5 Faces of St. Petersburg
26 May, 2017
St. Petersburg is world-renowned for its architectural beauty, unique history, and impressive literary heritage. But how did the city get its wonderful reputation? From Peter the Great himself to the peerless Dostoevsky, find out who made St. Petersburg the city it is today.
1) Peter the Great (1672 – 1725)
How can we talk about St. Petersburg without mentioning its founder? Although he became Tsar when he was only ten years old, Peter didn’t let this stop him from travelling extensively. In 1697, under an assumed name, he travelled all over Europe to study seafaring and came into contact with European traditions. This journey helped Peter the Great gain knowledge, experience, and practical skills. Moreover, he realised that he should use his new skills and experience to make Russia just as influential as the great powers of Europe. And so he did! On 27th May 1703, he laid down the first stone of the Peter and Paul Fortress on Hare Island (Заячий остров), and St. Petersburg was born. The Tsar moved the capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg, which soon became the ‘Window to the West’ (“окно в Европу”) that he had always dreamed of.
2) Alexander Pushkin (1799 – 1837)
The greatest Russian poet of all time, and certainly the most loved, Pushkin’s presence can be felt everywhere in St. Petersburg. From the galloping Bronze Horseman (Медный всадник) in Senate Square to the statue of the man himself in front of the Russian museum, St. Petersburg is truly Pushkin’s city. However, the great poet was actually born over 400 miles away in Moscow. When he was a teenager, he arrived in the Northern Capital to study, and soon became involved in the lively literary gatherings attended by young intellectuals. A committed social reformer, Pushkin suffered under government censorship and was transferred out of St. Petersburg. Famously, he was killed during a duel, defending his sister’s honour. Pushkin’s funeral took place in his beloved St. Petersburg and you can visit the National Pushkin Museum here (Всероссийский музей А. С. Пушкина) to get a glimpse of the poet’s last home.
3) The Italian Architects (18th – 20th centuries)
St. Petersburg is famous for its baroque, beautiful architecture. The city’s intricately designed, fairy-tale buildings bring masses of tourists here every year and have ensured its title as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When Peter the Great built St. Petersburg, he wanted the new capital to have a distinctly European flavour – in come the Italian architects! Up until the Revolution, Italian architects defined the style of St. Petersburg and made it the beautiful city it is today. Domenico Trezzini (c.1670 – 1734) was the first to be invited and literally set the blueprint of the city in stone. Francesco Rastrelli, Giacomo Quanrenghi, Antonio Rinaldi, and Carlo Rossi, to name a few, transformed St. Petersburg and the city would certainly be a very different place without its stunning Italian buildings.
4) Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821 – 1881)
A byword for literary complexity and psychological debate, you can see why the labyrinthine city of St. Petersburg was the perfect muse for the great writer. Like Pushkin, Dostoevsky was born in Moscow and was attracted to St. Petersburg by the burgeoning literary scene. He too fell foul of the authorities and was exiled to Siberia. After a few years abroad, Dostoevsky returned to St. Petersburg and it is here where he died. His legacy is monumental – Crime and Punishment (Преступление и наказание), The Idiot (Идиот), and The Brothers Karamazov (Братья Карамазовы) all provide a in-depth analysis of the human psyche and comment on Russia’s social condition. Walking the streets of the city, you can almost see the tortured Raskolnikov stalking the alleys or imagine the ordeals of poor Prince Myshkin.
5) The Citizens of Leningrad
The siege of Leningrad (Блокада Ленинграда) was the most harrowing period of St. Petersburg’s history and one of the most devastating sieges of all time. For 872 days, the city was surrounded by German forces that cut off all supplies. Disease, bombardment, and starvation ravaged St. Petersburg and were responsible for over a million deaths. The siege was a truly horrific time that pushed humanity to its extreme. It was lifted on 27 January 1944, and the inhabitants who died are remembered thanks to monuments, museums, and cemeteries honouring their memory. The State Memorial Museum of the Defense and Siege of Leningrad reveals their hardships and heroism, and the Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad pays tribute to the civilians.
So there you have it – 5 people who irrevocably changed the face of the city. Please take a look at the Liden & Denz blog for more information about St. Petersburg!
This post was brought to you by Tilly Hicklin, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz, St. Petersburg.