A walking tour of Saint Petersburg, Russia is a great way to begin to learn about this city. But before we begin that tour, let’s look at a brief history of this city.
History of Saint Petersburg
The history of Saint Petersburg began when it was founded in 1703 by Peter the Great. He wanted a better seaport for the country so during the Great Northern War he captured the area. He built a new fortress and called it the Peter and Paul Fortress. The fortress, located on the Neva River which runs through Saint Petersburg, is one of the top visitor attractions in Saint Petersburg.
In 1712, Peter the Great moved the capital of Russia from Moscow to Saint Petersburg. The city remained the capital until 1917 after the Russian Revolution. At that time, Vladimir Lenin moved it back to Moscow fearing a foreign invasion in Saint Petersburg.
The city has gone through many name changes. Under Russian rule, it was first Saint Petersburg. After the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the city was renamed Petrograd. Then in 1924, the name was changed again. This time to Leningrad. Finally, in 1991, the name was changed back to Saint Petersburg or Sankt-Peterburg in Russian.
Saint Petersburg Today
Saint Petersburg today is a city of approximately 5 million inhabitants. It’s an important Russian port on the Baltic Sea and is considered Russia’s cultural capital. And that’s why tourists flock to this city.
The Venice of the North
Peter the Great wanted Saint Petersburg to be a city much like Amsterdam or Venice. He wanted canals instead of streets. So he created what has become known as “The Venice of the North.” The city retains that look today. Boats cruise the canals filled with tourists going under bridges as they do in Venice but using boats that don’t look as romantic as those in Venice.
With all of these waterways, Saint Petersburg has hundreds of bridges. In fact, there are 342 bridges. These bridges come in all shapes and sizes from small bridges for pedestrians to the large bridges that are a part of the transportation system of the city.
Many of the canals give access to the Neva River. We’ll begin our walk today near the Neva River and in front of a very famous statue.
The Bronze Horseman
The Bronze Horseman is a statue of Peter the Great. Catherine the Great commissioned the statue as a tribute to Peter and to tie her legacy to Peter’s. The statue took 12 years to finish and was completed in 1782.
In the picture above, you see Peter the Great on a horse. His arm is pointed toward the Neva River and his horse is trampling a serpent which can represent treason or his enemies. The Bronze Horseman is on a block of granite taken from the Gulf of Finland that weighs 1,790 tons and is called the Thunderstone.
The statue is located in Senate Square. It was in this square in 1825 that an unsuccessful coup by Russian military officers took place during the inauguration of Tsar Nicholas I. The leaders were rounded up, some executed, and others exiled to Siberia thus ending Russia’s first revolution.
Saint Isaac’s Cathedral
Saint Issac’s Cathedral is the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in the city. A picture of Saint Isaac’s, taken from Saint Isaac’s Square, is the featured image of this post. You can see its golden dome from throughout the city. The cathedral, completed in 1858, took 40 years to construct.
The Admiralty Building
The Admiralty Building sits in the center of Saint Petersburg where three of the city’s main streets converge. One of Peter the Great’s priorities was to create a navy. The Admiralty Building was constructed in the early 1700’s and was part of a fortified shipyard for his navy. Today it is still a part of the Russian Navy.
The Palace Bridge
Construction of this bridge started in 1912 but World War I delayed its completion. In the picture below it is decorated with flags for the 2018 World Cup. Some of the games are being played in Saint Petersburg.
During the day, the Palace Bridge is a road and foot traffic bridge. During the night it is raised as are other drawbridges on the Neva River to allow seafaring traffic through.
The Kazan Cathedral
The Kazan Cathedral is also known as the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan. The cathedral is located on Nevsky Prospekt, the main street in Saint Petersburg. Construction started in 1801 with completion in 1811. The architect modeled the building after Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Building a Russian Orthodox Church in the likeness of a Catholic basilica was strongly disapproved by the Russian Orthodox leaders. But in the end, the architect had his way.
The Church on Spilled Blood
And you’re thinking “How did a church ever get that name?” Here’s how it happened. It was on this spot Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in 1881. Two years later work was started on the church by his successor Alexander III to serve as a memorial to his father. The Imperial family and private donations provided funding for the construction of the church.
The Cabin of Peter the Great
Located on the other side of the Neva River not far from the Peter and Paul Fortress is the Cabin of Peter the Great. It was built in 1703 and only took three days to complete. Catherine the Great had a protected brick shell built around it, and that is how visitors see it today.
I hope you have enjoyed this walk past some of the highlights of Saint Petersburg. In future posts, we’ll go inside some of these historic sites to learn more and to see their beauty.
I’ve found one of the best ways to get an introduction to a city is to take a walking tour. While there are many different tours in cities throughout the world, the ones we have come to enjoy are the “free” walking tours. Yes, most things are not free in this world, but these tour guides are hopeful people will tip them at the end. And the guides are well versed in the history of their city.
When planning a trip, you can search for free walking tours in the city of your choice. The one we start with is the Free Walking Tours Worldwide. We’ve had many great tours in European cities using this group. It’s a great way to learn more and to also meet other English speaking people from other countries throughout the world.