|Saint Petersburg in winter|
So what would make me come to such a frozen wasteland? Well, Petersburg currently the fifth largest city in Europe and the population is very close to the one million mark. It is the largest city in Russia and the center not only of government, but of culture. This is a very modern and international city. Overshadowed Moscow will tell you that Saint Petersburg is the least Russian spot in Russia.
|Peter the Great|
Northwest of Moscow was the Bay of Neva just south of Finland in a land called Ingria. It was sparsely populated but Russia and Sweden had been fighting over it for centuries. In 1703 Peter took Ingria from Sweden and built a fort on the island at the mouth of the Neva River. He named it Peter and Paul Fortress in honor of the feast day it was founded. Paul got dropped from the city name, Saint Peter being the namesake of the Tzar was only coincidence.
Tzar Peter wanted more than just a fort, so tens of thousands of peasants were conscripted to fill in the marsh and build a city. It’s estimated 40,000 died in the project. Rather than using Russian architects, Peter hired ones from all over Europe to build in the Baroque-style that was popular at the time. He also brought in scientists and businessmen. Petersburg was going to be more than a port. Peter moved the capital there, and created a cultural center.
|Saint Petersburg winter taxi|
A couple of streets over is the Dutch Quarter. There are also Germans, Finns, Swedes, Poles, Lithuanians, Tartars, Siberians and of course Russians. Since the emancipation of the serfs, peasants have flooded into St. Petersburg hoping to make a better life for themselves. Most failed, which is why they revolted in 1917.
As I said, Petersburg is the cultural center of Russia. It is the home of writers, composers, artists and one of the best known ballet companies in the world. I have come at this least welcoming season to record the premier of Tchaikovsky’s ballet Sleeping Beauty in a couple of days. Maybe the natives spend so much time visiting museums, attending performances and reading because they want to stay in where it is warm!
|Map of Saint Petersburg as it looked in 1890|