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St. Petersburg

The second-largest Russian city, Saint Petersburg is filled to the brim with world-class art, culture, and history. Between the opera, symphony, and ballet, the historical monuments, and museums, private palace tours or boat tours of the canals, it would be impossible to run out of things to see in Saint Petersburg even if one spent years here.

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Founded in 1703 by Tsar Peter the Great, St. Petersburg was once the imperial capital of Russia. The city has gone by several different names, it was renamed Petrograd in 1914, at the beginning of World War I, because it sounded less German, it was then named Leningrad after the death of Vladimir Lenin in 1924, and once again became St. Petersburg in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed. The city is literally built on the site of former marshes and swamps and it spreads across 42 islands. As Russia’s “window on Europe,” it bears the unofficial status of Russia’s cultural capital and its most European city, a distinction that it strives to retain in its enduring competition with Moscow. The city’s harmonious mix of European and Russian architecture and its complete lack of a city center, which defines other Russian cities of medieval origin further illustrates the uniqueness of St. Petersburg in Russia. According to Peter the Great’s instructions, architects with international reputation were invited to Russia to contribute to the city, which quickly grew and developed. Until construction halted from 1728 to 1732 when the successors to the throne chose Moscow as their residence. The return of the Empress, Anna Ioannovna, to St. Petersburg resumed the city development. Every era gave the city its unique features, which can be found in the appearance of buildings, streets, and squares.  

Women continued the advancement of St. Petersburg when Empress Elizabeth, Peter’s daughter, improved upon her father’s vision by commissioning European architects such as Bartolomeo Rastrelli to construct baroque landmarks, including the Winter Palace, the Smolny Institute, and the palaces of Tsarskoe Selo. Catherine the Great subsequently purchased the paintings, drawings, and other priceless artworks that are now the core of the Hermitage Museum’s holdings. She also established the Russian Academy of Arts to further aesthetic production, and she commissioned the Pavlovsk Palace, the Hermitage, and the Tauride Palace. The city’s remarkable transformation reaffirmed Russia as a major European power.

Within this grand architectural setting, cultural life evolved and flourished quickly in St. Petersburg.. The University of St. Petersburg was founded in 1724 and in 1773 the Institute of Mines was established. Many of the most celebrated names in Russia’s fields of learning, science, and the arts are associated with the city: Ivan Pavlov, Aleksandr Pushkin, Leo Tolstoy, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, among others. As early as 1738 the first ballet school in Russia was opened in St. Petersburg; in the 19th century, under Marius Petipa, the Russian ballet rose to worldwide renown and produced world famous dancers. In 1862 the first conservatory of music in Russia opened its doors, and there the premieres of works by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, Sergey Rachmaninoff. Overall, the imperial court stood as the focus and patron of the city’s cultural life; its ostentatious splendor and wealth were legendary throughout Europe.

The city is a popular northern cruise destination and one of the most popular places to visit in Russia. St. Petersburg makes for a wonderful travel destination, especially for history and culture lovers. With more than 2,000 libraries, 220 museums, and 80 theaters make up the city’s well-established cultural landscape, while edgy art galleries, bohemian cafés, boisterous underground clubs, and cool hostels with minimalist Scandinavian interiors show off St. Petersburg’s innovative side. In fact, the city itself is a museum. The museum world of St. Petersburg is incredibly diverse: world-famous Hermitage, the State Russian Museum with the richest collection of Russian art, the palaces of St. Petersburg and its suburbs.

By the dawn of the twentieth century, the city was the fifth-largest in Europe, behind London, Paris, Vienna, and Berlin, and was widely viewed as representative of imperial Russia’s new military and industrial might. The city’s most notable industries were mechanical engineering and metalworking. The city’s main commodities are machinery, industrial equipment, and metals as well as timber, coal, potassium salts, and pyrites. Emphasis is still placed on the branches of engineering that require a skilled labor force. St. Petersburg’s original industry, shipbuilding, is still important and remains one of the largest of its kind in Russia; it produces icebreakers, tankers, timber carriers, and fishing vessels. Other sectors of heavy engineering make armaments and rolling stock. Of national importance are a plant producing nuclear reactors and others that manufacture electrical and power machinery, such as steam, hydraulic, and gas turbines. Other plants produce cable, diesel engines, batteries, generators, medical equipment, cameras, and automotive machinery.

One of the world’s most beautiful cities, St. Petersburg has all the ingredients for an unforgettable travel experience: high art, lavish architecture, wild nightlife, an extraordinary history and rich cultural traditions that have inspired and nurtured some of the modern world’s greatest literature, music, and visual art. From the mysterious twilight of the White Nights to world-beating opera and ballet productions on magical winter evenings, St. Petersburg charms and entices in every season.

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