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Elena Ulko

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123 Konstantinovskaya street,
188640 Vsevolozhsk Russia


email: info@saintpetersburgtour.com

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  • Pre-history
    The lands along the Neva River have belonged to the Ancient Russian state since at least the 9th century. However, throughout history these lands have had a mixed population of Slavs, Finns and other ethnic groups. From at least the ninth century this area was part of the Principality of Novgorod. Novgorod was an important center of international and domestic trade and craftsmanship. Novgorod merchants traded with Western and Northern Europe and later with the towns of the Hanseatic League. All that trade went through the Neva River and Lake Ladoga.

    In 1240, when most of Southern and Central Russia was fighting the Mongol invasion, a Swedish force landed at the banks of the Neva River. The Novgorod troops of Prince Alexander went out to meet the foe and on July 15, 1240 fought the battle of Neva (Nevskaya Bitva). The Russians successfully launched a surprise attack and were victorious. This battle became a symbol of Russia's dramatic fight for independence and Prince Alexander was given the name Alexander Nevsky (i.e. Alexander of Neva). Prince Alexander was then declared a Saint of the Russian Orthodox Church for his efforts to protect Russia and its Christian faith. (Later, in the 18th century, he was proclaimed the patron saint of St. Petersburg - Peter the Great's "paradise" on the Neva).

    When in the 16th century Novgorod was subdued by Moscow, the lands along the Neva River became part of the centralized Russian state - Muscovite Russia. However at the beginning of the 17th century serious unrest started in Russia, after the last tzar of the Riurik dynasty - Fiodor Ioanovich (the son of Ivan the Terrible), had died leaving no heirs to the throne. The new ruler, Vasily Shuisky, invited the Swedes to fight on his side. The Swedes realized how weak Russia was, and decided instead to occupy a significant portion of North-Western Russia. Even after the new Romanov dynasty was established in 1613, Russia had to admit some territorial losses. A new border between Russia and Sweden was set by the Stolbovo Treaty of 1617. For the remainder of the century the Neva River area became a part of Sweden, and the Swedes effectively cut off Russia from the Baltic trade.

    By the very end of the 17th century that was no longer to be tolerated. Peter the Great was keen on regaining access to the Baltic Sea and establishing strong ties with the West. In the hope of achieving these goals he had started the Northern War with Sweden (1700-1721). In 1703 the Russians gained control over the Neva river and on May 16, 1703 (May 27 - modern calendar) St. Petersburg was founded.

    Alexander Nevsky

  • The beginning of Saint Petersburg
    During the course of the Northern War with Sweden the Russian forces gradually moved from the Lake Ladoga down the Neva River to the Swedish fort of Nienchanz. After an 8-day siege on May 1, 1703 the Swedish garrison surrendered. To protect the newly conquered lands in the Neva delta Peter the Great needed a fortress, but Nienchanz was small and badly damaged. Looking for a site for his new fortress Peter the Great chose the island of Enisaari (Hare's Island), which was known to the Russians as Zayachii ostrov. On May, 16 1703 (May, 27 by the modern calendar) the St. Petersburg fortress (Peter and Paul Fortress) was founded and that day became the official birthday of the city. Several days later a wooden Cabin of Peter the Great was built, becoming the first living quarters of the new city.

    The original clay walls and bastions of the fortress were completed by the end of summer 1703 under the careful supervision of the tzar and his close associates. The builders of the fortress (mostly soldiers and peasants) worked in very primitive conditions, since the climate was very damp, good housing nonexistent and food in very short supply. Working from dawn to dusk, they died in great numbers, but the war still went on and the fort had to be completed as soon as possible.

    By August 1703 the new settlers already encountered the infamous St. Petersburg floods. The area was considered unhealthy for a town, but it had tremendous strategic importance, so Peter the Great continued constructing the city despite all the losses and extra expenditures. For its first few years the St. Petersburg of Peter the Great was a small town around the fortress, but by 1712 it was big enough to become the new Russian capital.

    Peter The Great

  • The construction of the new city
    The first years of St. Petersburg's history saw an amazing transition from a swampy scarcely populated land to a fine European capital. The first structure to be built in the new city was the Peter and Paul fortress. Designed to protect the area from the attacks of the Swedish army and navy, the fort did not take part in actual fighting. However, the area was well protected militarily as the Admiralty complex was also fortified. The Admiralty was a center of different activities of St. Petersburg. The most powerful ships of Russia's Baltic Fleet were built there, which led to a series of naval victories in the course of the Northern War. Many of the street and district names in St. Petersburg still remind us of Peter the Great's war preparations (Liteiny - "the Foundry yard", Smolny - "the Tar yard", which produced tar for shipbuilding, etc.).

    Tzar Peter the Great originally lived in a tiny cabin, which became known as the Cabin of Peter the Great. Soon a Summer Palace was built for him (1714) and a Winter Palace just a bit down the river. There were no bridges across the mighty Neva River and people had to be ferried across by boat (this is why they call St. Petersburg "the Venice of the North").

    The original downtown was formed in the area between the fortress and the Cabin of Peter the Great, the place which later became the Trinity Square (Troitskaia Ploschad'). The focal point of the downtown was the first church of the city - the Trinity Church. Houses for the local elite, a first Gostiny Dvor (a market for the local and visiting merchants) and several inns and bars were built. Most of the high class social events (receptions, balls, etc.) took place either in the Summer Gardens or in the palace of the Governor General of St. Petersburg - the luxurious Menshikov Palace.

    Very few buildings from the early 18th century have survived: many were torn down or remodeled. The building of the "Twelve Colleges" and the Kikin House might give you an impression of what the original city looked like. Many of the original buildings in the city were built according to a number of typical designs, approved by the tzar. Some buildings of the downtown still bear the stamp of this early architecture.

    When Peter the Great died in 1725, his wife Catherine assumed power and then the rulers started changing every few years, overthrowing one another. Meanwhile the city experienced a short decline. For a short period (in the late 1720s) the royal court was moved back to Moscow. Many of the nobility and merchants, forced by Peter the Great to move to St. Petersburg, now chose to leave the city. The city was fully revived only when Peter's daughter Elizabeth became Empress in 1741. Elizabethan St. Petersburg became a lively European capital and its population reached 150 thousand.

    The Peter and Paul fortress

  • Saint Petersburg of Elizabeth
    During the reign of Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great, St. Petersburg finally became a fine European capital. At the beginning of this period fine buildings stood right next to ugly huts. After 20 years of Elizabeth's reign St. Petersburg and its suburbs could rival the most beautiful European cities.

    The Imperial splendor of St. Petersburg was best reflected in the suburban royal residences. Peter the Great's estate Peterhof was remodeled by Bartolomeo Rastrelli, the architect of the Winter Palace and the Smolny Cathedral. The Grand Palace and the Grand Cascade of Peterhof were decorated with extreme luxury. That was typical for Elizabeth's time, since her court was big and very expensive for the country's purse.

    The Yekaterininsky (Catherine's) Palace in Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin), which once used to belong to Peter the Great's wife Catherine, was now turned into a magnificent royal residence with a vast and elaborate Baroque garden.

    Elizabeth commissioned the lovely Smolny Convent and the Winter Palace, though she died before both buildings were completed. Ironically, during Elizabeth's reign the area near the palace, which later became the Palace Square, was used as a grazing land for the royal cows.

    Elizabeth tried to follow many of her father's policies. Unlike some of her predecessors, she preferred to appoint Russians and not foreigners to the highest positions in the country. Being a patron of national arts and sciences, she established the Russian Academy of Arts. It has to be mentioned that Elizabeth was a very lively woman: she preferred to skip work when possible and enjoy balls, receptions, masquerades, firework displays, and other things which were a lot of fun.

    Elizabeth's nephew Peter III did not rule for too long. Shortly after assuming power he was overthrown by his wife, a German princess, who soon became the famous Catherine the Great. Under her rule St. Petersburg turned into a "Grand City".

    The Hermitage

    The Queen Elizabeth

  • The 'Great Saint Petersburg' of Catherine
    Catherine the Great assumed power in 1762 after a coup d' etat, which she engineered together with officers of the Royal Guard. Unlike her husband, she was well loved by the country's elite and received a very good press in Europe thanks to her contacts with many figures of the French Enlightenment.

    Catherine's court was extremely luxurious. She was the first to move into the newly built Winter Palace. Catherine started a royal art collection which later became the world-famous Hermitage. Several additional buildings (the Small Hermitage and the Old Hermitage) were commissioned for the growing royal collection of art. The Hermitage Theater was built and the area around the palace was put in order and built up with the finest houses and palaces.

    The most prominent embankments on the left bank of the Neva river were upgraded to their present red granite look and the marvelous wrought iron fence of the Summer Gardens was built by Yuri Felten in 1773-86.

    Under Catherine's patronage science, the arts and trade flourished. New buildings for the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Fine Arts and the first Public Library (now the Russian National Library) were constructed and the large Gostiny Dvor trading complex was opened on Nevsky Prospect. Many educational institutions were established.

    In Tsarskoye Selo ( now Pushkin) several additions to the royal palace were built. One of these new wings (the Cameron Gallery) served as the living quarters for Catherine the Great herself. The lovely park which surrounds the palaces still bears the stamp of Catherine's lively and luxurious court.

    Among Catherine's many reforms was the reform of St. Petersburg local administration. In 1766 the position of gorodskoi golova (a mayor) was established. In 1774 a Magistrat (municipal council) was formed, and in 1786 it was transformed into the city Duma.

    A monument to Catherine the Great was built in 1873 in a garden just off Nevsky Prospect (by the Public Library and the Alexandrinsky Theater. Thousands of people come to visit her tomb in the Peter and Paul Cathedral.

    Catherin The Great

  • Saint Petersburg in late XVIII - early XIX century
    When Catherine the Great died in 1796 a whole new period in Russian history started. Catherine's son Paul I introduced some ultra-conservative policies, curtailed the St Petersburg local administration and made several major steps towards turning Russia into a bureaucratic state. The worst fear in Paul's life was the fear of being assassinated. Trying to hide from possible plots, he built a well-protected palace for himself - the Mikhailovsky Castle. However that did not help, and on March 12, 1801 Paul I was assassinated in the newly-built castle, in his own bedroom. Ironically, the coup was engineered by his son Alexander, who had sworn to continue the policies of his grandmother - Catherine the Great.

    Upon assuming power Alexander I had introduced a series of reforms. A political reform brought to life a new structure of government: in 1802 Alexander approved a system of ministries with ministers reporting directly to the monarch; in 1810 - the State Council was formed. For better or for worse, bureaucracy flourished. Soon St. Petersburg became a very bureaucratic, ordered city and its traditional regular street layout and heavy policing just contributed to such an image.

    During the reign of Alexander I the Russian army successfully stopped Napoleon's invasion of Russia and drove the French army back to Paris (1812-14). The captured French banners were put in the newly built Kazan Cathedral, where the Russian army commander, Field-Marshal Kutuzov, was buried in 1813.

    In the Russian Imperial capital everything had to look very orderly. It was the heyday of architectural ensembles and perfectionist "classical" designs. The Admiralty, the naval headquarters of Russia, was remodeled in 1806-23. The complex of the Stock Exchange and the Rostral columns was built at the Southern edge (Strelka) of Vasilievsky Island. Arts Square with the Mikhailovsky Palace (1819-25) was designed by Carlo Rossi. In 1818 the construction of St. Isaac's Cathedral began but was completed only 40 years later.

    When Alexander I suddenly died in the town of Taganrog (some say, he ran away to Siberia to escape the heavy burden of power) in December 1825, a political crisis erupted. A group of liberal young army officers (later called the "Decembrists") started a revolt, hoping that Nicholas I, Alexander's younger brother, would have to sign a Constitution for the country. They brought their soldiers to the Senate square by the Bronze Horseman, but remained inactive. The uprising was cruelly crushed, the five organizers executed and the rest exiled to Siberia.

    Due to the Decembrist Uprising the new Emperor, Nicholas I, adopted the most conservative policies. Russia was left to be an economically backward bureaucratic state. That was well reflected in the Imperial capital - St. Petersburg. The desire for orderliness reached ridiculous heights. The orderly appearance of a marching army was Nicholas's ideal. Military order was everywhere. Even the civil educational institutions (colleges) were treated as military schools.

    Paradoxically, culture flourished under such an oppressive regime. Alexander Pushkin wrote some of his best poetry, before being killed in a duel in 1837. Mikhail Glinka, one of the first great Russian composers, wrote his best operas and chamber music. Fiodor Dostoyevsky lived in St. Petersburg from 1837 and in 1844 started his career as a writer.

    Despite its obvious economic backwardness, which resulted in a humiliating defeat in the Crimean War (1853-56), Russia was gradually moving down the road of technical progress. In 1837 the first Russian railroad was opened. It connected St. Petersburg with the royal residence at Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin). In 1851 another railroad connected St. Petersburg with Moscow. In 1850 the first permanent bridge across the Neva River was opened. Before that there were only temporary (pontoon) bridges which could not operate in winter.

    St. Petersburg became more and more majestic. The ensemble of Palace Square was finished with the construction of the General Staff building (1819-29), the Alexander Column (1830-34) and the Royal Guards Staff building (1837-43). In 1839-44 the Mariinsky Palace (nowadays the City Hall) was built for Nicholas' beloved daughter Maria. St. Isaac's Cathedral, the main church of the Russian Empire, was finally completed only in 1858, when Nicholas I had already died and his son Alexander II was on the throne.

    Paul I

    Alexander I

    Nicholas I

  • Saint Petersburg and the Tsar-Liberator Alexander II
    When Alexander II was crowned as Russian Emperor, the country was trying to cope with a humiliating defeat in the Crimean War. Something had to be done to boost the national economy and ensure political stability. A series of reforms was undertaken under the supervision of Alexander II. The Russian serfs were freed in 1861, although peasants had to pay for their land. Then followed a military reform, a legal reform (a trial by jury was introduced) and the city administration reform, which allowed St Petersburg a higher degree of self-government.

    Despite the scale of the reforms some revolutionaries considered Alexander to be too conservative. After a series of assassination attempts, on March 1, 1881 Alexander II was fatally wounded and died the same day. The marvelous Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood (1883-1907) was built on the spot where Alexander II was assassinated. Some of the reforms (and the constitution which was ready to be signed) were repealed or curtailed by his enraged son Alexander III and a period of repressions and conservatism followed.

    Meanwhile, St. Petersburg was becoming a capitalist city. The number of factories and plants (both Russian and foreign) grew quickly, while Nevsky Prospect and downtown streets were filled with banks and company offices. By the 1890s construction was booming and new multi-storey apartment buildings were mushrooming all over the city. During this period the famous Mariinsky theater (for a time called the Kirov theater ) was built along with a number of palaces for Grand Dukes, the Liteiny bridge (where the first street lights in the city were installed ) and monuments to Catherine the Great, Nicholas I and the poet Alexander Pushkin.

    Alexander II

  • The Last Romanovs
    This period was both brilliant and troublesome. It started with the splendid coronation of Nicholas II in Moscow, which ended with the Khodynka disaster with thousands of casualties. It ended with the cruelest of wars - WWI. However, in the early 1900s St. Petersburg was obsessed with celebrations.

    In 1902 bureaucratic St. Petersburg celebrated 100 years of the government reform of Alexander I - the establishing of the ministries.

    In May 1903 St Petersburg celebrated its 200th anniversary. The new Troitski (Trinity) Bridge was officially opened in the royal presence and then a church service took place at Senatskaya square next to the Bronze Horseman, the monument to the founder of the city.

    The trouble came in 1905. In January 1905 a peaceful demonstration of workers was fired on by troops at the Palace Square. This led to public outrage and the start of the 1905-07 Revolution. The events of January 9, 1905 became known as "Bloody Sunday". On October 17, 1905 Nicholas II had to issue a manifesto proclaiming a number of civil rights and instituting a new parliament, consisting of the Duma and the reformed State Council.

    The opening of the Duma in 1906 gave fresh grounds for hope to thousands of liberals in the intelligentsia. The district where the Duma was located soon became one of the most popular residential areas. However, the hope was short lived. The government curtailed many of the freedoms and blocked many of the Duma's initiatives. In the end, when the hardships of WWI had helped to evaporate public patience, the streets of St. Petersburg - Petrograd saw the two revolutions of 1917. But that happened later. In the meantime, St. Petersburg was the base for many of the most prominent artists, musicians, composers, writers and poets who actually made this period the "Silver Age".

    With a population of 2 million people, the modern metropolis - St. Petersburg - was about to face new challenges, but WWI changed all the plans.

    Nicholas II

  • The city of Petrograd and WWI
    When WWI broke out in August 1914 it was decided to change the name of the Russian capital from St. Petersburg to Petrograd. The old name sounded too German for contemporary Russians. Germany was now the enemy of Russia and all the forces had to be employed to ensure her defeat. Most of the city's industry began to work to support the war effort and many of Petrograd's buildings, including a large portion of the Winter Palace, were turned into hospitals. Most construction work in the city stopped.

    The war did not go too well for Russia. The Tzar's government discredited itself and political tensions started rising. To make things worse, the food supply of the Russian capital deteriorated significantly towards the end of 1916. (Located at the north-western edge of the Russian Empire, Petrograd was supplied with food via the railway network. With the transportation breakdown caused by the war it became very difficult to supply such a metropolis). Petrograd stepped into the New Year with its inhabitants infuriated by the long lines in front of food shops. The combination of social unrest and the people's wartime grievances brought about the February revolution of 1917 and the abdication of Nicholas II. At the time of the revolution the tzar was in Mogilev at the army headquarters and his family at Tsarskoye Selo (now Pushkin).

    The political and economic crisis continued all through 1917 and in the fall the Bolshevik party led by Vladimir Lenin had captured political power. On October 25 (November 7), 1917 the blank shot of the cruiser "Aurora" gave workers and soldiers the signal to storm the Winter Palace, which was then the residence of the democratic, but largely inefficient Provisional Government. Most of the ministers were arrested and 73 years long Communist rule began.

    At the beginning of 1918 the Civil War (1918-1921) broke out and the revolutionary soldiers and workers of Petrograd became the core of the Red Guard, which later turned into the Red Army. While the fit men were leaving the city for the fronts of the Civil War, a significant portion of the population migrated to the countryside, where families found it easier to provide for themselves. The population dropped from 2.3 million in 1917 to 722 thousand by the end of 1920.

    By the beginning of 1918 the German troops were so close to Petrograd that the Bolshevik government of Vladimir Lenin decided to move the capital to Moscow, which was still far from the front. Hence Petrograd was left to be just a regional center. Further change occurred, when many of the street names were altered according to the revolutionary fashion of the day. Palace Square was called the Uritski Square (after an assassinated Bolshevik politician) and Nevsky prospect became the Prospect of 25 October (after the October Revolution). A number of Revolutionary monuments were erected, but most of them were made of the cheapest materials and did not last long.

    After the end of the Civil War the city of Petrograd started a recovery under the New Economic Policy (NEP), proclaimed by the Bolsheviks, allowing some elements of the market economy. In 1924 the name of the city was changed to Leningrad, and that was a symbol of its transition to a Socialist city.

    The Aurora

  • The city of Lenin
    Shortly after the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin died the city was renamed Leningrad (supposedly by public demand). During the years of the Revolution the population of the city had dropped dramatically and the recovery of the once gorgeous city was slow and only partial. From the 1930s onwards economic growth was significant, but came at the very high price of Stalin's regime.

    In the late 1920s mass construction of cheap housing for workers became a very prominent feature of the Leningrad landscape. Many cultural centers - "palaces of culture" were built to provide the city's common folk with entertainment, clubs and other social activities. In terms of architecture most of what was built was rather modern, quite straightforward, but sometimes still inspirational. The large apartments of the Imperial St. Petersburg were turned into "communal" - shared - apartments, housing several families. Life was not a piece of cake, but ahead lay the events that were to change this life completely: WWII and the dramatic 900-day Siege of Leningrad.

    Vladimir Lenin

  • The 900 day siege of Leningrad
    This was certainly the most tragic period in the history of this city. It was full of suffering and heroism. For everyone who lives in St. Petersburg the Blokada (the Siege) of Leningrad is an important part of their heritage and for the older generations it brings the memories that they will never forget.

    Less than two and a half months after June 22, 1941, when the Soviet Union was attacked by Nazi Germany, German troops were already approaching Leningrad. The Red Army was outflanked and on September 8, 1941 the Germans had fully encircled Leningrad and the siege began. It lasted for about 900 days, from September 8, 1941 till January 27, 1944. Two million 887 thousand civilians (including about 400 thousand children) plus troops didn't even consider any calls for surrender. Food and fuel stocks were very limited (1-2 months only). All the public transport stopped. By the winter of 1941-42 there was no heating, no water supply, almost no electricity and very little food. In January 1942, in the depths of an unusually cold winter, the lowest food rations in the city were only 125 grams (about 1/4 of a pound) of bread per day. In just two months, January and February, 1942, 200 thousand people (!!!) died in Leningrad of cold and starvation. But some of the war industry still worked and the city did not surrender.

    Several hundred thousand people were evacuated from the city across Lake Ladoga via the famous "Road of Life" ("Doroga Zhizni") - the only route that connected the besieged city with the mainland. During the warm season people were ferried to the mainland, and in winter - carried by trucks that drove across the frozen lake under constant enemy bombardment.

    Meanwhile, the city lived on. The treasures of the Hermitage and the suburban palaces of Petrodvorets, Pushkin, etc. were hidden in the basements of the Hermitage and St Isaac's Cathedral. Most students continued their studies and even passed finals. Dmitry Shostakovich wrote his Seventh "Leningrad" Symphony and it was performed in the besieged city.

    In January 1943 the Siege was broken and a year later, on January 27, 1944 it was fully lifted. At least 641 thousand people had died in Leningrad during the Siege (some estimates put this figure at 800 thousand). Most of them were buried in mass graves in different cemeteries. The Piskariovskoye Memorial Cemetery, where almost 500 thousand people are buried, became one of the most impressive national war memorials.

    The Siege

  • The new life after the war
    The war was not yet over, but Leningrad had already started to recover from the tragic years of the Siege and all the damage it brought to the city. Some of the museums, like the Cabin of Peter the Great for instance, reopened as early as 1944. By the time the victorious Soviet army marched back into the city, Leningrad looked fresh and clean, and the ruins of some world-famous buildings were covered with cardboard walls, depicting their pre-war appearance. The whole city, the whole country, had dreamt of a revival and it did come.

    Despite all the enthusiasm of the people, a significant part of national economy was ruined by the war and most of the nation had to live in rather primitive conditions, work hard and keep faith in a brighter future. Food rationing was a common feature throughout the 1940s. Since 2.8 million sq. meters of city housing was destroyed and another 2.2 million sq. meters damaged, housing became a major problem. Until the 1960s most of the people in Leningrad lived in so-called "communal" (i.e. shared) apartments.

    Against all the odds the city was transformed. Unlike many other cities Leningrad was not modernized, but restored to the highest pre-war standards. The palaces of Peterhof and Pushkin had to be almost fully rebuilt. The careful restoration took some time and tremendous amounts of money.

    Some of the suburban palaces, like the Aleksandrovsky Palace of Nicholas II in Pushkin, still await restoration. The city museums had reopened swiftly after fixing most of the war damage. But a blue sign of Bombardment Warning on Nevsky Prospect and the green mounds of the Piskariovskoye Memorial Cemetery still remind us of the tragic past of Leningrad.

    The 70s and the early 80s were a period of stability for the Soviet Union and for Leningrad. Though political freedoms were largely limited, most of the city's population enjoyed relative prosperity. When the government initiated the reforms known worldwide as Perestroika all stability of course disappeared. The population began experiencing economic hardship, while the reforms went on. In 1991, after a city-wide referendum, the city of Leningrad was renamed and got back its old name - St. Petersburg.

    In the second half of the 90s, St. Petersburg was still in a transition period, both economically and socially. While the city industry was still in recession, services and retail sales were gradually improving, though economically St. Petersburg was still far behind Moscow. On the social side, the younger generations were coping with the change quite well, but unemployment was high, employment prospects for those over 45 were dim and pensioners struggled desperately to make ends meet.

  • Saint Petersburg nowadays

    Now, in the new century the people of St. Petersburg are fully prepared to welcome guests and open St. Petersburg's numerous treasures to the rest of the world. After all, St. Petersburg is the most beautiful city of the world and we ought to prove that. We love it, and we are convinced, you'll love it too.

    So, welcome to St. Petersburg - a marvelous city on the Baltic Sea, which will be glad to unveil its treasures before you...

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