St. Petersburg is located at the Neva estuary, where the river meets the Baltic Sea’s Gulf of Finland. It is the world’s northernmost urban community with a population above 1 million.
The city was founded on May 27, 1703 to consolidate Russia's positions in the territories gained during the Great Northern War (1700-1721). Peter the Great wanted this Baltic outlet to be Russia’s window to Europe. He began by building the Peter and Paul Fortress to ensure the security of the country’s sea frontiers, and then proceeded to develop the city proper.
With St. Petersburg proclaimed the new Russian capital in 1712, state governance institutions were transferred to the city from Moscow. Intensive development transformed the city into a major center of arts and sciences by as early as the mid-18th century.
In 1914, St. Petersburg was renamed Petrograd. It lost its status as Russia’s main city in 1918 when the capital was transferred back to Moscow. In 1924, it was renamed Leningrad. During World War II, the city was attacked by the Nazis and spent 872 days under siege. It recovered its historical name in 1991.
Architects and engineers of outstanding talent from all throughout Europe were invited to contribute to St. Petersburg's construction in its formative years and beyond. As the result, it grew into a city with a character, defined by its handsome architectural compounds, palaces, and cathedrals, its straight streets and spacious squares, its elegant gardens and parks, its picturesque water canals, embankments and bridges, and its sumptuous sculpture. In 1990, the historical center and suburban imperial estates were inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
These days, St. Petersburg is an international cultural and tourist center, and it is often referred to as “Russia’s cultural capital.” The city is home to over 200 museums and museum affiliates, including the Hermitage, the Russian Museum, the Central Naval Museum, the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (also known as the “Kunstkammer”), and several former imperial estates , such as Peterhof, Tsarskoye Selo, and Pavlovsk. It is also known for its top-tier theaters and musical performing groups, including the Mariinsky Theater (Kirov), the Mikhailovsky opera and ballet companies, and the Philharmonic Orchestra.
St. Petersburg has an advantageous geographical position at the junction of traffic routes linking central and southern Europe with Scandinavia, and central Russia with the Baltics. It is home to Russia’s largest marine port, where 65% of the country’s export freights arrive to be shipped overseas.
Importantly, St. Petersburg possesses a huge investment potential. About 2,000 foreign companies, including international majors, have already started operations in the city. There are also a number of notable homegrown industrial brands, which are renowned on the world market. In 2011, total foreign investments in the city hit $6.1 billion. St. Petersburg has topped investment appeal rankings for several consecutive years, according to the Expert RA agency. In 2011, it was ranked “1A” as a region with top potential and minimal risks.
Since 1997, St. Petersburg has held an annual international economic forum dubbed the “Russian Davos.”
On July 15-17, 2006, St. Petersburg hosted a G8 summit, with the forum’s main venue held at the Constantine Palace in the Strelna suburb. In 2013, the city will host a G20 summit.
Walk in St.PetersburgHide
Once a residence of dukes of the Romanov dynasty, the grand Constantine Palace dominates Strelna, now a palace and park complex located outside St. Petersburg in the city’s green belt on the scenic coast of the Gulf of Finland.
Construction of this masterpiece of 18th century architecture, designed by Nicholo Michetti, began in 1720. Subsequent repairs and renovations were carried out under the renowned architects Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli, Andrei Voronikhin, Luigi Rusca, and Heinrich Stackenschneider.
Strelna was a private estate of the imperial family until Paul I gifted it to Grand Duke Constantine, his second son, in 1797 – hence the name of the palace and the surrounding park. Constantine’s descendants owned the estate for over a century.
Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, the family’s private possessions – including archives, an impressive library, and a large collection of paintings and porcelain – were scattered over several dozen museums. Many items were irrevocably lost in the process.
World War II left Strelna in ruins, with only the frame of the palace left standing after shelling and fires.
In 1990, UNESCO named Strelna a World Heritage Site, and the Russian president granted it the status of state residence in 2001. Restoration of the park and palace began in November of the same year.
The façades have been fully and faithfully restored. The modern Russian coat-of-arms was added to the façade, which faces the parade ground, while the coat-of-arms of Grand Duke Constantine was restored on the north façade. The décor of the two ceremonial halls – Marble Hall and Blue Hall – was completely restored based on the drawings of Rusca and Stackenschneider.
New buildings were added to the ensemble during restoration work: the Negotiation Pavilion, which follows a design abandoned in Peter the Great’s time; the Consular Village of twenty palatial mansions named after the best-known Russian cities; the Baltiiskaya Zvezda five-star hotel; and a press center.
The formation of the Constantine Palace art collection began soon after its opening. The palace museum currently possesses an impressive number of 18th-20th century Russian paintings and works of decorative art. Mstislav Rostropovich and Galina Vishnevskaya’s world-famous art collection, donated to the museum, is the collection’s crown jewel. An excellent collection of vintage wines is stored in the palace grottos.
The Constantine Palace is an integral part of the Palace of Congresses federal complex, which has several functions – presidential residence, museum, and business and cultural center. The grand halls of the Constantine Palace frequently host summits, academic and political forums, and major social events. The palace hosted the G8 summit of July 2006, and will soon host a G20 summit.