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Home > > > Welcome to Saint-Petersburg >>> History of Saint-Petersburg
 


HISTORY OF SAINT-PETERSBURG
 

 


On 1 May 1703, during the Great Northern War, Peter the Great captured the Swedish fortress of Nyenskans on the Neva river in Ingria. A few weeks later, on 27 May 1703, lower on the river, on Zayachy (Hare) Island, three miles (5 km) inland from the gulf, he laid down the Peter and Paul Fortress, which became the first brick and stone building of the new
city. He named the city after his patron saint, Saint Peter, the apostle.

The city was built by conscripted serfs from all over Russia and also by Swedish prisoners of war under the supervision of Alexander Menshikov and later became the centre of Saint Petersburg Governorate. Peter moved the capital from Moscow to Saint Petersburg in 1712, before the Treaty of Nystad of 1721 ended the war.

During the first few years of its existence the city grew spontaneously around Trinity Square on the right bank of the Neva, near the Peter and Paul Fortress. However, Saint Petersburg soon started to develop according to a plan. By 1716 Domenico Trezzini had elaborated a project whereby the city centre would be located on Vasilievsky Island and shaped by a rectangular grid of canals.

However, in 1725 Peter died. His near-lifelong autocratic push for modernisation of Russia had met with considerable opposition from the old-fashioned Russian nobility resulting in several attempts on his life and a treason case involving his own son. Thus, in 1728, Peter II of Russia moved his seat back to Moscow. But four years later, in 1732, under Empress Anna of Russia, Saint Petersburg again became the capital of the Russian Empire and remained the seat of the government for 186 years.


In 1736-1737 the city suffered from catastrophic fires. To rebuild the damaged boroughs, a new plan was commissioned in 1737 by a committee under Burkhard Christoph von Munnich. The city was divided into five boroughs, and the city centre was moved to the Admiralty borough, situated on the east bank between the Neva and Fontanka.

The Commission of Stone Buildings of Moscow and Saint Petersburg established in 1762 ruled that no structure in the city be higher than the Winter Palace and prohibited spacing between buildings. During the reign of Catherine the Great in the 1760s-1780s, the banks of the Neva were lined with granite embankments.

In 1825 the suppressed Decembrist revolt against Nicholas I of Russia took place on the Senate Square in the city, a day after he assumed the throne.

With the emancipation of the serfs undertaken by Alexander II in 1861 and the industrial revolution, the influx of former peasants into the capital increased greatly. Poor boroughs spontaneously emerged on the outskirts of the city. Saint Petersburg surpassed Moscow in population and industrial growth and grew into one of the largest industrial hubs and cities in Europe.

The Revolution of 1905 began in Saint Petersburg and spread rapidly into the provinces. With the start of World War I, the name Saint Petersburg was perceived to be too German, so in 1914 the city was renamed Petrograd, a name under which it had already been known in other Slavic languages. In 1917 the February Revolution, which put an end to the Russian monarchy, and the October Revolution, which ultimately brought Vladimir Lenin to power, broke out in Petrograd. The city's proximity to the border, the threat of German bombardment and invasion as well as the build-up of anti-Soviet armies forced the Bolsheviks under Lenin to transfer the capital to Moscow on March 12, 1918.

In 1919 during the ensuing Russian Civil War, Nikolay Yudenich advancing from Estonia was about to capture the city from the Bolsheviks, but Leon Trotsky ultimately managed to mobilise the population and make him retreat. Many people fled the city in 1917-1920 or were repressed in the Red Terror, so its population decreased dramatically. On January 26, 1924, three days after Lenin's death, Petrograd was renamed Leningrad. For decades Leningrad was glorified by the Soviet propaganda as "the cradle of the revolution" and "the city of three revolutions"; many spots related to Lenin and the revolutions, such as the cruiser Aurora, were carefully preserved.

During World War II, Leningrad was besieged by Nazi Germany and co-belligerent Finland.[25] The siege lasted 872 days from September 1941 to January 1944. The Siege of Leningrad was one of the longest, most destructive, and most lethal sieges of major cities in modern history. It isolated the city from most supplies except those provided through the Road of Life across Lake Ladoga, and more than a million civilians died, mainly from starvation. Many others were eventually evacuated or escaped by themselves, so the city became largely depopulated.

For the heroic resistance of the city and tenacity of the survivors of the Siege, in 1945 Leningrad became the first city in the Soviet Union awarded the title Hero City. In October 1946 some former Finnish territories along the northern coast of the Gulf of Finland captured in the Winter War and Continuation War were transferred from Leningrad Oblast to Leningrad and divided into Sestroretsky District and Kurortny District, including the town of Terijoki (renamed Zelenogorsk in 1948).

Leningrad and many of its suburbs were rebuilt over the post-war decades, partially according to the pre-war plans. The 1948 general plan of Leningrad featured radial urban development in the north as well as in the south. The Leningrad Metro underground rapid transit system, designed in the 1930s before the war, opened in 1955 with its first seven stations decorated with marble and bronze.

On June 12, 1991, in a referendum held on the same day as the first Russian presidential election, 54% of voters chose to restore the name "Saint Petersburg" (the change officially took effect on September 6, 1991). Many other Soviet-era toponyms in the city were also renamed soon afterwards. In the same election Anatoly Sobchak became the first democratically elected mayor of the city.

In spite of the fact that the central part of the city is watched by UNESCO, the safety of its historical and architectural environment is in danger. There are still about 8000 architectural monuments in Saint Petersburg, but since 2005 the destruction of older buildings in the historical centre has continued. A number of new building projects are underway, including the Gazprom skyscraper in Okhta.