Alexander of Novgorod defeated the Swedes near the mouth of the Neva River in 1240, earning him the title Nevsky. Sweden took control of the region in the 17th century and it was the desire of Peter the Great to crush this rival and make Russia a European power that led to the founding of the city. At the start of the Great Northern War (1700-21) he captured the Swedish outpost on the Neva, and in May 1703 he founded the Peter and Paul Fortress on the river a few kilometers from the sea and nabbed his city after his patron saint Sankt Pieter Burkh, in the Dutch style.
Russian soldiers were the first to construct the city. By the autumn of 1703 over 20 000 working men were constructing the new Russian outpost. It was Alexander Menshikov, the fellow-fighter of Peter the Great, and the first governor of St. Petersburg, who was in charge of the works. In 1711 the Tsar family and the Court moved here, while in 1712 the Capital of Russia was declared on the bank of the Neva river.
From the very start of the city construction, Peter the great aimed at the regularly planned, Dutch style city made to standard design. The main buildings of the Peter and Paul Fortress, the Summer palace of Peter the great and the foundation of the Alexander Nevsky Monastery were constructed to the designs of D. Trisini, the first architect of the new city.
By the first quarter of the 18th century St. Petersburg strengthened its position as a military and political center, as well as biggest seaport of Russia, being at the same time a center of the enlightenment and the new circular culture.
The 18th century saw the creation of many of the finest buildings in the city and its outskirts. The reign of Elizabeth was perhaps the most important as it was for her that Rostrelli created the Winter palace and the suburban palaces at Peterhof and Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin) The next Russian Empress Catherine II by right was named the Successor of Peter the Great and earned the title "the Great" due to the numerous reforms and successful expansionist foreign policy. The Empress, being a broad-minded person of lofty philosophical ideas made a great impact not only upon Russian policy but on the artistic style of her time. A new style- classicism -became firmly established in architecture.
For decades the city was growing but little attempt was made by the municipal authorities to deal with problems of overcrowded housing, poor sanitation, the lack of public transport. Here in 1866 Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote "Crime and Punishment" depicting the sinister gloom of the St. Petersburg slums.
The difficult living of the working class and the alienation of the intelligencia led to the appearance of revolutionary groups The young Vladimir Lenin was active during the 1980s in St. Petersburg Marxist
groups - for which he was exiled to Siberia. During the reign of Nicholay II Russia entered a hard period of class struggle. In 1914 First World War broke out. Under the influence of anti-German public opinion "the German" name of St. Petersburg was changed into "the Russian" name of Petrograd.
The revolutionary Coup leaded by Lenin of November 6-7 1917 lead to the change of the whole political system in Russia. The outcome of this event was the years of Civil war and the terrible mess in Russian economy. In March 1918 the Soviet Government moved from Petrograd to Moscow. After the death of V. Lenin in 1924 the government renamed Petrograd into Leningrad "to immortalize Lenin's name".
The Second Word War was perhaps the central event in Russian history after the Revolution. The two great Russian cities were to have a key role in this devastating war. The war became the hardest ordeal for Leningrad. German tanks made rapid progress through Baltic States and by early September 1941 Leningrad was sealed off the Soviet mainland. For everyone who lives in St. Petersburg the Blokade (the Siege) of Leningrad is an important part of their heritage and for the older generations it brings the memories that they will never forget.
It lasted for about 900 days, from September 8, 1941 till January 27, 1944. Food and fuel stocks were very limited. By the winter of 1941-42 there was no heating, no water supply, almost no electricity and very little food. In January 1942, in the depths of an unusually cold winter, the lowest food rations in the city were only 125 grams (about 1/4 of a pound) of bread per day. In just two months, January and February, 1942, 200 thousand people died in Leningrad of cold and starvation. But the city did not surrender.
The years of reconstruction after 1945 were also the grim years of Stalin. Stalin's death began a new era in the Soviet history, at home there was cultural "thaw" and in the foreign relations the principle of peaceful coexistence was stressed.
In the end of the 80s, the beginning of the 90s, Soviet leaders changed the political line to "Glasnost" and "Perestroyka", which caused again the dramatic changes in the social and economic life of the country.
The referendum in 1991 brought back the historical name of St. Petersburg to the city.
St. Petersburg today is the city of museums. Its Monuments, History Museums, Art Galleries, Memorial Estates and Cemeteries, Churches and Cathedrals jealously preserve the memory of historical, cultural events of different times and epochs, the great men who engraved their names into the history of Russia.