City of the Tsars
St Petersburg is a city of dreams. Created by Peter the Great in 1703 as the new capital of Russia (which it remained until the October Revolution in 1917) it was his vision of a truly great European Capital, a “Window on Europe .” It was a dream that he realized, literally raising the city out of a swamp and pouring the manpower of an entire nation into its creation. Great architects and artists were called in from around the world to participate in the building of this, perhaps the most artistically unified city in the world. Today, St Petersburg stands as a monument to itself, the Capital of the Russian North, a Baltic Port , a city which has crammed more history into its 300 years than most cities could have managed in a millennium.
The city’s name has been changed three times in its history, reflecting its position at the very center of Russian historical and cultural life. Originally named St Petersburg , it was changed to Petrograd during World War I (to sound less German) and changed again to Leningrad to commemorate the iconic Bolshevik leader. Following the fall of communism in 1989, the name was changed back to St Petersburg once again. To be in St Petersburg is to live and breathe history. This was the city where the October Revolution began in 1917, where Raskolnikov, the hero of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment contemplated his crimes. It was here that Shostakovich composed his symphony as the Nazi army pushed closer and closer.
For all its turbulent past, today St Petersburg is a top tourist destination. Most visitors will find themselves a little overawed at the scale of grandeur, the sheer wealth of architectural beauty on display. Built on three islands on the beautiful River Neva, St Petersburg boasts some of the most breathtaking architecture in the world. With its spectacular vistas and mixture of baroque and classical styles, it evokes its European heritage, its network of canals and bridges calling to mind that other jewel of European architecture, Venice . Specific highlights include the The Peter and Paul Fortress, the founding structure of the city. Constructed as a bulwark of defense against the Swedish fleet, the building also housed St. Petersburg ’s first prison and Cathedral, which now houses the tomb of the Romanovs, the most powerful Russian dynasty of the 18 th and 19 th Centuries. Another instantly recognizable feature of the city are the multicoloured onion domes of the Church on the Spilled Blood. This world-famous building marks the spot where the Tsar Alexander II was assassinated. A great way to see the city, during the summer months, is by guided tour on the canals. Boats leave from different locations several times a day. Here you’ll get a perspective on the city that you’ll never forget!
It would be possible to spend a lifetime exploring the city’s cultural heritage. Among the city’s countless museums and galleries is the State Hermitage Art Museum , located in the resplendent Winter Palace overlooking the Neva . It is home to the greatest masterpieces in the Russian collection, including works by masters like Picasso, Matisse, Rembrandt and Monet as well as work by Russian artists such as Kandinsky. So huge is this collection, it is estimated that a visitor would need nine years to view every item. If art is where your interest lies, there are even more works by Russian masters at the Russian Museum , not far from the Hermitage. The collection charts the whole history of Russian art from early Icons from the dawn of the Russian state to pre-revolutionary avant garde masterpieces.
Although the city is firmly rooted in history, the visitor to St Petersburg can hardly fail to notice the changes that have taken place in recent years. Since the fall of communism, St Peterburg has been quick to establish itself as a fashionable, tourist-friendly city. Nevsky Prospect, the city’s main street, and one of the most famous shopping thoroughfares in the world, is where you can buy anything from Russian specialties such as caviar and vodka, to high-tech gadgetry and the latest haute couture in one of the city’s many fashionable boutiques and department stores.
St Petersburg night-life is an exciting mix of the traditional and the new. The beautiful and world-famous Marinsky Theater is where you can see some of the world’s finest ballet and opera productions, while the city’s numerous clubs and discos play host to a range of live music acts and djs, playing everything from Jazz and rock to techno and Britpop.
Staying in St Petersburg has never been more comfortable. The city boasts a huge range of accommodation, from world-class hotels to budget accommodation, to suit any traveler. A great time to visit the city is from mid-June to mid-July, the period of the “White Nights.” During this period, night never falls, and a special festival begins, with the whole city partying non-stop for weeks.
Whether you are interested in art or fashion, shopping or hip youth culture, you’ll find it all here, in abundance. After just a few hours in this remarkable city, you’ll undoubtedly agree that St Petersburg is truly a city of dreams.