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Founded in 1703 as a "window on the West" by Peter the Great, Saint-Petersburg was for two centuries the capital of the Tsarist Empire, synonymous with magnificence and power.The city, which actually began with the construction of the famous Peter-and-Paul fortress on the Hare Island, developed rapidly, and soon it turned into the centre of economic, industrial, political and social life. Moreover, Saint-Petersburg gained the title of spiritual centre of Russia when the construction of the Alexander Nevsky Laura was begun. Therefore in 1710 the capital from Moscow was transferred to St. Petersburg, and in 1712 the Tsar's family, the Court and the state establishments appeared here. Saint-Petersburg embodied both Peter's rejection of Old Russia and his admiration of Europe by comprising in itself great historial epochs and various styles. That is why everything in the St.Petersburg, including architecture, administration and social life, was to be either copied and imported or invented and built by the foreign masters. The General Layout of the city centre was made by Domenico Tresini, while Jean Batist Leblon was the architect, who developed the General Layout of Saint Petersburg. During the Peter's reign the Summer Garden, the Kunstkammer, the Menshikov Palace were also built. In 1727 Peter II became the Tsar and moved the capital back to Moscow, leaving Petersburg in decline. But in 1730 Empress Anna re-established St.Petersburg as the capital of the Russian Empire. She tried to be seen as the follower of Peter's ideas and during her reign the city was carefully divided into five parts, the centre being moved to Admiralty Island. Three thoroughfares that stemmed from the Admiralty were completed - Nevsky Prospect, Gorokhovaya street and Voznesensky Prospect. The reign of Catherine II spanned four decades (1762-1796) and saw the emergence of Russia as a truly great European power. She was a woman of considerable culture and a great patron of the arts. Many of St.Petersburg greatest architectural masterpieces - including the Winter Palace, the Smolny Cathedral, the St.Nicholas Cathedral, the Marble Palace, the Admiralty, the Stock Exchange House - were completed during her reign. On Catherine's death in 1796, her son Paul became the Tsar. He detested his mother and everything connected with her, and immediately set about reversing most of her policies. Nevertheless works of reconstruction of the central part of the city and the suburbs continued during his reign. As the Emperor Pavel I was always in terror of a plot, he ordered to erect the Mikhailovsky Palace with many passages, levels, and rooms. On November 1 1800 the Palace became the official residence of the Emperor's family, however after his assassination by the plotters the Emperor's family came back to the Winter Palace.
In 1801, after Paul was strangled to death, Alexander I came to power. His reign was dominated by the foreign affairs and, in particular, the immenent conflict with Europe's dictator, Napoleon. Russia's victory in 1812 was reflected in the new uplift of construction works in the city on the Neva: the Kazan Cathedral, the Mikhailovsky Palace, and the Alexander theatre, buildings of Senate and Synod, the General Staff building and the Palace Square ensemble were accomplished, the construction of St. Isaac's Cathedral was begun. The death of Alexander I and the accession of Nicholas I to the throne were complicated by dramatic political events. In December 1825 the growing city went through the dynastic crisis, known as the Decembrist Uprising. That day the Guards' regiments headed by plotters refused to swear to the new Tsar. This first armed insurrection against the autocracy and serfdom in Russia bitterly was suppressed. The period of Nicholas I reign was epitomized by the slogan "Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Natioanlity" and was characterized by the stormy growth of industry that brought about the extensive development of the Capital. Saint Petersburg acquired new features typical of capitalism epoch. The city appearance became more complicated, multifaceted and contradictory. Private housing development was in the up and up filling empty plots of land in the city centre with more buildings. During this time the squares near railroad stations were formed, the revamping of port facilities were completed, and a lot of industrial buildings were erected. The next Tsar Alexander II (1855-1881) did push through a number of reforms which represented a significant break in the past, but the new Tsar Alexander III was not inclined to institute any political changes, though his reign brought considerable economic and social changes to Russia, and the city's development continued. In Petersburg huge factories sprang up in the suburbs, drawing in more and more peasants from the countryside, which resulted in the creation of an increasingly large urban working class. When Alexander III died in 1894, the throne passed to his son, Nicholas II (1894-1917), the last Russian Tsar.
During the reign of Nicholas II Russia waged a number of wars that happened to be extremely hard for the Country as well as for St. Petersburg, which by the beginning of the 20th century became a European city in the proper sense of the word: the city industry produced nearly everything from the most up-to date arms to any products of light industry; the construction works continued and the city grew rapidly with the new buildings, dozens of bridges connecting numerous islands, railway lines linking the capital to different parts of the country's regions and to European countries. In the 20th century the city became the center of all Russian innovations and endured such tragic periods as the World War I, during which the city was renamed into Petrograd, and the October Coup inspired by the Bolsheviks headed by V. Lenin on November 6-7 1917, when the political system in Russia was changed. The Smolny, the Cruiser Aurora and the Field of Mars are the symbols of those days, when all private properties were nationalized, thousands of workers from industrial outskirts moved to central apartments, breaking their functional structure as well as the structures of the central residential houses. During these years the Bolsheviks sold out to foreign countries a lot of national treasures, sacred objects that belonged to church, that had been created and cherished for many centuries. Lenin died in 1924 and the city was renamed into Leningrad to immortalize his name. The Great Patriotic War (1941-1945) and 900 days Siege was the most tragic period for the city, when about a million of civilians perished from cold, hunger and bombardments; the monuments of history and culture and the suburban palace complexes were ruined. Despite this the city outstood, but being seriously damaged (only 25% of industrial plants and machinery survived in the city) by the fascist bombing, it was fully restored by 1950-1960. The memorial ensemble of the Victory Square was established that time. The "Oktyabrsky" concert hall, the "Yubileiny" Palace of Sport, the "Moskva" hotel, the "Pulkovskaya" hotel, the "Pulkovo" airport, and the Sport and Concert Hall are the biggest buildings that appeared during this period. In 1979 Saint Petersburg began to erect the flood protection dam and association facilities, the construction and renovation works of which still continue. Today Saint-Petersburg (the name was returned to the city in 1991) is a beatiful city, both stagnant and progressive, with the traces of different historic eras, beginning from 1703, the date of its birth. Several generations, political regimes and economic systems have changed, the city's spirit is kept intact.