Saint Petersburg (Санкт-Петербург)

Saint Petersburg (Санкт-Петербург)


Saint Petersburg (Sankt Peterburg, if you translate it correctly from Russian) was a brainstorm of Peter the Great to outstrip Paris and Vienna and put Russia on the map of the 18th-century world. The location was chosen for its Baltic port position. The area was previously notorious for its swamps, mosquitoes, floods and wolves. Peasants and captured Swedes were forced to dredge canals through the stinking marshes and to carry in the earth that was used to build the city on. Thousands of them lost their lives as a result of the horrific working conditions. Later visitors had to bring some building material as a form of tax to be able to visit the city. Nowadays it's a beautiful waterside city that indeed competes with Paris and Vienna.

The city was built on a grand scale. The palaces and boulevards were designed to be seen from great distance. St. Petersburg is built around the mouth of the river Neva, which divides the city into several sectors. On the southern bank of the river the area around the Winter Palace and the Admiralty can be regarded as the city center. The Nevsky Prospekt is the main street. St. Petersburg is a very good city to explore on foot, there are waterside boulevards with great sights everywhere; distances are rather great so wear good shoes.

Originally the city was named St. Petersburg, and from 1712 to 1918 it was Russia's capital. It was renamed Petrograd and after Lenin's death, Leningrad, but after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a referendum decided that the old name of St. Petersburg should once again been used. The city's northern latitude lines up with places such as Alaska and Greenland, but warm sea-currents prevent extreme temperatures in the area. In midsummer there are 'White Nights' celebrations that last all night, and celebrate the longest day. (Actually during midsummer the sun hardly sets, it is light all night long).

Places to Visit

Palace Square

Between 1712 and 1918 when St. Petersburg was Russian's capital, the government was housed in the buildings surrounding this square. The buildings are very elegant and colorful, built to outstrip similar ones in Paris and Vienna. There are also some monuments that commemorate the Russian victory over Napoleon. Many important events in Russia's history have happened there; Bloody Sunday in 1905 and the Bolsheviks taking over power from the tsars in 1917. The processions and gatherings to denounce the 1991 coup attempt also took places there.

The State Hermitage Museum consists of several buildings of which the green/white rococo Winter Palace that dominates the square is the largest. The Hermitage Museum is so enormous that you could wonder around in it for a week without even seeing anything twice. It is housed in four buildings straddling the Neva River (the Winter Palace, the Little and Large Hermitage buildings and the Hermitage Theatre). If you want to visit it, decide beforehand what you want to see, as it is impossible to see it all. The museum's exhibition consists of a huge collection of Western European art, chandeliers, high-end interior encrustations and jewels and treasures that belonged to the tsarist family. Most of the exhibits date from the time of Catherine the Great.

The Admiralty adjacent to the Winter Palace has a gilded spire and is a good point of reference as it can be seen from great distance. The Admiralty houses a naval college and is filled with statues of angels and fountains. Another building that might be used as a point of reference is the St Isaac's Cathedral with its golden dome. The supporting colonnade around it provides great views over the city.

Peter & Paul Fortress

The oldest building in St. Petersburg is the Peter & Paul Fortress on the small Zayachy Island. It was built in 1703 according to plans drawn by Peter the Great himself. It served as a stronghold to prevent the Swedes from occupying the newly acquired land on the mouth of the Neva River. Up to 1917 it was mainly used as a political prison and people held there include Peter's own son Alexey, Dostoevsky, Gorky, Trotsky and the older brother of Lenin, Alexander. Next to the fortress there is the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul with its golden peak that can bee seen from afar. From the outside it looks quite simple, but it has a magnificent baroque interior. Most of the Romanov rulers are buried in this cathedral. Most buildings on the island were built in a time when Peter the Great was still living in a log cabin overlooking the city. The cabin is still preserved and serves as a shrine like museum. In front of the Fortress on the bank of the Neva River there is a small beach that locals use fiercely during hot days in the summer.

Aurora Cruiser

East of the Peter & Paul Fortress the Aurora Cruiser, an old war ship can be visited.

Tsarist St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg has an abundance of lush architecture, and when you look at it, it's easy to understand the ideas of the Bolsheviks and the revolution of 1917 to oppose the opulent decadent lifestyle of the Royal family and the nobility while the normal people, the workers and soldiers didn't have anything. St. Petersburg is Russia most European-style city, and most neoclassical styled buildings in the central area were erected during the reigns of Empress Elizabeth, Catherine the Great and Alexander I. The modest Summer Palace, built for Peter the Great, contrasts with the huge symmetric gardens around it.

The Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace is situated at the eastern end of the Nevsky Prospekt. It has dark-red stucco with a row of weight-bearing musclemen seemingly supporting the building. It housed the local branch of the Communist Party until its collapse in 1991. The green and white Stroganov Palace was built by Empress Elizabeth's favorite architect Rastrelli. It overlooks the Moyka River. The Stroganoffs made their fortune trading Siberian fur and are best known for their chef's invention of beef stroganoff.

Vasilevsky Island

Vasilevsky island is the city's biggest island. From its eastern tip there are some magnificent views over the city. It can be easily recognized by the Rostral Columns, two red columns with ship-shapes that served as navigation beacons. Near these beacons there are numerous maritime buildings and museums that include the Naval Museum, Zoological Museum, Kunstkammer and the Academy of Arts. The Menshikov Palace is one of the oldest buildings on the island and nowadays serves as a museum.

Between the Lieutenant Schmidt Bridge and the Academy of Arts there are two original Egyptian sfinxes.

Literature

Many books have been written about St. Petersburg. Tolstoy used the city in War and Peace and Anna Karenina, in which he compared backward Moscow with sophisticated St. Petersburg. Dostoevsky condemned the life of the poor in Crime and Punishment. His home, where he died of a throat hemorrhage, has been turned into a museum. Pushkin described the lifestyle of the Royals in Eugene Onegin, and his poem The Bronze Horseman talks about the statue close to the Neva River. His last home has also been turned into a museum. Pushkin died here after losing a duel to defend the reputation of his wife.

Pushkin

The summer palaces at Tsarskoe Selo were erected for Empress Elizabeth and Catherine the Great. In 1937, the buildings were renamed Pushkin commemorate the centenary of the writer's death. Tsarskoe Selo lies about 25 km south of St. Petersburg and is easily reached by bus or train. The baroque Catherine Palace was completely destroyed by the Germans at the end of WW II. It has been reconstructed in a marvelous way, with golden domes and blue and white detailing in its facades. The interior is filled with mirrors, chandeliers and tumescent cherubs. Inside the palace the Faberge exhibition shows an interesting collection of artifacts and paintings. The Alexander Palace is just north of the Catherine Palace, it used to be the favorite place of Nicholas and Alexandra, but it became their prison before they were deported to Yekaterinburg.

Nevsky Prospect

The main street in St. Petersburg is Nevsky Prospekt. This street runs west from the Admiralty all the way to the Alexandr Nevsky Monastery on the banks of the Neva, 4 km away. There are beautiful buildings on both side of the Nevsky Prospekt, and it is always full of people. Many famous people lived in the area around this street, including Gogol, Tchaikovsky, Turgenev, Nijinsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Dostoevsky. Walking down the street starting from the Admiralty you will see the multi-columned Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan which houses the Museum of Religion. Opposite the Cathedral, on the other side of the street is the House of Books, a huge bookstore in the beautiful Art Nouveau building that used to be home to the former Singer sewing-machine company. The Gostiny-Dvor department store is also a good example of a 19th-century palace of merchandise. It lies on a huge square with a statue of Catherine the Great surrounded by her numerous lovers. You will cross the Anishkovom Bridge with its many sculptures, and further down is the Moskovskij Vokzal, the train station that connects St. Petersburg with Moscow. Many of the shops along the Nevsky prospect are worth a visit for their interiors more than for their often overprized merchandise.

Radio-Tele Antennae

The Leningrad Radio-Tele Broadcasting Center's antenna is supposed to be open to visitors. Although because of a lack of visitors you might find it closed. The tower is 310 meters high and has a 50,000-watt transmitter. The views from the bar-cafe at 200 m up, are just amazing. The structure swing about 50 cm on windy days, so be prepared for that. Its construction was ran entirely by an all-female group of architects.

Smolny Monastery

The Smolny Monastery lies in the Smol'ninskij Rajon completely east of the city center on the banks of the Neva River. It was built by Rastrelli under the reign of Peter the Great's daughter Elizabeth. It has beautifully restored blue and white walls and towers.

Kirovsky Islands

The three islands north of the city center are collectively called the Kirovsky Islands. They include the islands of Kamenny, Yelagin and Krestovsky. They are mostly occupied by parks, summerhouses, mansions and palaces. On the far west-point of Krestovsky, the Kirov Stadium is situated.

Petrodvorets

Peter the Great built a number of palaces and beautiful gardens in Petrodvorets 30 km west of St. Petersburg. The whole place was completely destroyed by the Germans in WW II, but it has been completely reconstructed.

There are numerous fountains in Petrodvorets, of which the Grand Cascade & Water Avenue is the most important. It is a mixture of fountains and canals that was engineered for a great part by Peter himself. Other sights in Petrodvorets include the Grand Palace that was made even larger by Rastrelli for Empress Elizabeth. Later Catherine the Great adjusted it to her needs. Most artifacts in its interior are original as they were hidden from the Germans and escaped destruction. Peter the Great's favorite place to relax was his villa Monplaisir. It faces the sea and has bright and open galleries. There are many fountains in the gardens as well as pavilions and summer houses, including the private dining room, the self-contained and moated Hermitage.

Accommodation and Food

There are various budget hotels and youth hostels in the city. Some of the best places to meet other travelers are St. Petersburg's International Hostel, and of course the huge Palace Square behind the Hermitage. There are many good restaurants and cafe's, although they are quite expensive in the central area. Try some of the more quiet places a few blocks away for more reasonable prices.

Entertainment

St. Petersburg offer some high quality entertainment. The Kirov Ballet Company, the Philharmonia and the Kirov Opera are of the highest level without any doubt. There are numerous other theatres and puppet theatres, and street musicians treat you on the boulevards and avenues. There are hundreds of Rock music bars all over the city and if all that music is just too much you can always visit one of the museums and exhibitions, or join the locals to see a soccer match in the 100,000-seat Kirov Stadium on Krestovsky Island.

Cruises on the Neva River can be made. Boats leave from several places close to the Hermitage Museum and more to the west close to the Senate building.


Undercover Tourist


Miscellaneous Information

Latitude:    59 56 N
Longitude: 30 16 E
Elevation:  5 m (16 ft.)

Population: 5,000,000
Cost-of-living compared to Washington D.C.: 120%

Hours from UTC: 4
Daylight savings time: Late March through late October

City phone code: 812
Country phone code: 7

Average Weather Patterns

 TemperaturePrecipitation
January-8.1°C (17.4°F)2.5 cm (0.98 in)
April3.3°C (37.9°F)2.5 cm (0.98 in)
July17.8°C (64°F)6.4 cm (2.52 in)
October5°C (41°F)4.6 cm (1.81 in)

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