City Guide: St Petersburg

St Petersburg (Leningrad) - Discovering the Magic of Old Russia

Fast Facts

St Petersburg has many claims to fame. At 59 57' Latitude North, 30 19' Longitude East, it is the northernmost major city in the world, and enjoys the 'white night' phenomenon from May 25th or 26th, to July 16th or 17th. The longest day of the year in St Petersburg is July 22, with 18 hours and 53 minutes of sunlight, versus the shortest day, December 22, with only 5 hours and 52 minutes of sunlight each year.

The city of St Petersburg perches on the Neva River, the cities main waterway. Approximately 74 kilometers long, 32 kilometers of the river flows within the city boundaries and has an average width of 600 meters and depth of up to 24 meters within the boundaries.

The River Neva indeed determines the nature of St Petersburg. Splitting into three, the Bolshaya Neva, the Malaya Neva and the Bolshaya Nevka, it is the Neva that determined the need for bridges in St Petersburg, also earning the city the title, "Venice of the North".

The climate is humid and warm during the summer and cold during the winter. The average temperature during the summer is about 18C, although it does rise to between 25C and 30C on occasion. During the winter, temperatures average -8C, but can drop to -30C.

As of January 2000, St Petersburg housed approximately 3% of Russia total population, with an estimated 4.70 million inhabitants.

An Eye for History

In 1991, the city of Leningrad was once again St Petersburg, as it continued its economic and social transition, from a soviet to a capitalist city. Still a way behind the capital city of Moscow, St Petersburg coped with high unemployment rates for much of the 1990s, as the services and retail sales of the city slowly improved.

The city's namesake, Tsar Peter the Great, was one of the most influential Russian rulers of all time, and he chose the city as his capital. Over the centuries, it has competed with Moscow for political and economic supremacy. Whilst it has become secondary in these respects, St Petersburg undoubtedly surpasses Moscow as the cultural capital of Russia. The sheer number of places to visit - theaters, museums, galleries, landmarks, and shops - is astounding. Planning ahead of time the things you most want to do is advisable. Below is a short list of some of the most popular stops for tourists.

Out and About

1. Alexander Pushkin's Apartment Museum

12, Moika River Embankment

During the last months of his life, writer and poet, Alexander Pushkin lived in the home of the 18th century Biron, a minion of the Empress Anna Ioannovna. His flat was on the ground floor of the building and he moved there in September of 1836.

The apartment museum, aptly named, reconstructs Pushkin's ground floor flat to appear as it did during his time there. Many of his possessions - a table and bookshelves - remain in the apartment. His office and the bed in which he died are also features of the apartment. The poet famously died after a duel in February, 1837, defending the honor of his wife.

2. Cabin of Peter the Great

6, Petrovskaya Embankment

The oldest building in St Petersburg, the Frontal Palace and cabin of Peter the Great is a one-story cottage. On orders from the Tsar, solders built this 60 square meter cottage between May 24th and May 26th, 1703, from pine logs.

Twenty years later, in 1723, Peter ordered a brick encasement around the original logs. The house became a museum in 1930.

3. Central Exhibition Hall Building

1, St. Isaac's Square

The exhibition hall served as a training center for the Life Guard Horse regiment. Built in the classical style, the architecture and interior design are the most compelling aspects of this building. Amongst the most interesting designs are the three bas-reliefs in the main entrance and the statues of the twin sons of Zeus, Castor and Pollux, which stand on high pedestals.

4. Fyodor Dostoevsky's Literary and Memorial Museum

5/2, Kuznechny Pereulok

One of the greatest writers of all time, Fyodor Dostoyevsky was born in Moscow but developed a particular relationship with St Petersburg as a teenager, spending most of his formative years in the city.

After retiring from public service to become a writer, he lived out many of the most significant periods of his career in St Petersburg as well. His last apartment, Kuznechny Pereulok 5/2 is a memorial museum featuring many of the writer's personal belongings. The apartment was also the place in which Dostoyevsky wrote The Karamazov Brothers, amongst his best works.

5. The Pushkin House/ Institute of Russian Literature

4, Makarov Embankment

The Pushkin House, also known as the Institute of Russian Literature, was established as a museum and center for the study of Pushkin's work in 1905.

Today, the museum is home to a great collection of material relating to Russian literature of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, and features exhibitions on some of Russia's leading writers, Pushkin, Lermontov, Tolstoy, and others. Since 1927, the institute has occupied the building of the former St. Petersburg Customs building, notable for its architectural design.

6. Kunstkammer

3, University Embankment

One of the largest ethnographic museums in the world, the Kunstkammer was also the first Russian museum, founded in 1714 by Peter the Great. The Kunstkammer originally featured personal collection of Peter the Great. The museum now houses what is considered a definitive collection of art exploring the genesis of races, the history of primitive societies, and the modern cultural and social attributes of peoples across the globe.

* * *

Since Putin's ascendance to the Russian presidency, St Petersburg, his hometown, has received considerable financial support and attention. Although work is left to be done on many of the buildings, the city is officially "a work in progress". Restoration is underway and the fruits are already there to be enjoyed.

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