St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg
   St. Petersburg (Sankt-Peterburg) is a Russian city situated on the Neva River, which empties into the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. The city was founded in 1703 by Peter the Great as the new capital of the Russian Empire. St. Petersburg (known as Petrograd during World War I) remained the Russian seat of power until 1918, when the Bolsheviks moved the capital to Moscow. In 1924, following the death of Vladimir Lenin, the city was renamed Leningrad. The original name was restored in 1991 as part of the process of de-Sovietization of Russian culture. The name of the surrounding area—Leningrad Oblast—remained in place as a symbol of reconciliation between the Soviet and post-Soviet generations. Informally, the city is known as Piter.
   The city is one of Russia’s federal subjects, and is located in the Northwestern Federal District and Economic Region. Its administrative jurisdiction is 1,439 square kilometers, while the city proper accounts for less than half of this area. The current mayor is Valentina Matviyenko, the only woman governor in the country. The regional government is known as the Legislative Assembly. St. Petersburg is situated far in the north, which results in great variation in the climate. In the summer, the city experiences heat waves, whereas in the winters, the weather can be quite damp and cold. Around the summer solstice, it never becomes totally dark, a natural phenomenon that is colloquially referred to as the “White Nights.” Historically, the city has suffered from serious floods (in the city center, marks indicating past water levels are common and are used as a reminder of previous disasters). Today, a number of architectural barriers have reduced the risk of flooding.
   St. Petersburg is Russia’s second-largest city and one of Europe’s largest metropolises. Approximately 5 million people live in St. Petersburg proper, with another 2 million in its environs. The city is a large industrial center, specializing in shipbuilding, aerospace, software and computers, heavy machinery, and weapons production. St. Petersburg is an important financial center and Russia’s secondlargest center for the construction industry. The city is also home to many international brands, including Baltika beer. The city serves as an important foreign trade gateway; the city’s port connects the rest of Russia to Baltic and Nordic Europe via the Volga-Don Canal. As a tourism destination, cultural capital, and educational center, St. Petersburg is Moscow’s main rival. As a home of the Romanov dynasty, the city boasts an extraordinarily rich history and culture, memorialized in the city’s landscape, architecture, museums, and arts centers. The Hermitage houses the richest collection of art in the world; the Russian Museum specializes in the Russian visual arts; the Kunstkamera, founded by Peter the Great to house collections of curiosities from around the world, is considered to be Russia’s first museum. The royal palaces in the city and its suburbs, such as Tsarskoye Selo, are unique examples of landscape art. A number of world-renowned authors are associated with St. Petersburg, including Aleksandr Pushkin, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anna Akhmatova, and Joseph Brodsky. Russia’s world-famous ballet and avant-garde art originated in the northern capital as well.
   Unlike Moscow, St. Petersburg is characterized by careful city planning, including numerous canals, straight avenues, and wellorchestrated architectural arrangements. The city’s architecture combines baroque, neo-classical, rococo, art nouveau, and modernist styles. Often referred to as the “Northern Venice,” St. Petersburg rivals the Adriatic port in terms of its cultural wealth and an obsession with history. While contemporary Moscow is defined by rapid modernization, sometimes-brutal transformation, and unceasing intensity, St. Petersburg is characterized by preservation, memory, and nostalgia, which is especially ironic given that the city was founded in an attempt to promote modernity.
   Though St. Petersburg was central to Russian history during the Romanov and early Soviet periods, its role was downplayed in the second half of the 20th century, largely as a result of Joseph Stalin’s fear of the city’s tendency to produce political opposition. Compared with Moscow, St. Petersburg is somewhat influenced by provincialism, though this is changing as much of Russia’s current political elite are Petersburgers (both Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvyedev are from the city). In political terms, the history of St. Petersburg is principally linked to monarchy and Bolshevism, as well as to democratization. In fact, many of the social and economic reforms of perestroika were conceived in the northern capital. In the 1990s, St. Petersburg gained the unfortunate title of Russia’s crime capital, partly because of a number of successful crime drama television series such as Banditskii Peterburg; in recent years, the crime rate has decreased dramatically.
   In 2003, the city celebrated its 300th anniversary. Shortly before this, the historical center underwent a full-scale renovation project, and the history of the city was recollected through a number of art projects, including Aleksandr Sokurov’s film Russian Ark, set in the Hermitage. The film celebrates the grandeur of the northern capital as well as anticipates its demise. In 2006, the Group of Eight (G8) summit was held in the city, which served to showcase further beautification projects and promote the role of city’s favorite son, thenPresident Putin.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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