St. Petersburg, Russia, a city in the northern part of the country. It was called Petrograd during 1914–24 and Leningrad during 1924–91. St. Petersburg was the capital of czarist Russia, 1712–1918, during which time it became one of Europe's most beautiful cities.
St. Petersburg, situated about 400 miles (640 km) northwest of Moscow, lies at the delta of the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland. Of the world's great cities it is farthest north; the latitude is about that of Anchorage, Alaska. The climate is marked by extremely long, severely cold winters and short, cool summers.
Built on both banks of the Neva River and on islands at the river's mouth, St. Petersburg has gained a distinctive character from its many canals, river branches, bridges, and embankments. The chief section of the city is along the river's south bank. Forming the heart of the city are three main streets intersected by three large canals. The busiest of these streets is Nevsky Prospekt. In this central area are many former palaces and sumptuous residences, and many museums, libraries, theaters, and institutes.
As the former capital of Russia and a cultural and educational center second only to Moscow, St. Petersburg has many outstanding public buildings. Some were built by the czars; others are Soviet restorations and new constructions. Some of the city's historic buildings have been neglected and are in disrepair.
The Peter and Paul Fortress, on the city's original island site, is St. Petersburg's oldest structure. In its basilica are buried many of the Romanov czars. Just across the Neva is the Admiralty, a long, spired building and a major St. Petersburg landmark. Nearby are a large statue of Peter the Great astride a horse and Decembrist Square, scene of an 1825 revolt.
St. Isaac's Cathedral, topped by a golden dome 330 feet (100 m) high, is one of the city's most beautiful churches. On the outskirts of St. Petersburg is Petrodvorets, a summer palace built by Peter the Great in the early 18th century.
The State Hermitage Museum, one of the world's great art museums, is made up of five buildings, including the Winter Palace, the winter residence of the czars until the October Revolution in 1917. The Russian Museum, made up of several palaces, displays an enormous collection of Russian art. The city has many other museums, including ones devoted to history, science, music, and famous Russian writers.
Preeminent among St. Petersburg's many performing-arts groups is the Mariinsky, or Kirov, Ballet, one of the world's foremost ballet companies. The city also has a symphony orchestra, an opera company, and several theater companies.
Educational institutions include St. Petersburg University and the St. Petersburg State Technical University. The Saltykov-Shchedrin Library is one of Russia's largest public libraries.
St. Petersburg ranks second only to Moscow as the country's largest manufacturing center. Of particular importance is the manufacturing of complex machinery, especially electrical machinery such as turbines, generators, and motors. The city produces specialty steels, chemicals, rubber goods, textiles, and foods, and is a large shipbuilding center.
Favored by its location in respect to western Europe and the Baltic Sea, St. Petersburg has one of Russia's best ports. It is a principal railway and air center and is connected to the interior of the country by canals. The city has an extensive subway system.
St. Petersburg was founded in 1703 by Peter the Great on land won in his war with Sweden. It was built to give Russia a “window on Europe.” The city was planned as a modern capital in the Western European style and was built of stone set on pilings driven into the marshy land. In 1712 it replaced Moscow as capital, and gradually it became one of the world's most beautiful cities.
When Germany declared war on Russia in 1914, the city's Germanic name was changed to Petrograd (Peter's city). With the overthrow of the czar in 1917, Moscow again became the capital, and Petrograd lost much of its previous significance. In 1924 the city was renamed Leningrad, in honor of the revolutionary leader who died that year.
During World War II, Leningrad was besieged by the Germans from September, 1941, to January, 1944. The city withstood the 900-day attack, but was largely destroyed. Starvation and German bombing and shelling left more than 650,000 dead. Reconstruction was rapid after the war. In 1991 the city's original name, St. Petersburg, was restored.