Though the city of St. Petersburg is only 300 years old, it has already experienced a more turbulent history than many cities will see in a millennium. The “fluttering coat of history” has swept Petersburg through exciting and explosive times.
This rich history makes everything in Petersburg extraordinary. The visionary tsar, Peter I, founded the city to give Russia sea access and a link with Europe. Planned on the drawing board, Petersburg was built on marshy forestland, and found itself unloved and misunderstood in the Muscovite Empire of the early 18th century. But later it became the glittering capital of the Russian Empire, an established European metropolis, which in the 19th century was the equal of Paris, London, Vienna and Berlin. An extraordinary cultural and economic boom marked the start of the 20th century, but the social confrontations that would eventually spark the revolutions of 1905 and 1917 had already begun. The “Petersburg Empire” was over.
In 1918, Lenin moved the capital back to Moscow. Petersburg, which had long lost its original name, changed from Petrograd to Leningrad in 1924 and became a huge provincial town. Robbed of its status and its destiny as a “window to Europe”, Petersburg became just another city, with only its buildings recalling its former glory.
The 900-day siege by German troops in World War II dealt the city an almost fatal blow. And yet, somehow, St. Petersburg lived on, preserving its face and dignity as Khrushchev’s “thaw”, Breshnev’s “stagnation” and Gorbatchov’s “Perestroika” came and went, until finally, the city was given back her original name. Now, St. Petersburg is working hard to reclaim its former importance, but the Soviet legacy is a heavy burden. Like the rest of Russia, the city is in a state of upheaval.
The beauty of St. Petersburg lies in the unique harmony of its architecture – baroque, classicist, eclectic and art nouveau, all enhanced magnificently by the ever-present water. No other city in the world possesses an intact historical city center on the scale of St. Petersburg. And no city struggles more to hold on to its priceless inheritance. This city is a perfect place to study Russian for those who want to experience the deep roots of ever-changing history and Russian culture.