Saint Petersburg: An Example for Russia, a Demonstration for the West

St Petersburg––the capital of Tsarist Russia from 1713 until the October Revolution, was brought into being by the iron will of a single man: Peter the Great. Founded in May of 1703, on territory captured from Sweden mere weeks before, St. Petersburg was Russia’s first Baltic seaport, and the cornerstone of Peter’s ambitious project to modernize his Empire. Taking advantage of Russia’s newfound access to the intellectual and economic networks of Western Europe, the Tsar assembled a team of Italian, Dutch and German planners, and equip them with tens of thousands of impressed serfs with whom to reshape the swampy earth of the Narva river delta. Their product, which jettisoned neo-Byzantine urban organization in favor of baroque radial boulevards, was meant to serve as a demonstration for the West, as an example for the rest of the Empire, and as a bridge between both. Interestingly, unlike Versailles, the Royal Winter Palace is not located placed at the focus point of the city’s radial boulevards. Instead, the Admiralty Complex, headquarters of the newly minted Imperial Navy and by law the tallest building in the city, is found at the intersection of Nevsky, Gorokhovaya and Voznesensky Prospekt, speaking to the fact that St. Petersburg was a project, not for the glorification of the Tsar, but for Russia itself.

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