'Venice of the North'
Saint Petersburg, the most cosmopolitan and Western of Russia's cities is the second-largest after Moscow with a population of more than 5 million.
Situated on the Neva River and, at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea, it is also an important Russian port.
Saint Petersburg was the imperial capital of the Russian Empire until 1918 however, after the Russian Revolution of 1917, the central government moved to Moscow.
During the First World War, the name was changed to Petrograd and in 1924, it was re-named Leningrad after communist revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin.
Bombed and besieged during World War II, the postwar period saw the re-building of the city that blended the modern with the architectural styles of its past.
In 1991, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the city was once again given its original name.
Peter the Great, (Peter I) (1672 – 1725) the Tsar of Russia founded Saint Petersburg in 1703 and named it after his patron Saint, the Apostle Saint Peter.
During Peter the Great's travels, he was impressed by the grandeur and beauty of the palaces in Europe and wanted to build his new city along western lines.
The new city's first building was the Peter and Paul Fortress while the waterfront palace, Monplaisir, and the Great Peterhof Palace were built between 1714 and 1725.
Peter the Great led the cultural revolution in Russia based on The Enlightenment to replace the medieval, social and political systems with ones that were westernized.
Peter the Great also led a number of successful wars to expand Russia into an empire and a major European power.
Peter the Great
The Bronze Horseman
Peter's daughter, Empress Elizabeth who reigned from 1740 to 1762 exemplified the enlightened despot.
She built more palaces with the Winter Palace and the Smolny Cathedral being the chief monuments of her reign
she was known for her masquerade parties and for her vast wardrobe of 12 thousand dresses, most of which now housed in museums.
Empress Elizabeth also led her country into the War of Austrian Succession (1740–48) and the Seven Years' War (1756–63).
Catherine the Great (Catherine II) of Russia, (1729 – 1796) earned the status of an enlightened despot and the Catherinian Era, is often considered the Golden Age of the Russian Empire and the Russian nobility.
Born in Prussia as Sophie von Anhalt-Zerbst, the eldest daughter of a Prussian prince, she married into Russia's Romanov family and then came to power following a coup d'état when her husband, Peter III, was assassinated.
Under her reign, Russia became recognized as one of the great powers of Europe.
As an admirer of Peter the Great, Catherine continued to modernize Russia along Western European lines.
As a supporter of The Enlightenment and patron of the arts, she presided over the age of the Russian Enlightenment.
History, culture and architecture all combine to inscribe Saint Petersburg on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Built on more than 100 islands created by rivers, creeks, gulfs and lakes that flow into the Baltic Sea, Peter the Great designed Saint Petersburg to emulate Amsterdam and Venice.
Today, Saint Petersburg is one of the beautiful cities of Europe known as the 'Venice of the North' with its canals, quays and baroque style bridges blending with a wonderful array of historical architecture, monuments, sculptures, gardens and parks.
The Marble Palace
Saint Petersburg is also famous for its many beautiful palaces and imperial mansions built by the Tsar's and nobility.
The Summer Palace was the first to be built for Peter the Great and his family between 1710–1714.
These palaces take you back to an aristocratic way of life.that flourished during Russia's Golden Age..
Many of these palaces and imperial mansions are now open to the public as state and private museums of art and history or branches of government.
Below are just some of the many beautiful palaces the public can visit:
Konstantinovsky Palace in Strelna
The Winter Palace was the official residence of the Russian monarchy from 1732 to 1917.
Designed in the Elizabethan Baroque style, the green-and-white palace reflected the power of Imperial Russia.
Today, the world-famous Hermitage Museum is housed in the Winter Palace where you will find some of the world's greatest collections of art, treasure and antiquities.
Visitors can also see the imperial throne, the Malachite Room which was the official drawing room of the wife of Nicholas I and the Main Staircase (Ambassador’s Staircase) with its beautiful frescoes, marble balustrades and columns.
The Summer Palace was the first palace built in Saint Petersburg between 1710–1714 in the Dutch Burghers style for Peter the Great and designed by the Swiss Italian architect Domenico Trezzini.
The beautiful Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
Peter and Paul Fortress, founded by Peter the Great in 1703 and built from 1706 to 1740, is the original citadel of Saint Petersburg.
Peter and Paul Cathedral
Built between 1748–1764
Designed by Bartolomeo Rastrelli in the baroque style.
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