Sunday, June 11, 2017

St. Petersburg, Russia - saved by incompetence

St. Petersburg has a quite unusual genesis. Most cities, in Europe or elsewhere in the world, grow organically from trade routes, defensible positions, favorable local resources or combinations of all of these and more. Old world cities such as London, Paris, Rome, Moscow, Budapest etc., grew from humble beginnings over many centuries of even millenia. Not so St. Petersburg.
Built on a marsh at the extreme eastern end of the Baltic Sea where the river Neva empties into the ocean, St. Petersburg was the vision, ambition and relentless goal of one man - Tsar Peter the Great. Many in the royal family of Romanov were less enthusiastic than Peter in this expensive venture and did much to deter him, including several assassination attempts. Peter was, of course, wickedly wealthy, well traveled and ever conscious of the territorial ambitions of the Swedes. He saw the project as a means of producing a world class city in the north, developing a major port and trade route, a lasting testament to his personal greatness and a solid defense against Baltic based aggressors. Thus in 1703, a little over three hundred years ago, the Peter Paul Fortress was started on a small island in the river and everything else is history. By 1712, Peter had moved the capital of Russia from Moscow to St. Petersburg and everything was going as planned.
Fast forward 200 years to World War I. Russia getting whooped by Germany had already de-Germanized the city's name to Petrograd and, in November 1917, the Communist Revolution resulted in almost every Russian Royal being slaughtered. Time for a new plan. The Bolsheviks moved the government back to Moscow in 1918 and, when Lenin croaked in 1924, they renamed Petrograd to Leningrad and it seems that the dream was dead.
The Moscow mob ordered the destruction of all churches and other old-school cultural buildings as they feverishly planned their way to oblivion. As it turned out, this very ineptitude was instrumental in saving many important treasures for the world at large. With "undesirable" structures - the bigger the better - being seized upon wholesale for storage of surplus products for which there was no demand and in the face of the considerable cost of razing and clearing the multi-acre sized lots of many of the proscribed buildings, essentially nothing was done.
The most recent tick of the clock occurred of course in 1989, when the entire seventy year Soviet fraud was exposed and the world took a clearer look at itself. Leningrad became St. Petersburg again in 1991 and many "overlooked" architectural masterpieces were suddenly rediscovered and promoted as tourist attractions. Whatever next!
 More images here.

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