Saint Petersburg (Russian: Санкт-Петербург, tr. Sankt-Peterburg,) is a city and a federal subject (a federal city) of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. In 1914 the name of the city was changed from Saint Petersburg to Petrograd (Russian: Петроград, IPA: [pʲɪtrɐˈgrat]), in 1924 to Leningrad (Russian: Ленинград, IPA: [lʲɪnʲɪnˈgrat]), and in 1991, back to Saint Petersburg.
In Russian literature, informal documents, and discourse, the “Saint” (Санкт-) is usually omitted, leaving Petersburg (Петербург, Peterburg). In common parlance Russians may drop “-burg” (-бург) as well, referring to it as Pieter (Питер, Russian: [ˈpʲitʲɪr]).
Saint Petersburg was founded by the Tsar Peter the Great on May 27 1703. From 1713 to 1728 and from 1732 to 1918, Saint Petersburg was the Imperial capital of Russia. In 1918 the central government bodies moved from Saint Petersburg (then named Petrograd) to Moscow. It is Russia’s second largest city after Moscow with 5 million inhabitants (2012) and the fourth most populated federal subject. Saint Petersburg is a major European cultural center, and also an important Russian port on the Baltic Sea.
Saint Petersburg is often described as the most Western city of Russia, as well as its cultural capital. It is the northernmost city in the world to have a population of over five million. The Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Saint Petersburg is also home to The Hermitage, one of the largest art museums in the world. A large number of foreign consulates, international corporations, banks and other businesses are located in Saint Petersburg.
Saint Petersburg is home to numerous parks and gardens, some of the most famous of which are situated in the southern suburbs, including one of the largest English gardens in Europe in Pavlovsk. Sosnovka is the largest park within the limits of the city proper, occupying 240 ha. The Summer Garden is the oldest one, dating back to the early 18th century and designed in the regular style. It is situated on the southern bank of the Neva at the head of the Fontanka and is famous for its cast iron railing and marble sculptures.
Among other notable parks are the Maritime Victory Park on Krestovsky Island and the Moscow Victory Park in the south, both commemorating the victory over Nazi Germany in the Second World War, as well as the Central Park of Culture and Leisure occupying Yelagin Island and the Tauride Garden around the Tauride Palace. The most common trees grown in the parks are the English oak, Norway maple, green ash, silver birch, Siberian larch, blue spruce, crack willow, limes, and poplars. Important dendrological collections dating back to the 19th century are hosted by the Saint Petersburg Botanical Garden and the Park of the Forestry Academy.
The 18th and 19th-century architectural ensemble of the city and its environs is preserved in virtually unchanged form. For various reasons (including large-scale destruction during World War II and construction of modern buildings during the postwar period in the largest historical centers of Europe), Saint Petersburg has become a unique reserve of European architectural styles of the past three centuries. Saint Petersburg’s loss of capital city status helped the city to retain many of its pre-revolutionary buildings, as modern architectural ‘prestige projects’ tended to be built in Moscow; this largely prevented the rise of mid-to-late-20th-century architecture and helped maintain the architectural appearance of the historic city center.
Saint Petersburg is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list as an area with 36 historical architectural complexes and around 4000 outstanding individual monuments of architecture, history and culture. New tourist programs and sightseeing tours have been developed for those wishing to see Saint Petersburg’s cultural heritage.
The Small Italian Skylight Room in the Hermitage Museum
The city has 221 museums, 2000 libraries, more than 80 theaters, 100 concert organizations, 45 galleries and exhibition halls, 62 cinemas and around 80 other cultural establishments. Every year the city hosts around 100 festivals and various competitions of art and culture, including more than 50 international ones.
Despite the economic instability of the 1990s, not a single major theatre or museum was closed in Saint Petersburg; on the contrary many new ones opened, for example a private museum of puppets (opened in 1999) is the third museum of its kind in Russia, where collections of more than 2000 dolls are presented including ‘The multinational Saint Petersburg’ and ‘Pushkin’s Petersburg’. The museum world of Saint Petersburg is incredibly diverse. The city is not only home to the world-famous Hermitage Museum and The Russian State Museum with its rich collection of Russian art, but also the palaces of Saint Petersburg and its suburbs, so-called small town museums and others like the museum of famous Russian writer Dostoyevsky; Museum of Musical Instruments, the museum of decorative arts and the museum of professional orientation.
The musical life of Saint Petersburg is rich and diverse, with the city now playing host to a number of annual carnivals.
Ballet performances occupy a special place in the cultural life of Saint Petersburg. The Petersburg School of Ballet is deservedly named as one of the best in the world. Traditions of the Russian classical school have been passed down from generation to generation among outstanding educators. The art of famous and prominent Saint Petersburg dancers like Rudolf Nureyev, Natalia Makarova, Mikhail Baryshnikov was, and is, admired throughout the world. Contemporary Petersburg ballet is made up not only of traditional Russian classical school, but also ballets by those like Boris Eifman’s, who expanded the scope of strict classical Russian ballet to almost unimaginable limits. Remaining faithful to the classical basis (he was a choreographer in Vaganova Academy of Dance), he combined classical ballet with the avant-garde style, and then, in turn, with acrobatics, rhythmic gymnastics, dramatic expressiveness, cinema, color, light, and finally with spoken word.
With a packed cultural program and a large number of world heritage sites, as well as a developing tourist infrastructure, Saint Petersburg has become among the world’s leading centers of culture and tourism.