Northern romance of canals and palaces
“Russia’s window to Europe”, the “Northern Venice”, the “Museum City” – regardless of the alias it goes by, St. Petersburg is a must-see. Built on mud and water in 1703 by Tsar Peter the Great, this magnificent city in northern Russia captivates, highlighted by its stately palaces, elegant bridges and majestic granite embankments flanking the river and canals crisscrossing the city. Its beauty and richness will leave you utterly spellbound.
When Peter the Great wanted to push Russia toward European standards, judging his country underdeveloped and its nobility and institutions out-dated, he decided to move the capital from Moscow and build a new one from scratch closer to northern Europe, which he admired. The location seemed to be poorly chosen – a marshy land in the Great North, plagued with malaria in summer and a harsh climate in winter where thousands of forced laborers would die building the city. However, it soon began to grow rapidly, becoming a magnet for architects and artists from all over Europe who built avenues, parks, churches, palaces, canals, bridges, schools, a University, and the Academy of the Arts, and embellished the city to a degree previously unimaginable. The luxury and technical sophistication used during the construction and the wealth of the tsar’s court can be seen in the numerous palaces and theatres, as well as the luxurious facades decorating the broad avenues, called “Perspectives” (Prospects) in the native Russian. The numerous canals, islands, and bridges that were built to drain the marshy soil and the impetuous Neva lent St. Petersburg its unique character. All of this led to the city being designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
St. Petersburg remained the Russian capital for more than two centuries, from 1712 to 1918. After the Russian revolution, the capital was moved back to Moscow, after which the city endured a period of decline. The communists even changed its name twice, first to Petrograd and then to Leningrad. After the fall of the Soviet Union, St. Petersburg recovered its name and, thanks to significant reconstruction and restoration, has been restored to its past glory and splendor.
Today St. Petersburg is a vibrant, dynamic city with five million inhabitants and is the fourth largest city in Europe. It is the most visited city in Russia and, in addition to its wonderful cultural heritage, offers visitors an impressive palette of recreational activities all year round.