry heat spells the temperature can rise to +25 and even +30 degrees Celsius. In the winter during cold spells the temperature can drop to -25 or even -30 degrees Celsius. 634 mm of precipitation fall a year.
  • Saint Petersburg’s international airport “Pulkovo”, which is located 15 kilometers from the city centre, is the city’s “airborne gates”. From the airport one can get to the city by taxi, an express bus or public transportation.
  • One can enter Saint Petersburg by using the city’s passenger sea port. From there one can take a taxi or public transportation to the city centre.
  • Saint Petersburg has a fairly wide range of hotels, from 5 star accommodations including the celebrated “Astoria”, “Angleterre” and “Grand Hotel Europe” hotels to mini-hotels. There are various restaurants and cafes for any palate (including traditional Russian cuisine, Caucasian, Italian, European and other cuisines). One can get to any part of the city by using public transportation, including the subway, buses, trolleybuses and trams.