St. Petersburg is Russia’s primary port, making it distinct from Moscow with different geography and history. The city was built from marsh land in a most expeditious manner, serving as the imperial capital for two centuries. For this reason, St. Petersburg seems to be a place that would rather dwell on its past, than look at the future. Its strengths are museums, palaces, ballet and opera houses. It is the second largest city (5 million) in Russia, and the third largest in all of Europe, behind Moscow and London. In fact, it is the northern most city in the world to have a population over 5 million.
The city is located on the Neva River, near the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. It was renamed Petrograd in 1914, then Leningrad in 1924. Then in 1991, it rightfully became St. Petersburg once again. Tsar Peter the Great founded the city in 1703. It became the capital from 1713-1729, and again from 1732 to 1918. The central government was moved from here back to Moscow in 1918.
Peter the Great founded the city based on his secular view of the world. Churches and cathedrals play a lesser role due to its short history and Peter’s emphasis on other matters. Yet nearly everyone in this city has family that lived through the 900 day siege of the city by the Nazis. Today, it is mostly known as a cultural center, and Russia’s most important port. It is home to The Hermitage, one of the largest art museums in the world.
On the dark side of this equation is that fact that St. Petersburg was built by conscripted peasants from all over Russia, as well as Swedish prisoners of war. Tens of thousands died while building the city. The design of St. Petersburg reminds me of another city with canals, Venice, Italy.
In 1725, Peter the Great died at the age of 52. His attempts to modernize Russia met with some opposition. Attempts were made on his life, and his son, Peter II was forced to move the capital back to Moscow in 1728. Empress Anna moved the capital back in 1732, where it remained the seat of the Romanovs and Imperial Court until the Communist Revolution in 1917.
The next most important event occurred in 1825 during the Decembrist revolt against Nicholas I, on the day after he assumed the throne. Tsar Alexander II emancipated the peasants in 1861, leading to an Industrial Revolution, bringing many peasants into the city. During this period, it passed Moscow in population, becoming an industrial city with a major naval base. Finally in March, 1917, Nicholas II abdicated the throne, ending the monarchy and over 300 years of the Romanov Dynasty.
Fortunately for visitors like me, St. Petersburg has the charm and artistic venues that Moscow lacks. It is the handsome little brother to Moscow’s huge industrial big brother attitude. I look forward to seeing all that this great city offers in the next few days.
If I get there. The cab that I paid for at the hotel, took me to the wrong train station. I missed my train, cabbie from one station to next cost me another 1500 RU, and now my penalty for the train is about another 3000 RU. So, this was about a $150 pile of crap, that now I am beginning to think is the Russian way. Creates some extra money in their economy!!!
But I am here safely, sitting in the Business lounge, poking away on the web, and cooling off, in several ways. Now, I need a good ice cream or glass of champagne!!!