St. Petersburg is the second largest city in Russia. Russians believe that St. Petersburg is a young city. It was founded by the Russian tsar, Peter the First (also known as Peter the Great), and at that time was Russia's only outlet to the high seas. Driven by a desire to open what he called "Window into Europe" Peter the First chose the site where the Neva river flows into the Gulf of Finland. Covering more than 65 islands and crisscrossed by more than 60 rivers and canals, St. Petersburg has become known as the Venice of the North. In 1712 the city became the capital of the Russian empire and it remained so for more than 200 years. Though the capital was transferred to Moscow in 1918, St. Petersburg is often referred to as "The Northern capital of Russia"
Being one of the most beautiful cities in the world, it was created by exceptionally gifted and artistic architects from both Russia and Europe - Rastrelli, Kvarengi, Rossi, Voronikhin and many others. St. Petersburg is the only city in Russia where the old central part of the city retains almost exactly the same architectural appearance as it had in the past. The very center of the city - its heart - is under UNESCO protection.
St. Petersburg is a place of mystification and has inspired the dramatic works of composers, writers and artists such as Chaikovsky and Shostakovich, Pushkin and Dostoevsky, Dyagilev and Pavlova, Nizhinsky, Shalyapin and Stravinsky. The city now has more than 50 theatres and performance halls, including the world-famous Mariinsky Theatre of Opera and Ballet (formerly known as the Kirov Theatre), the Mussorgsky Theatre, the State Philharmonic Orchestra and countless others.
St. Petersburg is at the latitude of 60 degrees north. This means that while winters are long and dark, between mid-June and early July the city falls under the spell of the White Nights. The sun sets beyond the horizon for a little and soon rises again, the twilight lasting no more than 30 to 40 minutes, giving the city's streets and canals an unusual charm.
St. Petersburg has had its name changed three times during its brief history. In 1914, when the First World War broke out, the city's original name St. Petersburg (a German word meaning "the city of Saint Peter"), was changed into Petrograd, a mere translation of the German into a more acceptable Russian sounding variant. When Lenin died in 1924, the city was renamed again and was called Leningrad for more than 60 years. Then in 1991, as a result of an opinion poll of the city residents, its original name, St. Petersburg, was restored.
Today St. Petersburg is a large industrial, transport, scientific and cultural center of Russia, with population of 5 million people; it is a modern city with tremendous plans for future.
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