The star of cities, the city of the tsars
Saint Petersburg lays out its string of palaces and museums along the Neva River. Its lavish architectural wealth is best discovered step by step.
Three centuries ago, Tsar Peter the Great named Saint Petersburg the capital of Russia, and he sought to make it sumptuous. In turn, his successors never ceased to embellish it. Thus Saint Petersburg has become one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. You will love it in winter, when the Neva is frozen and the palaces are sprinkled with snow, or in summer, during the famous white nights, when the sun, at solstice time, refuses to go to bed. The magic of its colourful palaces, canals, bridges, and churches topped with gilded domes is eternal.
The city, however, has had a troubled history. Born Saint Petersburg, it became Petrograd from 1914-1924, and then Leningrad until 1991, when its original name was restored by referendum. The long siege of the city during the Second World War—nearly one million people died—was tragic. Today, Saint Petersburg has regained all of its allure, leaving Moscow the role of political and economic capital. The city has recovered: its palaces and magnificent mansions have regained their former glory, magnifying the work begun by Peter the Great.
The Tsar, who brought foreign architects to draw up the city plans, was a visionary. His founding act: the Peter and Paul fortress near the mouth of the Neva. He built Peterh of on the Baltic, his summer palace and garden. The empresses and emperors who succeeded him, especially Catherine the Great, followed his lead. We owe to them the Winter Palace, Tsarskoye Selo, Pavlovsk Palace, Smolny Convent, and the Hermitage, with its thousands of paintings. Visit these monuments and museums, for they are all beautiful.
A visit to Saint Petersburg is also an opportunity to discover a part of the Russian soul as expressed by its artists. A number have lived and worked here. Nabokov was born here, the poet Pushkin died here, as did Dostoevsky. This is where Gogol wrote Diary of a Madman. We should also mention its composers: Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, and many more. Writers and musicians still haunt the city and its palaces, which are laden with the legacies of the past.