Little Bits of History

St. Pete

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 27, 2013
Peter the Great

Peter the Great

May 27, 1703: Tsar Peter the Great founds Saint Petersburg. The Great Northern War was fought 1700-1721 between Sweden and Russia over control of the Baltic Sea. On May 1, 1703, Peter the Great took the Swedish fortress at Nyen on the Neva River. The fort was located at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. To celebrate the victory, the Tsar built a city on the site and named it after his patron saint, the apostle Saint Peter. The city has also been called Petrograd (1914-1924) and Leningrad (1924-1991). It is often called simply Petersburg or informally, Peter.

Dostoevsky called the city “premeditated.” It was built under adverse conditions. The land itself is relatively new and was known for “devastating floods, abominable winds, and mosquitoes.” To build here was ludicrous. The mortality rate was high and 40,000 serfs were conscripted yearly, one for every 9 to 16 households. They were forced to provide their own tools and food. The men were chained together to deter desertion and marched hundreds of miles on foot. Many managed to escape and more died from disease and exposure.

The first building to be completed was the Peter and Paul Fortress. The marshland was drained and building continued. Peter hired engineers and craftsmen from all over Europe to help build his new city. With the influx of educated foreigners, Saint Petersburg became a very cosmopolitan city. It also became the capital of Russia and remained so for 200 years. Today, 4.5 million people live in Saint Petersburg. The city proper is 234 square miles while the greater metropolitan area, the federal subject, is 556 square miles and includes another 9 suburban towns and 21 municipal settlements.

Saint Petersburg is a city of bridges. The area includes 64 rivers and 48 canals with 800 bridges spanning them (more bridges than even Venice boasts). It is the largest European city not a capital and the 4th largest after Paris, Moscow, and London. There are more than 250 museums in Petersburg. There are more than 80 theaters, about 1,800 libraries (most in schools but 190 national public libraries included). There are over 3,000 culture and performing groups and clubs and almost 80 recreational centers. There are over 100 concert organizations. It is truly a cosmopolitan city with much to see and do.

“Old St Petersburg remains a beautiful stage set but to the Russians it is not what Rome is to the Italians or Paris to the French. The decisions are made in the Kremlin. The city of Peter remains a museum, open from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM.” – Joseph Wechsberg

“The duality of St Petersburg and Leningrad remains. They are not even on speaking terms.” – Joseph Wechsberg

“[Leningrad] sits astride the Neva, frozen in time, a haunting mélange of pale hues, glorious façades and teeming ghosts.” – Serge Schmemann

“I have conquered an empire but I have not been able to conquer myself.” – Peter The Great

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Peter the Great was born in 1682 and was of the House of Romanov. He ruled the Tsardom of Russia and later the Russian Empire beginning in 1682, just before his tenth birthday. Feodor III was sickly and weak and took over the rule in 1676 when Tsar Alexis, their father, died. Feodor died in 1682 and was childless. Ivan V was really next in line but he was both sick in mind and body. Since he was unfit for rule, it was then that ten year old Peter was selected to be co-head of state. Until 1696 when Ivan died, the rule was held jointly by Peter and his half-brother. Peter would eventually marry twice and father 14 children with his wives. Only three of them survived to adulthood. His oldest son, Alexei, was suspected of trying to overthrow his father and under torture confessed. He died, probably of his injuries from being tortured, before he could be executed.

Also on this day No More Burnt Toast – In 1919 a toaster with a timer is patented.
Model T & A – In 1927, Ford Motor Co. began the switch from Model T to Model A.
Centralia – In 1962, a fire that is still burning was started.