Russia Facing Europe

Dostoevsky, Tschaikovsky, Gogol and Pushkin are the names that spring to mind at the mention of St. Petersburg, a romantic and enchanting city of northern culture and architecture immortalized in Dostoevsky’s ‘White Nights’, ‘Brothers Karamazov’ and ‘Crime and Punishment’.

Founded on a delta at the mouth of the River Neva on the Gulf of Finland, St. Petersburg is a port city with its face turned towards Europe. With a three-hundred-year history, it is actually a young city compared with Istanbul, London, Paris and Rome. Its splendid architecture, crowned by a masterful concept of city planning, and the art, culture and literature that have grown up in that urban texture make it one of the world’s most famous cities. A river cruise through the dozens of canals crossed by upwards of five hundred bridges is the most enjoyable way of getting to know this city.

St. Petersburg has witnessed major turning points in Russian history, and all the splendor of the Tsarist period is palpable in this city which was home to the tsars for 200 years. The Hermitage is a must-see among the city’s 103 museums. The world’s third largest after the British Museum and the Louvre, the Hermitage is comprised of five large palaces. Its 1050 galleries house upwards of three million objects. Besides artifacts of the Ancient Egyptian, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic civilizations, it also boasts paintings by masters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Matisse. Other museums worth visiting are the Summer and Winter Palaces, and the Russian, Maritime, Botanical and several Biographical Museums.

HEART OF THE CITY: Nevsky Prospekt
One of the world’s broadest avenues, Nevsky Prospekt is at the same time St. Petersburg’s busiest thoroughfare. You can find the Russian Admiralty Building, the Monastery of Alexander Nevsky, historic churches and cathedrals, shopping centers, restaurants and street artists on this avenue, which also boasts the finest examples of urban architecture. To reach Nevsky Prospekt, you can either take the Metro, one of the deepest subway systems in the world, or grab a taxi.

Although the city was founded as Petrograd by Tsar Peter the Great, it takes its name today from Saints Peter and Paul. Cannons fired on the winter palace from the Cruiser Aurora, a museum today on the banks of the Neva, heralded the start of the Bolshevik Revolution whose leader, Lenin, changed the city’s name to Leningrad. Relics of the communist revolution survive today in the form of souvenirs sold in the city’s markets, and the city has reverted to its original German name, Sankt Peterburg.