Gracefully situated 500 miles south of the Arctic Circle, St. Petersburg grew up along the Neva River, which winds around its 44 islands before flowing Into the Gulf of Finland not far away. Tsar Peter the Great founded the city here, having ousted the Swedish from the Neva Delta in the first years of the18th century. It was one of the first cities in the world to be built according to a preconceived plan drawn up by most famous Russian and European architects of the day. Only nine years after its inception in 1703, Peter moved out of Moscow and proclaimed what he named Sankt Pieterburkh (from the Dutch) the capital of the Russian empire, which it remained for the next 206 years. His daughter Elizabeth I, then Catherine the Great both promoted it as a center of culture and arts
About the time its name was Russianized to Petrograd in World War II, the monarchy of Nicholas I was toppled and the October revolution began with a cannon shot (mercifully blank) at the Hermitage from the battleship Aurora. Ten days later, the Bolsheviks seized control of the new Soviet state and the capital was transferred back to Russia. Ironically, when Lenin, who hated St. Petersburg, died, the city was renamed 'Leningrad" in his memory.
In World War II, the Germans laid seige to the city for 900 days, during with more than a half million of its citizens died from starvation or in defense of the city. Later, during Stalin's "Great Terror," many more of its finest citizens were executed or sentenced to gulags, never to be heard from again.
Despite this tortured history, it remains a lovely place, showing proudly its beautiful 18th- and 19th-century roots along the dozens of canals and waterways that give it the sobriquet "The Venice of the North."
Tsar Alexander II was assissinated by a group of revolutionaries on March 1, 1881 along the Griboyedov Canal (above). They were pushing for more liberal governmental reforms; ironically (Russian history is loaded with irony), the Tsar was to sign long-awaited constitutional reforms later than day. The Church of the Savior on the Blood, modeled on St. Basil's in Moscow, was built by his successor Alexander III, with the altar where the former Tsar's blood fell to the cobblestones.
Beautiful wrought iron gates and fencing around the Church...