St. Petersburg: Russia’s Gateway to the West

Winter Palace in St. Petersburg as seen from the Palace Embankment. (Photo by Alex 'Florstein' Fedorov via Wikimedia Commons)
Winter Palace in St. Petersburg as seen from the Palace Embankment. (Photo by Alex ‘Florstein’ Fedorov via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1914, the city of St. Petersburg, Russia was renamed Petrograd.

Here are some things you may not have known about St. Petersburg and its frequently changing name.

The city was founded in 1703 by Czar Peter the Great at the mouth of the Neva River on the Gulf of Finland. He named the city after the Apostle St. Peter.

Peter the Great wanted to build a seaport to allow Russia to trade with other maritime nations. The country’s only other option was the city of Archangel on the White Sea, which was closed to shipping in the winter by ice.

The city was designed by two architects, one from Switzerland, the other from France. For this reason, the city is the most western like of Russia’s major cities.

From 1713 to 1728 and then from 1732 through 1918, the city was the imperial capital of Russia.

In 1914, the name was changed by Czar Nicholas II to Petrograd, Russian for “Peter’s City.” This was done to remove the German influence from the name during World War I. He also changed the city name’s honoree from St. Peter to Peter the Great.

Petrograd didn’t last long, however, and became Leningrad 10 years later upon the death of Vladimir Lenin.

During World War II, the city was besieged by the Nazis for 872 days, leading to the deaths of more than 1 million civilians, mostly from starvation.

In 1991, the city had a referendum on whether to change the name of the city back to the  original one. 54 percent of voters were in favor of reverting to St. Petersburg, and the change took effect on Sept. 6, 1991. The name of the oblast or state that surrounds the city remains Leningrad.

Our question: What was the name of the protagonist in Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment,” which was set in St. Petersburg?


Today is Independence Day in Uzbekistan,  Constitution Day in Slovakia and Knowledge Day in Russia and Ukraine.

It’s unofficially Random Acts of Kindness Day, American Chess Day, and National Cherry Popover Day.

It’s the birthday of boxer Rocky Marciano, who was born in 1923; actress Lily Tomlin, who is 77; and musician Barry Gibb, who turns 70.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1970, the top song in the U.S. was “War” by Edwin Starr.

The No. 1 movie was “Diary of a Mad Housewife,” while the novel “Love Story” by Erich Segal topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.

Weekly question

What tire company is now the exclusive provider for Formula One?



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