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St Petersburg Leningrad Ленингра́д Санкт-Петербу́рг Petrograd Петрогра́д ́

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St Petersburg, Russia's "Northern Capital"

"Petergrad" or "Peter" was created in 1703 to be the window on Europe that Peter the Great so passionally wanted.  It was also a way to cement Russia's claims over a territory won from Sweden.  St Petersburg accomplishes the  idea of a capital which represented Russian heritage but with a distinctly European outlook.

Considered as the cultural heart of modern day Russia, St. Petersburg is truly one of the Great Cities of Europe.  Built literally from the swamp, visitors often call this beautiful city a "Northern Venice".  Perhaps such another will not be found anywhere in the world.  "Sons" Sankt Petrburg include the writers Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Goncharov, Lermontov, Fet, and Griboedov.  Art of pure genius has been created by such artists as Brullov, Repin, Shishkin, and Malevich.  Monumental masters like Rastrelly, Montferrand, Rossi created their best monuments here in St. Petersburg.

Petergrad is filled with classical living monuments as St. Isaac's Cathedral, Kazan's Cathedral, Peter and Paul's Fortress, the Admiralty, Russia's Hermitage, and Smolniy Cathedral and was the capital of the Russian Empire for more than two hundred years (1713-1728, 1732-1918).  It is Russia's second largest and Europe's fourth largest city (by city limit) after Moscow, London and Paris. 4.6 million people live in the city, and over 6 million people live in the city's vicinity.

Wikipedia describes it this way:  Saint Petersburg (Russian: Санкт-Петербу́рг), Sankt-Peterburg, Russian pronunciation: [sankt pʲɪtʲɪrˈburk]) is a city and a federal subject 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 Sankt-Piter-Burh (Са́нкт-Питер-Бу́рх, 1703), Petrograd (Петрогра́д, 1914–1924) and Leningrad (Ленингра́д, 1924–1991). It is informally known as Piter (Пи́тер).

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This is the city where Bolsheviks stormed the czar's Winter Palace in October 1917, bringing Communism to power in Russia. This is the city, then known as Leningrad, that heroically survived the famous 900-day German siege during World War II.

Sitting astride the Baltic Sea, St Petersburg is a city of extremes. Its magnificent architecture is astounding, but decay and dilapidation are constant threats, and city officials have embarked on a never-ending restoration program to restore the city to its greatness.

Peter built the city using raw labour from Russian serfs and Sweden's prisoners of war.  The comfortable life of the tsars depended on the abject poverty and squalor of serfs and peasants. Today, the newly rich, in their designer clothes, pass tattered beggars on the streets and slowly but surely the middle class is growing to close the bridge between the classes.

Petrograd is a city of extremes and that includes the weather.  Freezing cold in the northern winter where the rivers and canals freeze in the depths of winter, but in midsummer all of Petersburg stays outdoors to enjoy the White Nights of this northern latitude where the light is never quite extinguished.

(Map:  NY Times)

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Things to See/Do in St Petersburg:

The Hermitage Museum/The Winter Palace: is Saint Petersburg's prime attraction and truly one of the world's great museums.  To see all the exhibits inside this one palace would require approximately 36 hours.  Ticketing is complex, but the Hermitage itself is 100 rubles for Russians and 350 rubles for foreigners. Students of all nationalities get in for free with a student card with photo.  Entrance is free on the first Thursday of every month. Bags aren't allowed in the museum and all bags and coats must be checked.  If you take a camera, and you should, you will need a photo ticket in order to use your camera.   

The State Hermitage occupies six magnificent buildings situated along the embankment of the River Neva, right in the heart of St Petersburg. The leading role in this unique architectural ensemble is played by the Winter Palace, the residence of the Russian tsars that was built to the design of Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli in 1754-62. This ensemble, formed in the 18th and 19th centuries, is extended by the eastern wing of the General Staff building, the Menshikov Palace and the recently constructed Repository.

Put together throughout two centuries and a half, the Hermitage collections of works of art (over 3,000,000 items) present the development of the world culture and art from the Stone Age to the 20th century. Today the Museum is creating its digital self-portrait to be displayed around the world. Computer technologies enable the State Hermitage Museum to provide people from all over the world with wider access to information about the Museum and its treasures.

Advice for foreigners visiting the Winter Palace/Hermitage Museum: Find a tour group. This may have changed, call the museum ahead of time to find out.: They're 200 rubles instead of 350, and include the photography fee.

The size of many of the rooms and the ornate detailing is breathtaking.

Today the Winter Palace, together with four more buildings arranged side by side along the river embankment, houses the extensive collections of the Hermitage.

The Hermitage Museum is the largest art gallery in Russia and is among the largest and most respected art museums in the world.

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The Mikhail Palace: 

Another great art museum in St. Petersburg.  St. Michael's Castle (Михайловский замок), also called the Mikhailovsky Castle or the Engineer Castle (Инженерный замок), is a former royal residence in the historic centre of Saint Petersburg, Russia.

St. Michael's Castle was built as a residence for Emperor Paul I by architects Vincenzo Brenna and Vasili Bazhenov in 1797-1801. The castle looks different from each side, as the architects used the motifs of various architectural styles such as French Classicism, Italian Renaissance and Gothic.

According to Wikipedia, St. Michael's Castle was built to the south of the Summer Garden and replaced a small wooden palace of Empress Elizabeth Petrovna. Afraid of intrigues and assassination plots, Emperor Paul I didn't like the Winter Palace where he never felt safe. Due to his personal interest in Medieval knights and his constant fear of assassination, the new royal residence was built like a castle with rounded corners in which a small octagonal courtyard is located. The castle was surrounded by the waters of the Moika River, the Fontanka River and two specially dug canals (the Church Canal and the Sunday Canal), transforming the castle area into an artificial island which could only be reached by drawbridges.

Construction began on 26 February (N.S. 9 March), 1797 and the castle was solemnly consecrated on 8 November 1800, i.e. on St. Michael's Day according to the Eastern Orthodoxy, though works on its internal furnishing proceeded until March 1801. In 1800, the bronze equestrian Monument to Peter the Great was erected in front of the castle.

Ironically, Paul I was assassinated only 40 nights after he moved into his newly built castle. He was murdered on 12 March 1801, in his own bedroom, by a group of dismissed officers headed by General Bennigsen. The conspirators forced him to a table, and tried to compel him to sign his abdication. Paul offered some resistance, and one of the assassins struck him with a sword, and he was then strangled and trampled to death. He was succeeded by his son, the Emperor Alexander I, who was actually in the palace, and to whom general Nicholas Zubov, one of the assassins, announced his accession.

After Paul's death, the imperial family returned to the Winter Palace; St. Michael's Castle was abandoned and in 1819 was given to the army's Main Engineering School (later to become the Nikolayevskaya Engineering Academy). Since then the building has been called the Engineer Castle.

The Mikhailovsky Castle was the first building to be erected on the site that was to become Arts Square. The castle was built farther up the bank and inland than the Winter Palace and the Admiralty. Paul I was a ruler who did not really endear himself to his subjects and government ministers. His first acts of power were to thwart the progress and reforms of Catherine II, his mother. He freed the "political prisoners," people he felt who were unjustly imprisoned by Catherine's reforms, and instituted a reign of terror by ruling by emotion and whim.

The Palace decoration included tapestries, paintings, sculptures, and wood-carving.  The first foundation stone was laid in February 1797. The work on the castle continued uninterrupted day and night until its completion in 1800; the builders used torches when it became too dark to see.  The central courtyard is octagonal in shape and most of the rooms of the castle face into it. The entire castle was painted red, Paul's favorite color, perhaps a portent for the future.

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The Admiralty, located in the area of Admiralteyskaya. You can't go inside, but the facade is nice.  Located across the street from the Hermitage, the original Admiralty was one of the first structures to be built in St Petersburg. It was designed to be a dockyard, where some of the first ships of Russia's Baltic fleet were built (some with the participation of Tsar Peter himself who, was an expert in shipbuilding). The Admiralty was also fortified to be an extra defense for the newly acquired territory of the Neva delta.

Wikipedia:  Admiralty Board (Адмиралтейств-коллегия) was the supreme body for the administration of the Imperial Russian Navy in the Russian Empire, established by Peter the Great on December 12, 1718.  The responsibilities of the Admiralty Board had been changing throughout its history. It supervised the construction of military ships, ports, harbors, and canals and administered Admiralty Shipyard. The Admiralty Board was also in charge of naval armaments and equipment, preparation of naval officers etc.

Shipbuilding in the Admiralty went on till 1844. Later only some departments concerned with the Navy remained in the building, and since 1925 the Admiralty houses the Higher Naval Engineering School.

Central Navy Museum - founded by Peter the Great.  This is the museum which tells the story of the Russian Navy and it's history.  Visitors enter the museum through a small side door that faces the Hermitage.

Address:   Birzhevaya Ploschad 4
Metro: Vasileostrovskaya or Nevsky Prospekt
Telephone: +7 (812) 328-2501
Open: 10:30 am to 4:45 pm
Closed: Monday, Tuesday, and the last Thursday of the month

Video Presentation: An interesting 105 minute tour of SP!


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