Saint Petersburg (Russian: Санкт-Петерб́ург Sankt-Peterburg), known as Petrograd in 1914-1924 and Leningrad in 1924-1991, is the second largest city of Russia, with 5 million inhabitants, and the former capital of the Russian Empire. Founded in 1703, it is not ancient, but its historical cityscape is remarkably well-preserved. The center of Saint Petersburg occupies numerous islands of the Neva River delta, divided by waterways and connected by huge drawbridges. Since 1991 it and some historical suburbs, including Peterhof, have been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site . It is home to one of the world's largest museums of art, the Hermitage. Many Russians know the city as Piter (Питер), a familiar diminutive of Saint Petersburg.
Saint Petersburg was founded by Peter the Great in 1703 on the Neva river, amidst the land he had just conquered from Sweden, outside the area populated then by the Russian people. Pre-planned rather than spontaneous almost from the very beginning, the city, called by Peter "my window on Europe", was designed to look European rather than Russian, and many European architects were invited to work here. As the capital of the Russian Empire from the early 18th century to the early 20th century, the city grew steadily, saw many crucial events of the Russian history, and was a major cultural center. Many world-famous artists, scientists, writers and composers, such as Mendeleev, Dostoevsky and Tchaikovsky, lived and worked here.
In 1917 the Russian Revolution started. The significance of Saint Petersburg has declined somewhat after the transfer of the Russian capital to Moscow in 1918, but this allowed its cityscape to remain largely intact to this day. During World War II, the city was besieged by the Wehrmacht for 872 days, resulting in more than a million of civilian losses, mainly from starvation. Read more