A 17th century-built city, a city with various architectural style cathedrals, grandeur palaces, 300+ connecting bridges, and popular Nevsky Prospekt, Saint Petersburg served as the capital of Russia for approximately two centuries. It is known by nicknames like the Venice of the North, Russian Venice, a city built on bones, a city of white nights, window to the west/ Europe. 

Saint Petersburg is the second-largest city of Russia with a population of 5 million, located at the head of the Gulf of Finland, on the delta of Neva River. A city with both symbolism of holding a dark past and a city with a lot of cultural and beautiful architecture.

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History of the City

Saint Petersburg was founded by Tsar Peter the Great on 27 May 1703. The first structure that was ever erected is the Peter and Paul fortress which was constructed on a low-lying marshland area near the mouth of the Baltic Sea. 

Since the area was marshland, it brought in many diseases to the construction workers, tree trunks were supposed to be sunk to support the structure, the place had a snowfall from early May to late September, the workers were of tools shortage often they had to dig my hands, frequent flooding all these caused the demise of thousands of involuntary labourers forced to work under the leadership of General Alexander Menshikov, who was a great friend of Tsar Peter. 

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Saint Petersburg was a city that was built by the Tsar to make it a new capital of Russia, and its plan was inspired by the city of Amsterdam during his work there in a shipyard building place. The city has gone through myriad revolts, wars, revolutions. And now it has to find a way on how to stand the test of time, whether to resurrect its deteriorating cultural past or grow with the modern future and a space for development or to find common ground for both the functions. 

Architectural evolution of Saint Petersburg

Saint Petersburg was inspired by Amsterdam. A city with radiating prospects from its centre. Three rules were laid by Peter to intentionally control the city growth to elude organic growth like Moscow, which was the capital of Russia before Saint Petersburg. Stone is the construction material that is to be used. Streets were laid straight and not curved; buildings should be built next to each other facing towards a redline indication. 

German architect Andreas Schlüter and the Swiss Italian architect Domenico Trezzini were the planners of Saint Petersburg. A unique style – Petrine baroque was adopted. It is a style of 16th and 17th century baroque, breaking from the traditional Byzantine architecture, which the Russians have followed for a millennium.

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Though Saint Petersburg city was started with the willpower of Peter I, who had travelled across various countries and wanted his new city to like Amsterdam, and when the city was taking shape, it had various interventions making a school of architectural styles, deviating from the intent to make it as a replica of Amsterdam. 

Styles like the Naryshkin Baroque style, Dutch Baroque style were largely seen. More Italian people worked on this project than Dutch. In 1712 Russia’s capital was shifted officially from Moscow to Saint Petersburg. And the elites and governmental structures followed this city with the added reason that Saint Petersburg was the only city allowed to build with stone and banned stone construction elsewhere. 

Schlüter proposed a grid-planned city to incorporate a courtyard within each building, which later paved the way to rent those courtyards for the immigrants and peasants deteriorating city planning and living.

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Saint Petersburg city centre was divided into four zones naturally by the Neva River and its distributaries. Admiralty has the historical and cultural centres of the city. Vasilyevsky Island, the first of all areas to develop, has remarkable architectural marvels of the 19th-century style of classical Greek. Petrograd Side houses the first of all great structures like the Peter and Paul Fortress and Cathedral by Peter I. Lastly, Vyborg Side is a late 19th-century developed site with industrial establishments. 

Social, Cultural, and Political Dynamics

The Architecture of Saint Petersburg city is highly influenced by the social, political, and culture of the city. These three sectors are interconnected and are responsible for each other. Saint Petersburg had seen different rulers, and it evolved differently under every ruler. Saint Petersburg has 103 universities, 235 museums, 79 libraries, 130 parks, and gardens. The city has a range of architectural styles like neoclassical, neogothic, baroque, art nouveau, and soviet architecture. 

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After the death of Peter-I in 1752, Peter II came to the throne, taking back the capital to Moscow. It was shifted back to Saint Petersburg at the time of empress Anna Ioannovna after the death of Peter II when he was 14. Cultural enlightenment happened during the reign of Catherine the Great. She enlightened Saint Petersburg by founding 25 educational institutions, including Russia’s first state school for girls.  

Saint Petersburg is unofficially called the cultural city, having contributed to various cultural aspects like theatre, literature, music, sports of the world.

Demographics And Modernisation’s Impact on the City

The change in the formulation of rules and bylaws of the city for its construction changed from time to time as the city population grew and the city had to adapt to the growing population without changing much of its originality, the sites were mostly narrow with the shorter side as their front façade. Later on, all these apartments were converted into single-bedroom apartments with shared kitchens and bathrooms. When the communist party took over, private properties were taken up as public property but maintained poorly.

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Currently, the city is like the museum of cities, and if it continues just to be that, activists worry that people may want a change and move out of the city. Saint Petersburg should start considering the demanding values of the new age. The panoramic view which the city is known for is slowly blurring as these skyscrapers and modern tall buildings are starting to hide the beauty of the old—especially hiding the city centre, which is the UNESCO world heritage site now. 


Saint Petersburg is a city rich with culture, by far has stood the test of time to hold on to its values without the slightest deviations from its originality, which was shaped over time by different rulers under who the country was. But it is a serious time to think about the flexibility it holds for any development for the future. It is certainly complex to find a mid-ground to preserve the past and yet make room for the future, but it is not impossible. New constructions should have in mind to not completely make the new alienate the old.

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Stephy is an intrigued explorer of various paradigms of Architecture, choosing writing as a catharsis to her never ending thoughts.

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