Russia – Saint Petersburg, Petrograd, Leningrad, Petersburg
In May 2009 I spent a couple of days in Saint Petersburg, the second largest city (4,8 million inhabitants) in Russia. The city was founded by Tsar Peter the Great on May 27, 1703, with an ambition to have Russia gain a seaport in order to be able to trade with other maritime national. The Nyenskans, a fortress at the mouth of the Neva River in the Gulf of Finland, seemed perfectly located for this purpose, because Arkhangelsk, the other seaport, was far too North on the White Sea and was therefore closed to shipping for months during the long winter.
Because of many canals and bridges, this northernmost city with population over one million, is often called “Amsterdam or Venice of the North”. During the navigation period from April to November, twenty two bridges across Neva and main canals are drawn to let boats pass in and out of the Baltic Sea. Consecutive opening and closing for each bridge is calculated and maintained to guarantee passage of ships at a precisely controlled speed, in order to have at least one bridge at a time staying connected to ensure passage for ambulance, firefighters, police and other ground transportation. Because of the geographical location (59°57′N, 30°18′E) of Saint Petersburg, White Nights phenomena (almost 24 hours of daylight in Midsummer) occurs from June 11 to July 2 and has become a symbol of Saint Petersburg.
In 1914 the name of the city was changed from Saint Petersburg to Petrograd, in 1924 to Leningrad and in 1991 back to Saint Petersburg or shortly “Petersburg” or even “Piter”. Saint Petersburg was the capital of imperial Russia from between 1713-1728 and 1732-1918, than the central government bodies were moved to Moscow. On November 7, 1917 (October 25 according Orthodox calendar), the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Ilich Lenin, stormed the Winter Palace and started the October Revolution. During World War II, German forces besieged Leningrad from September 1941 to January 1944. The 872 days long Siege of Leningrad was one of the longest and most destructive sieges of a major city in modern history. The only way to provide supplies was through the Road of Life across Lake Ladoga. During the siege more than one million civilians died, mainly from starvation.
Saint Petersburg is an important Russian port on the Baltic Sea and a major European cultural center with many galleries, theatres and museums. The most famous museum is The Hermitage, considered one of the largest art museums in the world. The Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg constitutes a UNESCO World Heritage Site.