Centre of Cultural Programs





Photo gallery ST. PETERSBURG


Saint Petersburg (Russia)




Saint Petersburg (Russia)  (Russian Sankt Peterburg), second largest city and largest seaport in Russia, located in the northwestern part of the country, at the head of the Gulf of Finland (an arm of the Baltic Sea). The capital of Russia for two centuries (1712-1918), Saint Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, noted for its lavish palaces and grand cathedrals. It is also a major rail junction and an industrial, cultural, and scientific center. The city is located on both banks of the Neva River and on a number of river islands.

Saint Petersburg has been renamed three times since its founding. Construction of the city began in 1703, ordered by Russian tsar (later emperor) Peter the Great, who named it Saint Petersburg after his patron saint. After World War I broke out in 1914, the city's Germanic name was changed to Petrograd. In 1924, upon the death of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin, its name was changed to Leningrad. Finally, in June 1991, six months before the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) officially dissolved and Russia emerged as an independent country, the city reverted to its original name.

Saint Petersburg’s climate is one of strong contrasts. It is affected by air masses coming off the Atlantic Ocean and by polar continental air, which in winter is very dry and cold. Saint Petersburg has cold winters, with temperatures in January averaging -10° C (14° F); the summers are generally cool, with the temperature in July averaging 17° C (63° F). Although the city’s harbor is frozen for three to four months of each year, icebreakers keep it open for much of the winter season.




Located in the Neva River delta, Saint Petersburg spreads over the mainland and 42 river islands and is divided by more than 60 river branches and 20 canals. A 32-km (20-mi) stretch of the Neva flows within the city’s boundaries. More than 300 bridges connect the various parts of the city that are separated by waterways. While the city proper occupies about 600 sq km (about 230 sq mi), the entire Saint Petersburg metropolitan area covers about 1500 sq km (about 580 sq mi). Saint Petersburg proper is divided into 21 administrative districts, including 5 suburbs. Most of the city’s industry is located on the outskirts of the city. The dockyards are to the west, along the Gulf of Finland.

The commercial areas are in the city center, close to Nevsky Prospekt, the stylish shopping boulevard famous for its magnificent buildings and large department stores. Situated on the south bank of the Neva and circumscribed to the east and south by the Fontanka River is the Admiralty district, the hub of the city, where the main avenues of central Saint Petersburg come together. The district houses the Admiralty fortress and dockyard, which was a shipyard before it became part of a naval college in 1925. Upriver from the fortress is Palace Square, where the ornate Winter Palace (built in 1762)—the winter residence of Russia’s former imperial rulers—is located. The Winter Palace now houses the world-famous Hermitage Museum. Directly across from the Admiralty district is Vasilevsky Island, the largest of all the islands in the Neva and home of the Naval Museum.

Farther up the river, on Zayachy Island, is the Peter and Paul Fortress. It was built in 1703, before construction of the city itself began. The fortress held political prisoners until the beginning of the 20th century. The Peter and Paul Cathedral, located inside the fortress, is the burial place of the tsars and the tallest historical building (122 m/400 ft) in the city. The headquarters of Saint Petersburg’s municipal government are located in the Mariinsky Palace, which was built in 1844 on Saint Isaac's Square in the Admiralty district for Emperor Nicholas I’s daughter Maria. Also on Saint Isaac’s Square is the Cathedral of Saint Isaac, which was built between 1768 and 1858. Far to the east of the Admiralty district is the Smolny Institute, founded by Catherine the Great in the 1700s to serve as a boarding school for upper-class girls. The current building—built to replace the original structure in the early 1800s—housed the first Soviet government from the time it took power in October (or November, in the Western, or New Style, calendar) 1917 until March 1918. The Smolny now houses the offices of the city’s mayor.

Outside the city proper, Saint Petersburg’s metropolitan area is home to some of Russia's most renowned historical sites. Among them is the royal village of Tsarskoye Selo (now Pushkin), where the Catherine Palace, a magnificent structure built in the mid-18th century, is located. Pushkin is situated 27 km (17 mi) south of Saint Petersburg. Pavlovsk, located less than 2 km (1 mi) south of Pushkin, is home to the Great Palace of Emperor Paul I (built from 1782 to 1786). On the Gulf of Finland, 40 km (25 mi) west of Saint Petersburg, is the former imperial residence of Petrodvorets, named for the city’s founder. Large-scale housing developments were built on the outskirts of the city in the period following World War II (1939-1945); they house the bulk of Saint Petersburg’s residents. Although most units are equipped with indoor plumbing, electricity, and telephones, the buildings are often run-down and crowded.




The population of Saint Petersburg proper (1999 estimate) was 4,695,400. Following significant population growth in the 1960s—a period of marked industrial expansion—the city's annual growth rate slowed considerably in the 1970s and 1980s. Stagnant population growth has been a trend in Russia’s urban areas and is attributable to such factors as a drop in the country’s birth rate and a rise in the mortality rate due to declining health standards. A slight decline in the city's population in recent years is linked to a drop in economic productivity and increased unemployment rate among city residents.

Ever since its founding, Saint Petersburg has been a multinational city. Although Russians constitute the dominant ethnic group (about 92 percent of the population), the city also has significant numbers of Ukrainians (about 3 percent of the population), followed by Jews (considered a separate ethnic group in Russia), Belarusians, and Tatars. The main religion is Russian Orthodox Christianity, but Roman Catholics, Jews, and Muslims are also well represented in the city. As in other large Russian cities, the primary spoken language is Russian.




Saint Petersburg is the home of Saint Petersburg University (established in 1819), about 200 scientific institutes, and more than 40 colleges. Among the city's numerous libraries are the Russian National Library (formerly the M. E. Saltykov-Shchedrin Public Library; founded in 1795) and the Library of the Academy of Sciences (built from 1783 to 1789), one of the oldest scientific establishments in Saint Petersburg.

As a leading cultural center, Saint Petersburg has inspired great works of literature by Russian authors such as Aleksandr Pushkin, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Ivan Turgenev, and Nikolay Gogol. The city is also a thriving center for dance, music, and theater. Ever since the first school of Russian ballet opened in the city in 1738, it has been the center of Russian classical dance. The Mariinsky Opera and Ballet Theater (known as the Kirov from 1935 to 1991) has been the home of some of Russia's most famous dancers, including Rudolph Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Among the composers who spent their lives in Saint Petersburg are Peter Tchaikovsky and Dmitry Shostakovich. Shostakovich’s famous Seventh Symphony was premiered in 1942 at the Shostakovich Philharmonia Concert Hall, where today world-famous musicians appear regularly. The Pushkin Dramatic Theater is known for its classical and modern drama productions, while the Theater of Musical Comedy is highly regarded for its original repertoire. Saint Petersburg celebrates music and arts during a week-long festival held in midsummer.

Saint Petersburg is also home to some of the finest museums in the world. The most famous is the State Hermitage Museum, founded in 1764 by Russian empress Catherine the Great as a museum for the royal court. The Hermitage has a vast collection of Russian, Asian, and Western European art. Other museums in the city are the Russian Museum, which has one of the best collections of Russian art in the country, and the Ethnographic Museum of Russia, with exhibits on the peoples of Russia and the former Soviet Union.




There are many parks and gardens in Saint Petersburg and its metropolitan area. The Catherine Palace at Petrodvorets is surrounded by parks that are famous for their pools and fountains; the parks at Pushkin rank among the finest creations of Russian gardening. Within the city proper are the Summer Gardens, located outside the Summer Palace; the Botanical Gardens, with an English-style park; and the enormous parks on the islands of Krestovsky and Elagin. Saint Petersburg is also home to a zoo, a planetarium, the Yubilieny Sports Palace, and the Kirov Stadium, which seats 80,000 people.




During the Soviet period, when the country had a centrally planned economy, Saint Petersburg’s major enterprises were all owned and controlled by the state. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, many of these enterprises began to privatize. Converting the city’s inefficient operations into potentially profitable businesses has been a lengthy and expensive process, especially since Saint Petersburg had an outdated industrial base at the time the Soviet Union dissolved. However, as a major port and industrial center, Saint Petersburg’s role in the national economy has increased significantly since Russia lost the use of the ports of the Baltic states, which had been part of the Soviet Union.

Saint Petersburg is a leading producer of modern heavy machinery, including turbines, turbo-generators, tractors, excavators, and nuclear-powered equipment. Among its other industrial products are electrical equipment, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, textiles, tobacco, furniture, and paper. Saint Petersburg also has a major shipbuilding industry that produces tankers, fish-processing ships, and icebreakers.

Saint Petersburg's location on the Baltic Sea makes it an ideal port city. The city has both a river port and a seaport. The river port is located at the end of two artificial waterways, the Volga-Baltic Waterway and the White Sea-Baltic Canal; these waterways link the Baltic to the Caspian, Black, and Azov seas. The seaport is located on the Neva inlet of the Gulf of Finland. Saint Petersburg is also served by five major railway lines and by Pulkovo Airport, located 18 km (11 mi) south of the city. Two major roads extending south connect Saint Petersburg to other parts of Russia, while another major route extends north to Finland.

Although extensive, Saint Petersburg’s public transportation system is barely adequate for the population. The quickest and most reliable form of transportation is the subway system, which opened in 1955 and has four lines that extend to key parts of the city. There are also buses, trolley buses, and streetcars.




Like other parts of Russia, Saint Petersburg has suffered from a variety of social and economic problems since the collapse of the USSR. Crime, especially petty theft and vandalism, has risen significantly in the city, and because Russia has been slow to develop a legal framework for its market economy, official corruption is widespread. A continued decline in real wages, combined with persistent failure by employers to pay them, has kept the standard of living down. Health care is free but the quality is low, and air and water pollution from heavy industry take a toll on the population’s health.

The rapid increase in private automobiles (from 56 per 1000 households in 1990 to 119 in 1995) has caused growing traffic congestion in the city, a problem aggravated by the poor condition of the roads. Because of strong winds from the Baltic Sea, flooding is a constant problem, especially in the low-lying areas. Since its founding in 1703 the city has experienced more than 250 floods.




The Saint Petersburg region was originally inhabited by Swedes. It was conquered by Russia during the Great Northern War (1700-1721) fought between Sweden and a coalition of countries led by Russia. In 1703 Russian tsar Peter the Great chose a site on Zayachy Island in the Neva River and began the construction of the Peter and Paul Fortress, named after the two saints. Although the site was cold, damp, and poorly protected, Peter was determined to build a new capital in the Neva delta to replace Moscow, which had served as Russia’s capital since the origins of the Russian state in the 1300s. Peter wanted an outlet to the Baltic Sea and intended to make Saint Petersburg a modern, Western-style city that would serve as Russia's “window on Europe.” Although the fortress was originally a primitive earthen structure, stone was brought in when construction of the city began. Saint Petersburg was built at great human cost. Hunger and cold killed nearly 100,000 people during the first years of its construction. The imperial capital—including the Russian court, the Senate, and the foreign embassies—was moved to the new city in 1712. Peter and the rulers after him commissioned Dutch and Italian architects to build the city’s beautiful palaces, and an influx of Western scholars and artisans helped make Saint Petersburg a cultural as well as political center.

Saint Petersburg was at the forefront of Russia's industrialization, which began in the late 19th century. The first steamships and the opening of the Moscow-Saint Petersburg railway line in 1851 provided the impetus for the growth of the city's industry, which by 1900 included more than 100 metallurgical factories. A new port was constructed in 1885, expanding the city's potential for international trade. During the boom of the 1890s the number of banks in Saint Petersburg, including those owned by foreigners, grew rapidly.

Saint Petersburg has witnessed some of the most dramatic political events in Russia’s history. In 1825 a group of Russian military officers called the Decembrists tried to instigate a rebellion in the city to prevent the accession to the throne of Nicholas I, favoring Nicholas’s brother Constantine instead. Five of the rebel leaders were hanged. In January 1905 a huge parade of demonstrators marched toward the city’s Winter Palace to voice their grievances with Emperor Nicholas II; the imperial guard responded by opening fire on the crowd. Nationwide outrage over the massacre, which became known as Bloody Sunday, turned into a full-scale, although ultimately unsuccessful, revolution against the monarchy (see Russian Revolution of 1905).

Continued opposition to imperial rule led to the Russian Revolution of 1917, which began with a spontaneous uprising by workers and soldiers in the city (then known as Petrograd). The revolution culminated in a seizure of power by the Bolsheviks (later renamed the Communists) and the establishment of a new Soviet government headed by Vladimir Lenin. With World War I still underway, the Bolsheviks deemed Petrograd too vulnerable to German invasion to remain the Russian capital. They also considered the city too symbolically linked to imperial rule. Thus, the Bolsheviks made Moscow the capital of the new Soviet state. After Lenin’s death in 1924, Petrograd was renamed Leningrad in his honor.

From September 1941 to January 1944, during World War II, Leningrad was besieged by invading German troops, who blocked the supply of food and fuel to the city. Leningrad's only link to the rest of the country was across the frozen waters of Lake Lagoda or by air. About 1 million people are believed to have died as a result of disease, starvation, and bombings, and more than 10,000 buildings were destroyed or damaged (see Leningrad, Siege of). After the war, Soviet authorities undertook to rebuild the city and restore important buildings and palaces, an expensive project that has continued since the Soviet Union collapsed and the new government of independent Russia took power in 1991. The end of Communism led to the creation of multiple political parties in Saint Petersburg—as elsewhere in Russia—and the establishment of a democratic city government.

Contributed By:
Amy Knight

Microsoft ® Encarta ® Encyclopedia 2004. © 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.