With two revolutions in St. Petersburg during 1917, Russia dominated news headlines that year. The February revolution (March in the Gregorian calendar) saw the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II bringing an end to several hundred years of rule by the House of Romanov. And whilst the political landscape of the city underwent vast subsequent change evidence of royal rule remains throughout.
Although Peter the Great was born in Moscow his years of travel convinced him to found a Baltic coastal city in 1703 inspired by what he saw in Amsterdam. He named his city after Saint Peter with the burg part coming from the Germanic name for a fort. A decade later he declared the city Russia’s capital and the Peter and Paul Fortress became its first major building.
Given St. Petersburg’s large size I’ve summarised the main royal sites and the monarch involved in each.
Peter the Great (1682-1725)
Elizabeth I (1741-1761)
Catherine II better known as Catherine the Great (1762-1796)
Alexander I (1801 – 1825)
Nicholas I (1825-1855)
Alexander II (1855-1881)
Alexander III (1881-1894)
Whilst the Romanovs commissioned some of the most architecturally elaborate and aesthetically-pleasing buildings in the world construction involved a large amount of slave labour, labour which grew increasingly frustrated with the opulent lifestyles of the monarchy versus their own impoverished conditions. In January 1905 striking workers gathered in Palace Square to present a working conditions petition to Nicholas II but were met with force by the Winter Palace guards.
At the outbreak of World War I, St. Petersburg changed its name to the more Slavic-sounding Petrograd and found itself fighting the Austro-Hungarian & German empires. In February 1917 thousands once again gathered around the Winter Palace and Palace Square but this time the Tsar’s experienced troops were fighting on the Eastern Front and so the job of quelling protestors fell to a small number of inexperienced soldiers who eventually sided with the protestors.
A provisional government was set up in the Winter Palace and Tsar Nicholas II abdicated a number of days later. Russia ceased to be a monarchy but what followed later in 1917 would not only change St. Petersburg but would have repercussions throughout the world up to the present day.