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Founding of St. Petersburg

Founding of St. Petersburg

Founded by Tsa Peter the Great on May 27, 1703, Saint Petersburg was capital of the Russian Empire for more than two hundred years (1712-1728, 1732-1918). St. Petersburg ceased being the capital in 1918 after the Russian Revolution of 1917.

On May 1, 1703, Peter the Great took the Swedish fortress of Nyenskans and the city Nyen, on the Neva river. Tsar Peter the Great founded the city on May 27, 1703 (May 16, Old Style) after reconquering the Ingrian land from Sweden in the Great Northern War. He named the city after his patron saint, the apostle Saint Peter. The original name Sankt Pieterburg (--, pronounced Sankt Piterburh) was borrowed from Dutch (Modern Dutch Sint Petersburg), because Peter had lived and studied in the Netherlands; he also spent three months in Britain, and was also influenced by his experience in the rest of Europe.

The city was built under adverse weather and geographical conditions. High mortality rate required a constant supply of workers. Peter ordered a yearly conscription of 40,000 serfs, one conscript for every nine to sixteen households. Conscripts had to provide their own tools and food for the journey of hundreds of kilometers, on foot, in gangs, often escorted by military guards and shackled to prevent desertion, yet many escaped, others died from disease and exposure under the harsh conditions.

The new city's first building was the Peter and Paul Fortress, it originally also bore the name of Sankt Pieterburg. It was laid down on Zaiachiy (Hare's) Island, just off the right bank of the Neva, three miles inland from the Gulf. The marshland was drained and the city spread outward from the fortress under the supervision of German and Dutch engineers whom Peter had invited to Russia. Peter restricted the construction of stone buildings in all of Russia outside of St Petersburg, so that all stonemasons would come to help build the new city.

At the same time Peter hired a large number of engineers, architects, shipbuilders, scientists and businessmen from all countries of Europe. Substantial immigration of educated professionals eventually turned St. Petersburg into a much more cosmopolitan city than Moscow and the rest of Russia. Peter's efforts to push for modernisation in Moscow and the rest of Russia were completely misunderstood by the old-fashioned Russian Nobility, and eventually failed, causing him much trouble with opposition, including several attempts on the Tsar's life and the treason involving his own son.

Peter moved the capital from Moscow to Saint Petersburg in 1712, 9 years before the Treaty of Nystad. Called the "window to Europe", it was a seaport and also a base for Peter's navy, protected by the fortress of Kronstadt. The first person to build a home in Saint Petersburg was Cornelis Cruys, commander of the Baltic Fleet. Inspired by Venice and Amsterdam, Peter the Great proposed boats and coracles as means of transport in his city of canals. Initially there were only 12 permanent bridges over smaller waterways, while the Bolshaya Neva was crossed by boats in the summertime and by foot or horse carriages during winter. A pontoon bridge over Neva was built every summer.

Peter was impressed by Versailles and other palaces in Europe. His official palace of a comparable importance in Peterhof was the first suburban palace permanently used by the Tsar as the primary official residence and the place for official receptions and state balls. The waterfront palace, Monplaisir, and the Great Peterhof Palace were built between 1714 and 1725. In 1716, Prussia's King presented a gift to Tsar Peter: the Amber Room.

Aleksandr Danilovich Menshikov, Peter's best friend, was the first Governor General of Saint Petersburg Governorate in 1703-1727.

In 1724 St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences was established in the city. After the death of Peter the Great, Menshikov was arrested and exiled to Siberia. In 1728 Peter II of Russia moved the capital back to Moscow, but 4 years later, in 1732, St. Petersburg again became the capital of Russia and remained the seat of the government for about two centuries. St. Petersburg prospered under the rule of two most powerful women in Russian history. Peter's daughter, Empress Elizabeth, reigned from 1740 to 1762, without a single execution in 22 years. She cut taxes, downsized government, and was known for masqerades and festivities, amassing a wardrobe of about 12 thousand dressess, most of them now preserved as museum art pieces. She supported the Russian Academy of Sciences and completed both the Winter Palace and the Summer Palace, which then became residencies of Empress Catherine the Great, who reigned for 34 years, from 1762 to 1796. Under her rule, which exemplified that of an enlightened despot, more palaces were built in St. Petersburg than in any other capital in the world.

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