Saint-Petersburg was founded on 27 May 1703 by Russian Tsar Peter the Great on the territory reclaimed from Sweden. The city was named after the Apostle Saint Peter. Its initial name "SanktPiterburh" was meant to imitate the Dutch pronunciation of the phrase "Sint Petersburg".
The new city was being built during the course of the Northern War with Sweden (1700-1721), that is why the first building which marked its foundation was the Peter-and-Paul Fortress. The place chosen for it was the Zayachy Island (the Island of Enisaari) on the Neva delta, several kilometers from the Gulf of Finland. The day when it was laid is deemed as an official birthday of Saint-Petersburg.
As the city was extending beyond the fortress and along the Neva River, the swamps on the Neva delta were drained. Construction works were supervised by foreign civil engineers, invited to Russia by Peter the Great. In order to speed up the erection of stone buildings in Saint-Petersburg, Peter the Great banned this type of housebuilding elsewhere in Russia. Every cart owner coming to the city had to pay specific "stone tax": it meant either bringing in a certain number of stones or paying in cash. Peasants who were to serve as the work force were sent here from all over the surrounding area.
One of the most remarkable events in the history of a new city was the arrival of the first merchant ship from Holland to its port in November 1703. The skipper of the ship was given 500 gold coins, and the Tsar promised to award 300 gold coins to the second ship and 150 coins to the third one.
In 1712 the capital of the Russian Empire was transferred from Moscow to Saint-Petersburg, notwithstanding the lack of any official decree by the Tsar; all the public establishments and the Tzar's court were simply moved here in 1712. The world history knows no other examples when the capital of one country (in this case, Russia) would be technically located on the territory of other country (Sweden) for nine years. The city was the official capital until 1918, and the only Russian Emperor who temporary moved it back to Moscow was Peter II. Nowadays Saint-Petersburg is ofter referred to as "the northern capital of Russia".
In 18 and 19 centuries Russian aristocracy built marvellous palaces here, and many of them have been preserved. However, the city was regularly damaged by major floods. The worst flood occured on 7 Novermber 1824, when the river reached 4.21 meters over the usual level. The great flood of 1824 inspired А. S. Pushkin to write his world-famous poem The Bronze Horseman (1834). Other disastrous floods occurred in 1724, 1777 and 1924.
After Alexander II abolished serfdom in Russia (1861), hundreds of poor peasants, freed from bonded labor, fled to Saint-Petersburg. They settled on the outskirts, which stimulated the rapid growth of the city. Thus, by the end of the XIX century, Saint-Petersburg turned into one of the largest industrial centers of Europe.
Saint-Petersburg was built by many world-famous architects, including great Russian specialists. Eventually it became not only the administrative and cultural capital of Russia, but also one of the European cultural centers. The first Russian public museum, Kunstkamera, was opened here in 1719, and in 1724 the Saint-Petersburg Academy of Sciences was founded.
Saint-Petersburg saw the appearance of many progressive developments and innovative technologies. In 1837 the first Russian railway was constructed here. And in 1907 the Nevsky Prospect saw the first motor omnibus, an ansestor of a modern bus.
In 1914, the World War I broke out, and on 18 (31) August 1914 the decision was made by Nicholas II to change the name of the capital (which was considered "too German") to the more Russian equivalent, Petrograd.
A number of significant uprisings and take-overs took place in Saint-Petersburg: the December (Decembrist) Uprising of 1825, the Revolution of 1905-07, the February Revolution of 1917, and, finally, the October Revolution of 1917.
During the October Revolution the Civil War broke out. The proximity of anti-revolutionary armies and unstable political environment forced Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik party, to move to former Russian capital, Moscow (5 March 1918). It could have been meant as a temporary measure, however, since that time Moscow has remained the capital. On 24 January 1924, three days after the death of Lenin, the name of the city was changed to Leningrad in memory of outstanding Bolsheviks' leader.
After Soviet government was moved to Moscow, people started leaving the city in vast numbers. The population of Petrograd in 1920 amounted to merely one third of its population in 1915.
During the course of the World War II the city was fully encircled by German and Finnish troops and suffered a seige which lasted for a total of 900 days, from September 8, 1941 to January 27, 1944. The only route that connected Leningrad with the mainland was the famous "Road of Life" across the Ladoga Lake. In summer people and supplies were carried by water, and in winter - by trucks across the frozen lake. Regular boming and shelling damaged the city severly, however, one out of three trucks managed to enter the besieged city.
An estimated number of people who died during the Siege of Leningrad is 800 000 out of 3 million citizens. Leningrad was the first Soviet city to be honored the status of a "hero city", as a reminder of heroism of its citizens and those who defended it.
The city was nearly ruined during the war, and many buildings were crashed by bombs; besides that, enemy troops virtually pillaged the occupied parts of the area. But during the next decades Leningrad and its suburbs were restored to their original beauty, and Leningrad remained the intellectual and cultural center of the Soviet Union.
On 6 September 1991 the city was given back its original name, Saint-Petersburg.
Today Saint-Petersburg is a unique place, where the European architectural styles of the past three centuries have been preserved. The UNESCO's Worlds Heritage List includes Saint-Petersburg as a territory with 36 complex ensembles, featuring about 4000 magnificent architectural, historical and cultural monuments. There are 221 museums, 2000 libraries, over 80 theatres, 100 concert halls, 45 art galleries, 62 cinemas, 80 clubs and recreation centers, etc. in Saint-Petersburg. The city hosts about 100 different art festivals and contests a year, including more than 50 international events.
The sustaining growth of cultural tourism, preserving world heritage objects, developing new travel and tourism programs, giving access to new sights and areas, and a wide variety of great cultural events, together with rapidly developing tourism infrastructure, make Saint-Petersburg one of the world's most attractive cities in terms of culture and tourism.