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HOMEHISTORY OF ST. PETERSBURGTHE ST. PETERSBURG OF PETER THE GREAT

The St. Petersburg of Peter the Great

St. Petersburg of Peter the Great, Russia

During the first few years of St. Petersburg's history, the the banks of the Neva saw an amazing transition from a swampy, scarcely populated area to a fine European capital. The first structure to be built in the new city was the Peter and Paul fortress. Althout it was originally designed to protect the area from possible attacks by the Swedish army and navy, the fort did not actually take part in any fighting. Just across the River Neva from the fortress Peter built the fortified Admiralty complex, where the most powerful ships of Russia's Baltic Fleet were built. Many of these vessels were to lead Russia to a great series of naval victories during the course of the Northern War. Many of St. Petersburg's street and district names still remind us today of Peter the Great's preparations for war and the great shipbuilding industry he instituted; Liteiny - meaning "the Foundry yard" and Smolny - "the Tar yard", which produced tar for the purposes of shipbuilding, for example).

Tsar Peter the Great's first residence in the city was a small hut, know now as the Cabin of Peter the Great. As the city developed the Tsar commissioned a Summer Palace to be built for him in 1714 and later a Winter Palace, just a little further down the river. Originally there were no bridges crossing the mighty Neva River and people had to be ferried between banks by boat, one of the reasons why St. Petersburg was given the epithet "the Venice of the North".

The heart of the city was originally intended to be the area between the Peter and Paul Fortress and the Cabin of Peter the Great, which later became known as Trinity Square ('Troitskaia Ploschad'). The focal point of this area was the city's first church - the Trinity Church, and around it houses for the local nobility, a Gostiny Dvor (a market for local and visiting merchants) and several inns and bars were built. Most of the city's prestigious social events (receptions, balls, etc.) took place either in the Summer Gardens or in the residence of the Governor General of St. Petersburg - the luxurious Menshikov Palace.

Unfortunately, very few of the city's buildings from the early 18th century have survived, many havign been torn down or remodeled. The Kikin House, next to Smolny Cathedral, and the University building of the "Twelve Colleges" on Vasilievsky Island give visitors an approximate impression of what the original city looked like.

When Peter the Great died in 1725, his wife Catherine assumed power and the city experienced a short decline while various rulers fought over the throne. 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. St. Petersburg was only fully revived when Peter's daughter Elizabeth became Empress in 1741. Elizabethan St. Petersburg became a lively European capital and its population reached 150,000 people.

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