A Virtual Tour of St. Petersburg
Welcome to our tour of St. Petersburg! Here we will introduce you to Russia’s greatest historical and cultural treasure, its “Northern Capital” – the famous “Venice of the North”. Virtually unharmed by the 1930-50s period of Stalinist reconstruction, downtown St. Petersburg is crowded with splendid palaces, impressive historical monuments, tree-lined avenues and beautiful bridges. Although not yet 300 years old, St. Petersburg is a city crammed with historical and cultural associations and a refined air of mystery.
Petersburgers: Biographies of the city’s greatest residents
The history of St. Petersburg is littered with remarkable lives and incredible careers. Starting with the founder of the city, Peter the Great, the most enlightened and idiosyncratic of despots, St. Petersburg has nurtured and embraced a remarkable range of talent and achievement, producing some of the world’s greatest figures in the spheres of literature, music and theatre, as well as prominent scientists and statesmen, architects and engineers.
A history of St. Petersburg
The former capital of a grand and Glorious empire which stretched over much of the globe, St. Petersburg is chock-full of culture and history.
Although just 300 years old, St. Petersburg has a rich and exciting history, full of dramatic events and major historical figures. Founded in 1703 by Emperor Peter the Great as his “window on the West”, St. Petersburg enjoys a vibrant, cosmopolitan atmosphere and some of the most beautiful architecture in Europe. For those interested in culture and history, St. Petersburg is the perfect holiday destination.
Main article: Geography of Saint Petersburg
Territory of the federal subject of Saint Petersburg
Satellite image of Saint Petersburg
The area of Saint Petersburg city proper is 605.8 square kilometers (233.9 sq mi). The area of the federal subject is 1,439 square kilometers (556 sq mi), which contains Saint Petersburg proper (consisting of eighty-one municipal okrugs), nine municipal towns – (Kolpino, Krasnoye Selo, Kronstadt, Lomonosov, Pavlovsk, Petergof, Pushkin, Sestroretsk, Zelenogorsk) – and twenty-one municipal settlements.
Petersburg is situated on the middle taiga lowlands along the shores of the Neva Bay of the Gulf of Finland, and islands of the river delta. The largest are Vasilyevsky Island (besides the artificial island between Obvodny canal and Fontanka, and Kotlin in the Neva Bay), Petrogradsky, Dekabristov and Krestovsky.
The latter together with Yelagin and Kamenny island are covered mostly by parks. The Karelian Isthmus, North of the city, is a popular resort area. In the south Saint Petersburg crosses the Baltic-Ladoga Klint and meets the Izhora Plateau.
The elevation of Saint Petersburg ranges from the sea level to its highest point of 175.9 meters (577 ft) at the Orekhovaya Hill in the Duderhof Heights in the south. Part of the city’s territory west of Liteyny Prospekt is no higher than 4 meters (13 ft) above sea level, and has suffered from numerous floods.
Floods in Saint Petersburg are triggered by a long wave in the Baltic Sea, caused by meteorological conditions, winds and shallowness of the Neva Bay. The four most disastrous floods occurred in 1824 (421 centimeters or 166 inches above sea level, during which over three hundred buildings were destroyed), 1924 380 centimeters or 150 inches, 1777 321 centimeters or 126 inches, 1955 293 centimeters or 115 inches, and 1975 281 centimeters or 111 inches. To prevent floods, the Saint Petersburg Dam has been constructed.
Since the 18th century the terrain in the city has been raised artificially, at some places by more than 4 meters (13 ft), making mergers of several islands, and changing the hydrology of the city. Besides the Neva and its tributaries, other important rivers of the federal subject of Saint Petersburg are Sestra, Okhta and Izhora. The largest lake is Sestroretsky Razliv in the north, followed by Lakhtinsky Razliv, Suzdal Lakes and other smaller lakes.
Due to location at ca. 60° N latitude the day length in Petersburg varies across seasons, ranging from 5 hours 53 minutes to 18 hours 50 minutes. A period from mid-May to mid-July when twilight may last all night is called the white nights.
Main article: Climate of Saint Petersburg
Under the Köppen climate classification, Saint Petersburg is classified as Dfb, a humid continental climate. Distinct moderating influence of the Baltic Sea cyclones result in warm, humid and short summers and long, moderately cold wet winters. Climate of Saint Petersburg is close to the climate of Helsinki, although colder in winter and warmer in summer because of its more eastern location.
The average maximum temperature in July is 23 °C (73 °F), and the average minimum temperature in February is −8.5 °C (16.7 °F); an extreme temperature of 37.1 °C (98.8 °F) occurred during the 2010 Northern Hemisphere summer heat wave. A winter minimum of −35.9 °C (−32.6 °F) was recorded in 1883. The average annual temperature is 5.8 °C (42.4 °F). The Neva River within the city limits usually freezes up in November–December and break-up occurs in April. From December to March there are 118 days average with snow cover, which reaches an average snow depth of 19 cm (7.5 in) by February.
The frost-free period in the city lasts on average for about 135 days. Despite St. Petersburg’s northern location, its winters are warmer than Moscow’s due to Gulf of Finland. The city also has a slightly warmer climate than its suburbs. Weather conditions are quite variable all year round.
Average annual precipitation varies across the city, averaging 660 millimeters (26 in) per year and reaching maximum in late summer. Soil moisture is almost always high because of lower evapotranspiration due to the cool climate. Air humidity is 78% on average, and there is on average, 165 overcast days per year.
The Bolshoi Zal (Grand Hall) of Saint Petersburg Philharmonia.
Saint Petersburg has a significant historical and cultural heritage.
The 18th and 19th-century architectural ensemble of the city and its environs is preserved in virtually unchanged form. For various reasons (including large-scale destruction during World War II and construction of modern buildings during the postwar period in the largest historical centers of Europe), Saint Petersburg has become a unique reserve of European architectural styles of the past three centuries.
Saint Petersburg’s loss of capital city status helped the city to retain many of its pre-revolutionary buildings, as modern architectural ‘prestige projects’ tended to be built in Moscow; this largely prevented the rise of mid-to-late-20th-century architecture and helped maintain the architectural appearance of the historic city center.
Saint Petersburg is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list as an area with 36 historical architectural complexes and around 4000 outstanding individual monuments of architecture, history and culture. New tourist programs and sightseeing tours have been developed for those wishing to see Saint Petersburg’s cultural heritage.
The Small Italian Skylight Room in the Hermitage Museum.
The city has 221 museums, 2000 libraries, more than 80 theaters, 100 concert organizations, 45 galleries and exhibition halls, 62 cinemas and around 80 other cultural establishments. Every year the city hosts around 100 festivals and various competitions of art and culture, including more than 50 international ones.
Despite the economic instability of the 1990s, not a single major theatre or museum was closed in Saint Petersburg; on the contrary many new ones opened, for example a private museum of puppets (opened in 1999) is the third museum of its kind in Russia, where collections of more than 2000 dolls are presented including ‘The multinational Saint Petersburg’ and ‘Pushkin’s Petersburg’.
The museum world of Saint Petersburg is incredibly diverse. The city is not only home to the world-famous Hermitage Museum and the Russian Museum with its rich collection of Russian art, but also the palaces of Saint Petersburg and its suburbs, so-called small town museums and others like the museum of famous Russian writer Dostoyevsky; Museum of Musical Instruments, the museum of decorative arts and the museum of professional orientation.
The musical life of Saint Petersburg is rich and diverse, with the city now playing host to a number of annual carnivals.
Ballet performances occupy a special place in the cultural life of Saint Petersburg. The Petersburg School of Ballet is named as one of the best in the world. Traditions of the Russian classical school have been passed down from generation to generation among outstanding educators.
The art of famous and prominent Saint Petersburg dancers like Rudolf Nureyev, Natalia Makarova, Mikhail Baryshnikov was, and is, admired throughout the world. Contemporary Petersburg ballet is made up not only of traditional Russian classical school, but also ballets by those like Boris Eifman, who expanded the scope of strict classical Russian ballet to almost unimaginable limits.Remaining faithful to the classical basis (he was a choreographer in Vaganova Academy of Dance), he combined classical ballet with the avant-garde style, and then, in turn, with acrobatics, rhythmic gymnastics, dramatic expressiveness, cinema, color, light, and finally with spoken word.
Saint Petersburg is home to more than two hundred museums, many of them hosted in historic buildings. The largest of the museums is the Hermitage Museum, featuring interiors of the former imperial residence and a vast collection of art.
The Russian Museum is a large museum devoted specifically to Russian fine art. The apartments of some famous Petersburgers, including Alexander Pushkin, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Feodor Chaliapin, Alexander Blok, Vladimir Nabokov, Anna Akhmatova, Mikhail Zoshchenko, Joseph Brodsky, as well as some palace and park ensembles of the southern suburbs and notable architectural monuments such as St. Isaac’s Cathedral, have also been turned into public museums.
The Kunstkamera, with its collection established in 1714 by Peter the Great to collect curiosities from all over the world, is sometimes considered the first museum in Russia, which has evolved into the present-day Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography. The Russian Ethnography Museum, which has been split from the Russian Museum, is devoted to the cultures of the people of Russia, the former Soviet Union and Russian Empire.
A number of museums provide insight into the Soviet history of Saint Petersburg, including the Museum of the Blockade, which describes the Siege of Leningrad and the Museum of Political History, which explains many authoritarian features of the U.S.S.R..
Other notable museums include the Central Naval Museum, and Zoological Museum, the Railway Museum, Suvorov Museum, Museum of the Siege of Leningrad, Erarta Museum of Contemporary Art, the largest non-governmental Museum of contemporary art in Russia, Saint Petersburg Museum of History in the Peter and Paul Fortress and Artillery Museum, which includes not only artillery items, but also a huge collection of other military equipment, uniforms and decorations.
According to recent data from the World Health Organization, around 7 million deaths are attributed worldwide to poor air quality.
In Russia, too, air pollution is among the predominant issues affecting urban ecology – the focus of the conference that was held by the St. Petersburg-based Environmental Rights Center (ERC) Bellona in this Russian city on September 23-25.
The industrial pollution section of the conference started its discussion with an overview of the ecological problems of Murmansk – a large urban center and port on Russia’s Kola Peninsula and the world’s largest city beyond the Polar Circle.
According to Andrei Zolotkov, chairman of Bellona-Murmansk, some fifty years ago Murmansk Region suffered from the impact of transshipment of apatite and nepheline concentrates – products of processing of apatite-nepheline ores. One the mountains that was closest to the transshipment operations was colored yellow from the open-air loading. But in the 1980s, a covered transshipment complex was built, and the problem was solved.
Today, Murmansk is seeing a boom in transshipment of coal at its port, a problem compounded heavily by the fact that the port terminals are located practically in the center of the city, a mere kilometer from the closest residential neighborhoods.
Coal transshipment volumes, initially not very high and with a relatively low environmental impact, have been growing dramatically with each year. Out of the total cargo turnover at the port, coal transshipment constitutes some 77 percent, approaching now some 15 million tons a year (in 2004, that figure was 8.8 million tons).
Since 2012, authorities in Murmansk, a city with a population of over 300,000, have been receiving numerous complaints from residents over black dust settling on their windows – pollution that for two years was discussed at the level of the residents’ correspondence with officials and that the latter until recently only referred to as “black deposit.”
The Scientific Research Institute of Atmospheric Air Protection (NII Atmosphere) studied the pollution and narrowed it down to two possible sources: the city’s combined heat and power plants and Murmansk Commercial Seaport.
This was until a certain especially egregious incident in winter 2015, when on a Saturday morning in February, after a day of stormy weather, Murmansk woke up to find itself literally buried under a layer of black snow.
The incident was widely reported in the media; several local kindergartens on that day made the decision to keep the children in their care indoors to limit their exposure to dust. Given the widespread publicity, local authorities were forced into taking decisive action.
“Only then did the regional environmental officials placed the blame squarely with the [port]. After that, the ‘black deposit’ wasn’t called anything but ‘coal dust,’” Zolotkov said.
It should be noted that after February, the port has installed spray systems – one of the known ways of dust suppression that can be used at coal transshipment terminals to limit the spread of fine airborne coal dust – and began to report regularly on its pollution prevention activities; the possibility of installing special screens for dust suppression is being discussed.
“If this hadn’t happened, these studies searching for the sources of the pollution, without those who are responsible for it, could have gone on for dozens of years,” Zolotkov said.
Coal dust on the streets of Murmansk emanating from the Commercial Port. (Photo: Bellona)
Coal dust spreading from transloading terminals is a problem that is not unique to Murmansk and it gives a major concern to environmentalists working with this issue. As one example, the Mackay Conservation Group, in Mackay, Australia, campaigned against plans for coal port expansion in the area citing risks of heart and respiratory disease caused by exposure to coal dust and pointing out that coal dust particulates contain heavy metals and that there may be no threshold at which coal dust is safe to breathe.