Saint Petersburg (city, Russia)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Saint Petersburg (city, Russia)

Saint Petersburg, formerly Leningrad, Rus. Sankt-Peterburg, city (1990 est. pop. 5,036,000), capital of the Leningrad region (although not administratively part of it) and the administrative center of the Northwest federal district, NW European Russia, at Neva Bay (the head of the Gulf of Finland) on both banks of the Neva River and on the islands of its delta. St. Petersburg's port is linked by deepwater canal with Kotlin Island, where the outer port and the Kronshtadt naval base are located.

Russia's second largest city and its former capital, St. Petersburg is a major seaport, rail junction, and industrial, cultural, and scientific center. Although the harbor is frozen for three or four months annually, icebreakers have prolonged the navigation season. The seaport is one of the world's largest, but it handles relatively little traffic because the volume of foreign trade for Russia is small. The river port, one of the most important in the country, stands at the end of two artificial waterways, the Volga-Baltic and the White Sea–Baltic. A series of canals within the city carries considerable cargo. Neva Bay is separated from the Gulf of Finland at Kotlin Island by a 15.8-mi (25.4-km) flood-control dam (completed 2011) that allows for closing the navigation channels to prevent the flooding of the city; the causeways, bridges, and a tunnel built in conjunction with the dam form part of the city's ring road. St. Petersburg's diverse industries include shipbuilding, metallurgy, oil refining, printing, woodworking, food and tobacco processing, and the manufacture of machinery, electrical equipment, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, automobiles, and textiles.

Points of Interest

The city's main thoroughfare is the celebrated Nevsky Prospekt. On it are the high-spired admiralty building; the Winter Palace, built by Rastrelli; the Hermitage museum; and the Kazan Cathedral. Nearby on Senate (formerly Decembrists) Square are the huge domed Cathedral of St. Isaac (1858); Russia's Constitutional Court, in the Senate and Synod buildings; and the equestrian statue of Peter the Great, Falconet's masterpiece and the subject of Pushkin's poem "The Bronze Horsemen." The city's oldest building is the fortress of Peter and Paul (1703), which served as a political prison in imperial days. Among the baroque buildings of the early 18th cent. are the Alexander Nevsky monastery (1710), the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul (1733), the Winter Palace (1762), and the Smolny convent (1764). Neoclassical buildings of the late 18th and early 19th cent. include the Academy of Arts (1772), the Marble Palace (1785), the Taurida Palace (1788), the Kazan Cathedral (1811), and the Exchange (1816). Among the city's educational institutions are the St. Petersburg State Univ. (est. 1804) and the St. Petersburg State Univ. of Economics and Finance. There are numerous theaters, museums, scientific and medical institutes, and libraries, including the 18th-century Maryinsky Theater (including a new ballet and opera house, opened 2013), the Saltykov-Shchedrin Public Library (1795) and the Academy of Sciences library. Outside the city are Pushkin, with the summer palaces of Catherine II and Alexander I, and the former imperial residences of Peterhof and Gatchina. A striking phenomenon of St. Petersburg is the prolonged twilight, or the "white nights," of June and July.


The city was built by Peter I (Peter the Great), who sought an outlet to the sea and a port for trade through the Baltic. It was built in 1703 in what was then Ingermanland, an area conquered from Sweden during the Northern War. The fortress of Peter and Paul was erected to defend the projected new capital, which was to be a modern city and a "window looking on Europe." Construction was carried out at tremendous human and material cost. The capital was moved from Moscow in 1712, although the land on which the city stood was not formally ceded to Russia until 1721. Italian and French architects planned the city, giving it the spacious, classical beauty that it has retained.

St. Petersburg soon replaced Arkhangelsk as Russia's leading seaport and became an important commercial center. From the second half of the 18th cent., it was also the country's principal industrial center, at first for shipbuilding and engineering and later for textiles. In 1851, a rail link with Moscow was completed. One of the world's most brilliant capitals and cultural centers, St. Petersburg was immortalized in the novels of Pushkin, Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, and Tolstoy. Its apex as an international center of literature, music, theater, and ballet and as the scene of lavish and reckless social life was reached in the late 19th and early 20th cent.

Under the surface, however, the seeds of social upheaval ripened, especially among industrial workers. Secret revolutionary societies arose, and an attempt by city workers to petition the czar precipitated a revolution in 1905. The city was renamed Petrograd in 1914. The workers, soldiers, and sailors of Petrograd also spearheaded the revolutions of Feb. and Oct., 1917. Although it lost much of its former glamour, the city remained the economic and cultural rival of Moscow, which replaced it as capital in 1918. Petrograd was renamed Leningrad in 1924. During World War II, the city was cut off from the rest of the USSR by the fall of Schlüsselburg (now Petrokrepost) to the Germans (Aug., 1941). It was besieged for over two years, during which many hundreds of thousands died of famine and disease. The city's original name was restored in 1991. In the 1990s, the city struggled to convert its heavily military-related industries to civilian purposes.

See K. Clark, Petersburg: Crucible of Cultural Revolution (1998); W. B. Lincoln, Sunlight at Midnight: St. Petersburg and the Rise of Modern Russia (2001); D. M. Glantz, The Battle for Leningrad, 1941–1944 (2002); A. Reid, Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941–1944 (2011).

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