Saint Petersburg: Universal city, by Evil Ecomakis.  

Every city has something to be proud of. We believe however that St Petersburg is truly an original city. Other cities may be summarised by a few words, such as "city of canals", or "city of lights". But st Petersburg has been described in more ways than any other city: "Window on the West", "Palmira" or "Venice of the North' (as early as 1738 there were already more than 40 bridges over the city's rivers and canals), "Peter's creation", "universal city", "city of Dostoevsky", "cradle of revolution", "hero city" and "city of white nights". St Petersburg was a planned city, a city artificially imposed by man on nature in an inhospitable and scarcely populated corner of the Empire. In 1703, when Tsar Peter I captured the Swedish fortress of Nienshants on the Neva, the place where St Petersburg stands today was a forested and swampy area at the mouth of the Neva river. Here lived a few Finnish and Russian tribes, practising trapping and fishing. This place became the capital of the Russian Empire, a huge centre of the Baltic Sea, one just as important to Northern Europe as the Mediterranean was for the Romans. The population of mSt Petersburg was multinational from the very start. Unlike any other Russian city St Petersburg always had a large number of foreigners living in it: Germans, Jews, Greeks, Finns, Poles and Swedes, among any others. Traditionally, St Petersburg was a city of great religious toleration. On Nevsky Prospect, the city's main street, there are Lutheran, Catholic and Armenian churches. St Petersburg also has a synagogue, a splendid mosque, and Europe's largest Buddhist temple. Rome, center of European civilisation, was the City of Saint Peter. Peter the Great named his city after the same saint. He thus announced Russia's new cultural and historic mission in Europe and the world. St Peterburg's architecture reflects Peter's intention to build a universal city, one in which great historical epochs and styles are represented. Neo-Classical, Baroque, Rococo, Empire style - the list goes on and on. Stand at the Vasilievsky Island Poiny, or near the statue of the Bronze Horseman on the opposite bank of the Neva, and look out the view is breathtaking. There are few cities which can match St petersburg in terms of the variety and beauty of its architecture. The flourishing of culture in Russia, especially in XVIII and XIX centuries had its epicentre in St Petersburg. As the Empire's new capital, St Petersburg became the official residence of the country's higher nobility. That is why arts and culture were focused here. St Petersburg was the place where Russia's first ballet school was opened (1738: the now well-known Vaganova Academy of Russian ballet), where the first professional theatre was founded (1756) and where the first musical society was established (1778). These beginnings were followed in the XIX century by the establishment of the Philharmonic Society (1802), the opening of the Hermitage Museum to the publics (1852), the founding of the Mariinsky Theatre (1860) and Conservatory (1862). St Petersburg was also the home of Russia's first stationary circus (1877). The Academic Phihlarmonic Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1882 by decree of Tsar Alexander III, and was the first permanent symphonic orchestra in Russia. Finally, the country;s first cinema opened here in 1896 (46 Nevsky Prospect). In terms of the other forms of entertainment, Russia's first tennis club was founded in St Petersburg in 1888 and in 1893 the first football game was played here, at the hippodrome (Semenovsky parade-ground). In music, opera and ballet, giant strides were made in St Petersburg by Glazunov, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Prokofiev, among others. In terms of painting, the city produced such fecund and prolific talents as Repin, Roerich and Benois. Outstanding dancers also lived and peformed here: Pavlova, Nijinsky, Karsavina, Ulanove, Makarova, Barishnikov and Nureyev. So did famous choreographers such as Fokine and Petipa. The famous impressario Diaghilev was also a product of St Petersburg. In terms of literature and poetry, the list is long: Pushkin, Lermontov, Nekrasov, Dostoevsky, Sltykov-Shchedrin, Block, Mandelshtam and Brodsky. All of these great writers and poets lived at some point in St Petersburg, and were inspirited by the city. Many of their writings belong to what scholars refer to as "St Petersburg text". If St Petersburg was founded as an administrative centre, it soon became a huge commercial city. By the late XIX century it was one of the Europe's largest ports and industrial capitals. The forces of tradition and historical continuity in St Petersburg were not nearly as pronounced as they were in Moscow, where industry expanded through slow accretion. Here, industrialisation occured abruptly. Futhermore, unlike the entrepreneurs of Moscow, many of whom were Russians from merchant estate, in St Petersburg industrialists included a large number of foreigners. This fact was reflected in the very names of their factories: Lessner, Aivaz, Nobel and Struk, for example. ANd if the industrial working class in Moscow were primarily Russians from Moscow, Yaroslavl, Kaluga, and Nizhny Novgorod provinces, in St Petersburg the work-force was far more diverse and cosmopolitan because apart from Russians it also included large proportions of Finns, Latvians, Lithuanians, Belorussians and Poles, among others. St Petersburg was where Russia's first steamship the "Elizaveta", was constructed (1815) and where the first railroad, linking St Petersburg with Tsarskoe Selo was opened (1817). Here, the first trolley-bus in Russia was tested (1902). In 1906 the first taxis appeared "Fords". Regular tram transoration began in 1907. Trams travelled up and down the Nevsky Prospect untill 1952. Till this day St Petersburg has the widest network of ttain routes of any city in the world. More, St Petersburg was the home of Russia's first aeronautics park, where dirigibles were tested, as well as the home of airplane club (1908). It was also here, at the Russo-Balt factory, that Russia's first multi-motored airplane was constructed in 1913. In terms of education, science and technology, the city was always at the forefront. In 1828 the Technological Institute was opened. Eleven years later, in 1839, the Pulkovo Observatory was opened. The same year also marked the opening of the Petersburg - Warsaw semaphore telegraph, which at the time was the world's longest: 1200 kilometres. In 1845, one of the world's oldest, the Russian Geographical Society was founded in St Petersburg. Russia's first higher education establishment for women opened in 1878. Futhermore, the country's first telephone line (47 kilometers, from St Petersburg to Gatchina) began operating in 1882; the first interurban telephone linking St Petersburg to Moscow, was installed in 1898. The tragic side of the city is well known. Because of its independence it suffered more than any other city during the Soviet regime. Stalin hated Leningrad and the purges in the late 1930s - when many of the city's leading cultural, intellectual and scientific lights were mudered - were most acute here. Then of course came World War II and the 900-day Blockade of Leningrad. Over 1 million people died of shelling, cold and starvation. But the city survived. It remains the only large city on European continentin which no foreign invander has ever set foot. It was in our city that Mikhail Gorbachev first announced his reforms in 1985. Much has changed in the last decade. St Petersburg's integration into the world economy is progressing at a faster pace than that of Russia's as a whole. 25 percent of Russia's exports and 2 percent of its imports pass through our city. These figures speak for themselves. And if we add that the leaders of Scandinavian countries are currently elaborating the concept of a "new Northern Europe" - which stretches from Narvik in Norway to the Polish border - St Petersburg's role on the continent becomes even weightier. St Petersburg is the world's largest northerly city. It is very young, but also very beautiful, very tragic, very cultural and very heroic. Vivat St Petersburg!


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