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St. Petersburg of Peter the Great

The Twelve Colleges Building in St. Petersburg

The first years of St. Petersburg's history saw an amazing transition from a swampy scarcely populated land to a fine European capital. The first structure to be built in the new city was the Peter and Paul fortress. Designed to protect the area from the attacks of the Swedish army and navy, the fort did not take part in actual fighting. However, the area was well protected militarily as the Admiralty complex was also fortified. The Admiralty was a center of different activities of St. Petersburg. The most powerful ships of Russia's Baltic Fleet were built there, which led to a series of naval victories in the course of the Northern War. Many of the street and district names in St. Petersburg still remind us of Peter the Great's war preparations ( Liteiny - "the Foundry yard", Smolny - "the Tar yard", which produced tar for shipbuilding, etc.).

Tzar Peter the Great originally lived in a tiny cabin, which became known as the Cabin of Peter the Great. Soon a Summer Palace was built for him (1714) and a Winter Palace just a bit down the river. There were no bridges across the mighty Neva River and people had to be ferried across by boat (this is why they call St. Petersburg "the Venice of the North").

Trinity Square in St. Petersburg

The original downtown was formed in the area between the fortress and the Cabin of Peter the Great, the place which later became the Trinity Square ( Troitskaia Ploschad'). The focal point of the downtown was the first church of the city - the Trinity Church. Houses for the local elite, a first Gostiny Dvor (a market for the local and visiting merchants) and several inns and bars were built. Most of the high class social events (receptions, balls, etc.) took place either in the Summer Gardens or in the palace of the Governor General of St. Petersburg - the luxurious Menshikov Palace.

Very few buildings from the early 18th century have survived: many were torn down or remodeled. The building of the "Twelve Colleges" and the Kikin House might give you an impression of what the original city looked like. Many of the original buildings in the city were built according to a number of typical designs, approved by the tzar. Some buildings of the downtown still bear the stamp of this early architecture.

When Peter the Great died in 1725, his wife Catherine assumed power and then the rulers started changing every few years, overthrowing one another. Meanwhile the city experienced a short decline. For a short period (in the late 1720s) the royal court was moved back to Moscow. Many of the nobility and merchants, forced by Peter the Great to move to St. Petersburg, now chose to leave the city. The city was fully revived only when Peter's daughter Elizabeth became Empress in 1741. Elizabethan St. Petersburg became a lively European capital and its population reached 150 thousand.

Next Topic: Elizabethan St. Petersburg - a city of Baroque grandeur

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