History and culture
Founded by the legendary moderniser Peter the Great in 1703, St Petersburg is a remarkable testament to early urban planning and design. Immortalised in the writings of Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol, Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky; who set much of his ‘Crime and Punishment’ epic on the Nevsky Prospect, where our hotel is situated, the city was a mecca for progressive European thought and culture for much of the nineteenth century.
Following the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the naming of Moscow as the new capital a year later, St Petersburg lost its important status. 1924 saw a further indignity when the city was renamed Leningrad; in honour of the recently-deceased Communist leader Vladimir Lenin.
The hostilities of the Second World War saw much damage to the city, but with the dramatic collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the former Russian capital was reborn. Residents voted to restore the name St Petersburg and the city’s historic centre was painstakingly restored to glory.
Given that Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Gogol, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Rimsky-Korsakov and Shostakovich all lived and worked in St Petersburg, it is hardly surprising that opera and ballet, as well as great literature, have long been the bedrock of the city’s cultural tradition. While the world-famous Mariinsky Theatre’s ballet company has produced balletic stars of the calibre of Anna Pavlova, Rudolph Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov, the centuries-old tradition of magical story-telling is given equal weight.
But St Petersburg is by no means stuck in its glorious past. Nowadays, there’s a lively contemporary music scene and the city hosts some 100 cultural and arts events each year. The most prestigious is the Stars of the White Nights Festival, when the city’s finest musicians, opera singers and ballet dancers entertain the public for six glorious weeks.
The White Nights which have given this cultural treat its name occur during the months of May and June, when St Petersburg – the world’s most northern city – is bathed in an iridescent light as dusk meets dawn in an ever-glowing sky.
Should you be lucky enough to experience such a spell-binding night, head for the banks of the magnificent Neva River; the spiritual heart of the city, or enjoy mass sky-gazing alongside thousands of St Petersburgers - in one of the numerous, well-kept parks.