Saint Petersburg is a city and a federal subject (a federal city) of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. In 1914 the name of the city was changed to Petrograd, in 1924 to Leningrad and in 1991 back to Saint Petersburg.
Peter the Great was interested in seafaring and maritime affairs, and he aimed to have Russia gain an ability to take to the seas, so it could trade with other maritime nations. In order to do so, he needed a better seaport than Arkhangelsk, which was on the White Sea to the north.
On May 12 1703, during the Great Northern War, Peter the Great captured Nyenskans, and soon set about replacing that fortress. On May 27 1703, closer to the estuary (5 km/3 miles inland from the gulf), on Zayachy (Hare) Island, he laid down the Peter and Paul Fortress, which became the first brick and stone building of the new city.
During the first few years of its existence the city grew spontaneously around Trinity Square on the right bank of the Neva, near the Peter and Paul Fortress. However, Saint Petersburg soon started to develop according to a plan. By 1716 Domenico Trezzini had elaborated a project whereby the city centre would be located on Vasilyevsky Island and shaped by a rectangular grid of canals. The project was not completed, but is still evident in the layout of the streets. In 1716 Jean-Baptiste Alexandre Le Blond was appointed chief architect of Saint Petersburg by Peter the Great.
In 1725, Peter died at the age of fifty-two. His push for modernization of Russia had met opposition from the Russian nobility — resulting in several attempts on his life and a treason case involving his own son. Thus, in 1728, Peter II of Russia moved his seat back to Moscow. But four years later, in 1732, under Empress Anna of Russia, Saint Petersburg again became the capital of the Russian Empire. It remained the seat of the Romanov Dynasty and the Imperial Court of the Russian Tzars, as well as the seat of the Russian government, for another 186 years until the communist revolution of 1917.
In 1736–1737 the city suffered from catastrophic fires. To rebuild the damaged boroughs, a new plan was commissioned in 1737 by a committee under Burkhard Christoph von Münnich. The city was divided into five boroughs, and the city center was moved to the Admiralty borough, situated on the east bank between the Neva and Fontanka.
The Commission of Stone Buildings of Moscow and Saint Petersburg established in 1762 ruled that no structure in the city be higher than the Winter Palace and prohibited spacing between buildings. During the reign of Catherine the Great in the 1760s–1780s, the banks of the Neva were lined with granite embankments.
However, it was not until 1850 that the first permanent bridge across the Neva, Blagoveshchensky Bridge, was allowed to open. Before that, only pontoon bridges were allowed. Obvodny Canal (dug in 1769–1833) became the southern limit of the city.
The names of saints Peter and Paul, bestowed upon original city's citadel and its cathedral (from 1725 – a burial vault of Russian emperors) coincidentally were mirrored by the names of the first two assassinated Russian Emperors, Peter III (1762, supposedly a conspiracy led by his wife, Catherine the Great) and Paul I (1801, Nicholas Zubov and other conspirators who brought to power Alexander I, the son of their victim). The third emperor's assassination took place in Petersburg in 1881 when Alexander II fell victim of narodniki (see the Church of the Savior on Blood).
During World War I, the city was renamed Petrograd, meaning "Peter's City", to remove the German word "burg."
In March 1917, during the February Revolution Nicholas II abdicated both for himself and on behalf of his son, thus putting an end to the Russian monarchy and over three hundred years of Romanov dynastic rule.
On 7 November 1917, the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, stormed the Winter Palace in an event known thereafter as the Great October Socialist Revolution, which led to the end of the post-Tsaristprovisional government, the transfer of all political power to the Soviets, and the rise of the Communist Party. After that the city acquired a new descriptive name, "the city of three revolutions" which recalls the fact that all these three major developments in the political history of Russia of the early 20th century occurred here.
In September and October 1917, the German troops invaded the West Estonian archipelago thus threatening Petrograd with bombardment and invasion. Thus on March 12, 1918, the Soviets transferred the government to Moscow. During the ensuing Civil War in 1919 general Yudenich advancing from Estonia repeated the attempt to capture the city, but Leon Trotsky mobilised the army and forced him to retreat.
On January 26, 1924, five days after Lenin's death, Petrograd was renamed Leningrad. Later some streets and other toponyms were renamed accordingly. The city has over 230 places associated with the life and activities of Lenin. Some of them were turned into museums, as well as cruiser Aurora – a symbol of the October Revolution and the oldest ship in the Russian Navy.
During World War II, Leningrad was besieged by German forces. The siege lasted 872 days from September 1941 to January 1944. The Siege of Leningrad was one of the longest, most destructive, and most lethal sieges of a major city in modern history. It isolated the city from most supplies except those provided through the Road of Life across Lake Ladoga, and more than a million civilians died, mainly from starvation. Many others were eventually evacuated or escaped by themselves, so the city became largely depopulated.
- The Peter and Paul Cathedral is a Russian Orthodox cathedral located inside the Peter and Paul Fortress. It is the first and oldest landmark in St. Petersburg, built between 1712 and 1733 on Zayachy Island along the Neva River. Both the cathedral and the fortress were originally built under Peter the Great and designed by Domenico Trezzini. The cathedral's bell tower is the world's tallest Orthodox bell tower. Since the belfry is not standalone, but an integral part of the main building, the cathedral is sometimes considered the highest Orthodox Church in the world.
- The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is one of the main sights of St. Petersburg. It is also variously called the Church on Spilt Blood and the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ, its official name. This Church was built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated and was dedicated in his memory. Construction began in 1883 under Alexander III, as a memorial to his father, Alexander II. Work progressed slowly and was finally completed during the reign of Nicholas II in 1907. Funding was provided by the Imperial family with the support of many private donors.
- The Saint Petersburg Mosque when opened in 1913, was the largest mosque in Russia, its minarets attaining 49 meters in height and the impressive dome rising 39 meters high. The mosque is situated in downtown St Petersburg, so its azure dome is perfectly visible from the Trinity Bridge across the Neva. It can accommodate up to five thousand worshippers. The founding stone was laid in 1910 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the reign of Abdul Ahat Khan in Bukhara. By that time, the Muslim community of the Russian capital exceeded 8,000 people. The projected structure was capable of accommodating most of them. The architect Nikolai Vasilyev patterned the mosque after Gur-e Amir, the tomb of Tamerlane in Samarkand. Its construction was completed by 1921.
- Saint Isaac's Cathedral or Isaakievskiy Sobor is the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral (sobor) in the city. It is dedicated to Saint Isaac of Dalmatia, a patron saint of Peter the Great, who had been born on the feast day of that saint. The church on St Isaac's Square was ordered by Tsar Alexander I, to replace an earlier Rinaldiesque structure, and was the fourth consecutive church standing at this place. A specially appointed commission examined several designs, including that of the French-born architect Auguste de Montferrand (1786–1858), who had studied in the atelier of Napoleon's designer, Charles Percier. Montferrand's design was criticised by some members of the commission for the dry and allegedly boring rhythm of its four identical pedimented octastyle porticos. It was also suggested that despite gigantic dimensions, the edifice would look squat and not very impressive. The emperor, who favoured the ponderous Empire style of architecture, had to step in and solve the dispute in Montferrand's favour. The cathedral took 40 years to construct, under Montferrand's direction, from 1818 to 1858.
- The Winter Palace was, from 1732 to 1917, the official residence of the Russian monarchs. Situated between the Palace Embankment and the Palace Square, adjacent to the site of Peter the Great's original Winter Palace, the present and fourth Winter Palace was built and altered almost continuously between the late 1730s and 1837, when it was severely damaged by fire and immediately rebuilt. The alleged storming of the palace in 1917 as depicted in Soviet paintings and Eisenstein's 1927 film "October" became an iconic symbol of the Russian Revolution.