Saint Petersburg is a city and a federal subject (a federal city) of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. The city's other names were Petrograd (1914–1924) and Leningrad (1924–1991). It is often called just Petersburg and is informally known as Piter.
Founded by Tsar Peter I of Russia on 27 May, 1703, it was the capital of the Russian Empire for more than two hundred years (1713–1728, 1732–1918). Saint Petersburg ceased being the capital in 1918 after the Russian Revolution of 1917. It is Russia's second largest city after Moscow with 4.6 million inhabitants, and over 6 million people live in its vicinity. Saint Petersburg is a major European cultural centre, and an important Russian port on the Baltic Sea.
Saint Petersburg is often described as the most Western city of Russia. Among cities of the world with over one million people, Saint Petersburg is the northernmost. The Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Russia's political and cultural centre for 200 years, the city is sometimes referred to in Russia as the northern capital. A large number of foreign consulates, international corporations, banks and other businesses are located in Saint Petersburg.
On 1 May, 1703 (Russian calendar), 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 (May 16, Old Style), 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 original name was meant to sound like Dutch due to Peter's obsession with the Dutch culture. 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.
The area of Saint Petersburg city proper is 605.8 km2 (233.9 sq mi). The area of the federal subject is 1,439 km2 (556 sq mi), which contains the Saint Petersburg proper (consisting of 81 okrugs), nine suburban towns (Kolpino, Krasnoye Selo, Kronstadt, Lomonosov, Pavlovsk, Peterhof, Pushkin, Sestroretsk and Zelenogorsk) and 21 municipal settlements.
Saint Petersburg is situated on the middle taiga lowlands along the shores of the Neva Bay of the Gulf of Finland, and islands of the river delta. The largest are Vasilyevsky island (besides the artificial island between Obvodny canal and Fontanka, and Kotlin in the Neva Bay), Petrogradsky, Dekabristov and Krestovsky. The latter together with Yelagin and Kamenny island are covered mostly by parks. The Karelian Isthmus, North of the city, is a popular resort area. In the south Saint Petersburg crosses the Baltic-Ladoga Klint and meets the Izhora Plateau.
The elevation of Saint Petersburg ranges from the sea level to its highest point of 175.9 m (577 ft) at the Orekhovaya Hill in the Duderhof Heights in the south. Part of the city's territory west of Liteyny Prospekt is no higher than 4 m (13 ft) above sea level, and has suffered from numerous floods. Floods in Saint Petersburg are triggered by a long wave in the Baltic Sea, caused by meteorological conditions, winds and shallowness of the Neva Bay. The four most disastrous floods occurred in 1824 (421 cm/13.8 ft above sea-level, during which over 300 buildings were destroyed), 1924 380 cm/12.5 ft, 1777 321 cm/10.5 ft, 1955 293 cm/9.6 ft and 1975 281 cm/9.2 ft. To prevent floods, the Saint Petersburg Dam has been under construction since 1979.
Since the 18th century the terrain in the city has been raised artificially, at some places by more than 4 m (13 ft), making mergers of several islands, and changing the hydrology of the city. Besides the Neva and its distributaries, other important rivers of the federal subject of Saint Petersburg are Sestra, Okhta and Izhora. The largest lake is Sestroretsky Razliv in the north, followed by Lakhtinsky Razliv, Suzdal Lakes and other smaller lakes.
Saint Petersburg's position on the latitude of ca. 60° N causes variation in day length across seasons, ranging from 5:53 to 18:50. Twilight may last all night in early summer, from mid-May to mid-July, the celebrated phenomenon known as the white nights.
As of now, Saint Petersburg has no skyscrapers and a relatively low skyline. Current regulations forbid construction of high buildings in the city centre. The 310 metre tall Saint Petersburg TV Tower is the tallest structure in the city, while the 122.5 m Peter and Paul Cathedral is by far the highest building. However, there is a controversial project endorsed by the city authorities and known as the Ohkta Centre to build a 396 m supertall skyscraper. In 2008 the World Monuments Fund included the Saint Petersburg historic skyline within the watch list of 100 most endangered sites due to the expected construction, which threatens to alter it drastically.
Unlike in Moscow, in Saint Petersburg the historic architecture of the city centre, mostly consisting of Baroque and neoclassical buildings of the 18th and 19th centuries, has been largely preserved, although a number of buildings were demolished after the Bolsheviks' seizure of power, during the Siege of Leningrad and in recent years. The oldest of the remaining building is a wooden house built for Peter I in 1703 on the shore of the Neva near Trinity Square. Since 1991 the Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments in Saint Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast have been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
The ensemble of Peter and Paul Fortress with the Peter and Paul Cathedral takes dominant position on Zayachy Island along the right bank of the River Neva. Each noon a cannon fires a blank shot from the fortress. The Saint Petersburg Mosque, the largest mosque in Europe when opened in 1913, is situated on the right bank nearby. The spit of Vasilievsky Island, which splits the river into two largest armlets, the Bolshaya Neva and Malaya Neva, is connected to the northern bank (Petrogradsky Island) via the Exchange Bridge and occupied by the Old Saint Petersburg Stock Exchange and Rostral Columns. The southern coast of Vasilievsky Island along the Bolshaya Neva features some of the city's oldest buildings, dating from the 18th century, including the Kunstkamera, Twelve Collegia, Menshikov Palace and Imperial Academy of Arts. It hosts one of two campuses of Saint Petersburg State University.
On the southern, left bank of the Neva, connected to the spit of Vasilievsky Island via the Palace Bridge, lie the Admiralty Building, the vast Hermitage Museum complex stretching along the Palace Embankment, which includes the baroque Winter Palace, former official residence of Russian emperors, as well as the neoclassical Marble Palace. The Winter Palace faces Palace Square, the city's main square with the Alexander Column.
Nevsky Prospekt, also situated on the left bank of the Neva, is the main avenue in the city. It starts at the Admiralty and runs eastwards next to Palace Square. Nevsky Prospekt crosses the Moika (Green Bridge), Griboyedov Canal (Kazansky Bridge), Garden Street, the Fontanka (Anichkov Bridge), meets Liteyny Prospekt and proceeds to Uprising Square near the Moskovsky railway station, where it meets Ligovsky Prospekt and turns to the Alexander Nevsky Lavra. The Passage, Catholic Church of St. Catherine, Book House (former Singer Manufacturing Company Building in the Art Nouveau style), Grand Hotel Europe, Lutheran Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Gostiny Dvor, Russian National Library, Alexandrine Theatre behind Mikeshin's statue of Catherine the Great, Kazan Cathedral, Anichkov Palace and Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace are all situated along that avenue.
The Alexander Nevsky Lavra, intended to house the relics of St. Alexander Nevsky, is an important centre of Christian education in Russia. It also contains the Tikhvin Cemetery with graves of many notable Petersburgers.
On the territory between the Neva and Nevsky Prospekt the Church of the Savior on Blood, Mikhailovsky Palace housing the Russian Museum, Field of Mars, St. Michael's Castle, Summer Garden, Tauride Palace, Smolny Institute and Smolny Convent are located.
Many notable landmarks are situated to the west and south of the Admiralty Building, including the Trinity Cathedral, Mariinsky Palace, Hotel Astoria, famous Mariinsky Theatre, New Holland Island, Saint Isaac's Cathedral, the largest in the city, and Decembrists Square with the Bronze Horseman, 18th century equestrian monument to Peter the Great, which is considered among the city's most recognisable symbols.
Other symbols of Saint Petersburg include the weather vane in the shape of a small ship on top of the Admiralty's golden spire and the golden angel on top of the Peter and Paul Cathedral. The Palace Bridge drawn at night is yet another symbol of the city. Every night during the navigation period from April to November, 22 bridges across the Neva and main canals are drawn to let ships pass in and out of the Baltic Sea according to a schedule. It wasn't until 2004 that the first high bridge across the Neva, which doesn't need to be drawn, Big Obukhovsky Bridge, was opened. There are hundreds of smaller bridges in Saint Petersburg spanning across numerous canals and distributaries of the Neva, some of the most important of which are the Moika, Fontanka, Griboyedov Canal, Obvodny Canal, Karpovka and Smolenka. Due to the intricate web of canals, Saint Petersburg is often called Venice of the North. The rivers and canals in the city centre are lined with granite embankments. The embankments and bridges are separated from rivers and canals by granite or cast iron parapets.
Southern suburbs of the city feature former imperial residences, including Peterhof, with majestic fountain cascades and parks, Tsarskoe Selo, with the baroque Catherine Palace and the neoclassical Alexander Palace, and Pavlovsk, which contains a domed palace of Emperor Paul and one of the largest English-style parks in Europe. Some other residences situated nearby and making part of the world heritage site, including a castle and park in Gatchina, actually belong to Leningrad Oblast rather than Saint Petersburg. Another notable suburb is Kronstadt with its 19th century fortifications and naval monuments, occupying the Kotlin Island in the Gulf of Finland.
From XX century end in a city active building and reorganisation of old historical city districts is conducted. The authorities are compelled to transfer control of private residences in city centre to private lessors. Also sealing building and a superstructure of buildings is spent by penthouses.
Some of these structures, such as the Saint Petersburg Commodity and Stock Exchange" have been recognised as town-planning errors.
Saint Petersburg is home to more than two hundred museums, many of them hosted in historic buildings. The largest of the museums is the Hermitage Museum, featuring interiors of the former imperial residence and a vast collection of art. The Russian Museum is a large museum devoted to the Russian fine art specifically. The apartments of some famous Petersburgers, including Alexander Pushkin, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Feodor Chaliapin, Alexander Blok, Vladimir Nabokov, Anna Akhmatova, Mikhail Zoshchenko, Joseph Brodsky, as well as some palace and park ensembles of the southern suburbs and notable architectural monuments such as St. Isaac's Cathedral, have also been turned into public museums. The Kunstkamera, with its collection established in 1714 by Peter the Great to collect curiosities from all over the world, is sometimes considered the first museum in Russia, which has evolved into the present-day Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography. The Russian Ethnography Museum, which has been split from the Russian Museum, is devoted to the cultures of the people of Russia, the former Soviet Union and Russian Empire. Other notable museums include the Central Naval Museum hosted in the building of the former stock exchange and Zoological Museum, the Railway Museum, Museum of the Siege of Leningrad, Museum of the History of Saint Petersburg in the Peter and Paul Fortress and Artillery Museum, which in fact includes not only artillery items, but also a huge collection of other military equipment, uniform and decorations.
Saint Petersburg is home to numerous parks and gardens, some of the most famous of which are situated in the southern suburbs, including one of the largest English gardens of Europe in Pavlovsk. Sosnovka is the largest park within the limits of the city proper, occupying 240 ha. The Summer Garden is the oldest one, dating back to the early 18th century and designed in the regular style. It is situated on the southern bank of the Neva at the head of the Fontanka and is famous for its cast iron railing and marble sculptures. Among other notable parks are the Maritime Victory Park on Krestovsky Island and the Moscow Victory Park in the south, both commemorating the victory over Nazi Germany in the Second World War, as well as the Central Park of Culture and Leisure occupying Yelagin Island and the Tauride Garden around the Tauride Palace. The most common trees grown in the parks are the English oak, Norway maple, green ash, silver birch, Siberian larch, blue spruce, crack willow, limes and poplars. Important dendrological collections dating back to the 19th century are hosted by the Saint Petersburg Botanical Garden and the Park of the Forestry Academy.