History in St Petersburg

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St. Petersburg's history is a very unique and beautiful one. In ancient times the Finnish gulf, Ladoga lake, Onega lake and their environs were regions of constant battle between Novgorod and the Centralised Russian state, and later neighbouring countries especially Sweden.

In 1240 Duke Alexander Nevsky, Commander of the Novgorod troops defeated the Swedes at the place where the Izhora River falls into the Neva river. But in 1716 during the reign of Michael Feodorovich, Russia was forced to give up the Izhora lands to the Swedes as part of a peace treaty signed between the two parties. Thus Russia lost access to the strategic Baltic sea.


When Peter the Great (1689-1995) became king in 1699 he had a vision to recapture this natural outlet to the Baltic sea. In 1700 the Northern war with Sweden broke out. That war lasted for twenty one years. In the fall of 1702 Russia siezed the fortress town of Noteburg. Peter renamed this fortress Schluesselburg (Key town). On the 16th of May 1703 the foundation stone of the Peter and Paul Fortress was laid. Thus May 16 is considered St. Petersburg's foundation date. The Peter and Paul Fortress lies on the Zayachy Island. The construction of Kronstadt, the first sea fortress was completed in 1704. The location of these three fortresses marked the boundaries of the future Russian Capital city and its suburbs.


In 1710, Peter the Great moved the capital of the Russian state from Moscow to St. Petersburg. This was followed by the relocation of the Tsar's family and all major governmental bodies to the new capital. On the 24th of July 1714, the Russian navy commanded by Peter himself, won a major victory at Gangut cape in the Baltic sea hence opening the door to Western Europe.


The first architect employed to design the city plan was Domenico Trezini. It was he who made the first layout of the city center. His designs were employed in the construction of the Summer Palace of Peter the Great, the building of the Twelve Boards, and the laying of the Alexander Nevsky Monastery.

Jean Batist Leblon, also an architect, designed the general city layout. During that period the Menshikov palace and the Kunstamera were constructed. A pause in the city's development set in just after Peter the Great's demise in 1725. Opponents of his reforms returned the capital to Moscow.


In 1730, Empress Ann (1730-1740) ascended the throne and thus returned the capital city to St. Petersburg. During her reign the city was divided into five districts to allow for easy administration. The center was moved to the Admiralty Island. Three thoroughfares that stemmed from the Admiralty were completed- Nevsky Prospect, Median Prospect (now Gorokhovaya street), and Voznesensky Prospect.

In 1740, Empress Elizabeth (1741-1761) began to rule Russia. During her reign, the Russian baroque style of St. Petersburg was embodied in such creations as the Winter Palace and Smolny monastery (designed by B. Rastrelli) and St. Nicholas church.

Empress Catherine II (1762-1796) continued with Peter's vision for home reforms and significant conquests. During her reign Russia acquired Crimea, and the northern shores of the black sea, took back Russian regions of Poland, and joined Kurkandia. Russia's legislation, policies and fine arts of that time were influenced by the Empress. Notable buildings constructed include the Academy of Fine arts (Felten), Gostiny Dvor (Valen de la Moth), the Marble Palace (Rinaldi), the Old Hermitage (Felten), the Taurida Palace (Starov), the Yusupov Palace at the Fontanka river and the Smolny Institute.

Emperor Pavel (Paul) (1796-1801) ascended the royal throne in 1796. Between 1797 and 1800 the architects V. Brenna and V. Bazhenov built the Mikhaylovsky Palace. The palace is a square-shaped building with an inner yard sorrounded by rivers and moats on all sides like a medieval castle. This palace became the official residence of the Emperor's family in November 1800, however after his assasination the family moved back to the Winter Palace.

Alexander I (1801-1825) was Emperor when the war with Napoleon broke out in 1812. Moscow and St. Petersburg were at the verge of invasion by the French troops. Notable constructions of this time include the ensemble of the Mikhaylovsky Palace, the ensemble of the Alexandrinsky Theater, the buildings of the Senate and Synod, the building of the Headquarters with the Triumph Arch and the House of Ministries on Palace Square. The complex of the Palace square was completed with the Alexander column. Russia's biggest cathedral, St. Isaac's was also built on the Isaac square. The cathedral was designed by the famous architect Montferrand.


Nicholas I's (1825-1855) ascension to the throne after the death of Alexander I was marked by a lot of political intrigues. On December 14, 1825 when the new Emperor was taking the oath of office, the guards' regiment refused to pledge allegiance to the new ruler. They planned to sieze the Winter Palace, and the Peter and Paul Fortress and then declare the abolition of autocracy and serfdom, and the introduction of democracy. The insurrection was busted and suppressed in the most cruel way. It was later termed the Decembrist Rebellion. During Nicholas' reign Russia waged war with Persia and Turkey. It was a period of rapid economic growth in industry. St. Petersburg acquired new physical features typical of capitalism. The squares near railroads were developed, port facilities were revamped and industrial complexes were erected. Stakenschneider, a renowned architect designed the Mariinsky Palace on Isaac Square, the Nicolaevsky Palace, etc. He also took active part in the development of the Petrogradskaya storona (Petrogradskaya side).

Alexander II reigned from 1855-1881. He was a reform-setting Tsar. Most famous of such reforms was the abolition of serfdom. His administrative, financial, military and education reforms made Russia a more democratic state, thus allowing for the development of public institutions. It was a time of cultural rejuvenation. Buildings constructed include the famous Mariinsky Imperial Palace (Arch. A.K Kavos), the Capella (Arch. A.M Benois), the Palace of Grand Prince Vladimir Alexandrovich (Arch. A.I Rezanov), and the granite embarkment in front of the Admiralty. Alexander was assassinated by a revolutionary bomb on March 1, 1881.

Alexander III (1881-1894) kept up the trends in the city's development. His reign is best remembered as a period of peace for Russia.


The reign of Nicholas II (1894-1917) was mared by wars that were extremely hard to fight. The war with Japan resulted in the defeat of the Russian fleet at Tsushima Island. Port Arthur (in China) was also lost. In 1914 the First World war broke out. Under the influence of anti-German protests, St. Petersburg was renamed into Petrograd in 1914. The war was fatal for the Russin autocracy.

On November 6-7 1917 Vladimir Lenin led the Bolsheviks in effecting a change in Russia's political system. All private properties were siezed by the state. The structure of the central residential homes were broken as thousands of workers moved from industrial outskirts into central apartments. The Bolsheviks sold out a lot of national treasures to foreign countries. The sacred objects of the church were not spared either. Between 1917 and 1923 the Mars square was transformed into a garden laid out to the design of I. Fomin. The granite monument to the revolutionaries was erected according to the design of L. Rudnev.

When Lenin died in 1924 the Bolsheviks renamed the city Leningrad as a way of immortalizing Lenin's name. In the 1930s and 1940s districts such as Avtovo, Moskovsky Avenue, and Malaya Okhta were developed.


For Russians, the great patriotic war started in 1941 when Nazi Germany attacked Russia. According to Hitler's plans, St. Petersburg was supposed to be completely demolished but the Nazi army never entered the city. The Blockade of Leningrad lasted a period spanning 900 days (September 8 1941 till January 27 1944). The Red army fought to keep the Germans out of Leningrad as they set an example of real heroism. Foodstuff, fuel and ammunition were delivered to the city by so-called "the Way of Life" laid through the frozen Ladoga lake. This delivery was very insufficient and thus the city faced real famine from the fall of 1941. In December alone, 53,000 civilians died of hunger. In the first months of 1942 famine and bombs killed more than 20,000 civilians. A total of 800,000 civilians died of hunger, while more than 17,000 were killed by bombs and shell splinters. Memorial ensembles were created in 1960 at Piskarevskoye and Seraphimovskoye cemeteries where the victims of the blockade were buried.


Between 1960 and 1980 the city was developed along the arch of the Finnish gulf coast, as well as to the North-west and South. The memorial ensemble of the victory square was established. Other major constructions include the "Oktyabrsky" concert hall, the "Yubileiny" Palace of Sport, the "Pulkovskaya" hotel, the "Pulkovo" airport and the Sport and Concert Hall. In 1979 the city began to erect the flood protection dam and associated facilities. The dam is 25.4 kilometers long and 8 meters high.

In 1991, after the conduct of a city referendum, the city's name was returned to St. Petersburg. The high speed St. Petersburg - Moscow railroad was started in 1991. In 1994 the city hosted the Goodwill games. The city has the honor of being referred to as the Northern capital.

Upon the decision of UNESCO St. Petersburg has been recognized as a monument of the works of culture. In 2001 the first high-speed train "Nevsky" made the trip from Moscow to St. Petersburg in a record 4 hours

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