Russia History Modern Short History of St Petersburg

Short History of St Petersburg

St Petersburg was founded by Peter the Great in 1703 as Russia’s “window on Europe.” The first building was the Peter and Paul Fortress on Zayachy (Hare) Island. The earliest residential property was the wooden Cabin of Peter of Great.

Peter invited architects and engineers from all over Europe to build a new Western capital. The first boulevards and stone palaces were decorated by foreign painters and sculptors. Peterhof was created on the Gulf of Finland to rival Versailles.

In the middle of the eighteenth century, Peter’s daughter Elizabeth commissioned such Baroque masterpieces as the Winter Palace on the River Neva and the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoe Selo. She was followed by Catherine the Great, who preferred Neoclassical architecture and founded the Hermitage in 1764.

Confusion following the sudden death of Tsar Alexander I led to the first Russian revolution in 1825 – the Decembrist Revolt. This period was followed by a flourishing of the arts known as the Golden Age of Russian culture. St Petersburg inspired such famous writers as Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Russia underwent rapid industrialisation in the second half of the nineteenth century. After Tsar Alexander II abolished serfdom in 1861, many peasants flooded to St Petersburg in search of work.

The growth of industry and urban sprawl contributed to the spread of Socialist and other revolutionary ideas. Discontent with the Russo-Japanese War culminated in a year of revolution in 1905.

Between 1905 and 1914, St Petersburg was the centre of a second wave of cultural achievements, known as the Silver Age. Russian artists, choreographers and composers revolutionised world painting, ballet and music.

In 1914, Russia entered the First World War on the side of the Western Allies. The German-sounding name of St Petersburg was changed to the more Slavonic Petrograd.

In 1917, discontent with the war led to the February Revolution and the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II. The war continued until the Provisional Government was overthrown by Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks in the October Revolution.

As the civil war spread, the Communist government was forced to move the capital back to Moscow in 1918. In 1924, Petrograd was renamed Leningrad.

In 1934, Sergei Kirov was assassinated in his Smolny headquarters. Joseph Stalin used Kirov’s death as an excuse to unleash a wave of political repressions across the country.

When Hitler declared war on the Soviet Union in 1941, Leningrad was quickly surrounded by German armies. The city was besieged for nine hundred days from 8 September 1941 to 27 January 1944. Over a million people lost their lives.

After the war, Stalin launched further reprisals against local officials and intellectuals. For the rest of the Soviet period, Leningrad was overlooked and neglected by the Communist Party.

The revival of the city began in 1991, when voters elected to restore the original name of St Petersburg. Following his election as president in 2000, Vladimir Putin returned many historical functions to St Petersburg.

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