With 4.7 million inhabitants, Saint Petersburg is the second largest city in Russia, the fourth largest in Europe. It lies on the delta of the river Neva, on the Baltic Sea. The river with its many canals and bridges is an indelible part of the city's unique atmosphere. For their striking beauty, St Petersburg has been praised as 'Venice of the North'.
Tsar Peter the Great wanted a magnificent capital. Stonemasons from all over the country were summoned to build the new city. The Russian nobility commissioned splendid residences. Tsar Nicholas II renamed the city Petrograd. The revolutions in 1905 and 1917 began there. The city was renamed Leningrad in 1924, within days from the death of Communist leader Vladimir Lenin. German forces besieged it for twenty-nine months during World War II. The population resisted heroically despite the starvation and the misery. The city recovered slowly in the post-war years. Much of its population had perished but St Petersburg remained an intellectual and cultural center. Heavy industry developed: metallurgy, machine building, shipbuilding, chemical industry. The city is a major port on the Baltic Sea.
The Winter Palace in Baroque style is the most important of St Petersburg's palaces. Built for Catherine II, it is enormous in size, luxuriously decorated on the inside, and is now home of the world-famous Hermitage Museum. The museum was founded by Peter the Great and contains one of the richest collections of Western European art in the world: works by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Van Dyck, Rubens, Rembrandt, Poussin, Watteau, Rodin, Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Picasso, Gauguin,and Matisse. A collection of Faberge jewellery can also be seen.
Other magnificent residences are the Summer Palace of Tsar Peter I, the Menshikov Palace, the Vorontsov Palace, the Stroganov Palace and the Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace. The Tauride Palace of Prince Potemkin is a fine example of Neo-Classical architecture. The Marble Palace next to the Hermitage was commissioned by Count Orlov.
The largest church in Saint Petersburg is St Isaac's Cathedral. It is a huge domed structure built in the first half of the 19th Century. The magnificent Kazan Cathedral on Nevsky Prospect was modeled after St Peter's Cathedral in Rome. The Peter and Paul Cathedral contains the sepulchers of Russian emperors, including Peter the Great. Its golden spire dominates the Peter and Paul Fortress where a walk exists on the fortress wall, offering a great view on the Neva. The church of the Savior on Blood is a fine example of the Old Russian Style, the only church in St Petersburg with bulbous spires.
The equestrian statue of Peter the Great, widely known as the Bronze Horseman, in Senate Square is the best known symbol of the city. It is a masterpiece of a French artist, Etienne Maurice Falconet. The Alexander Column that adorns Palace Square is the tallest of its kind in the world. Two triumphal arches remind of the Russian victory over Napoleon.
The Summer Garden was first conceived by Peter the Great, and was executed in Baroque style. The walks were lined with statues, and magnificent fountains were built. Balls, feats and firework displays took place in the park. It is one of the most romantic places in St Petersburg.