by Olga AGEYEVA, Cand. Sc. (Hist.), Institute of Russian History, Russian Academy of Sciences
Under Peter the Great, the czar who initiated what is called Petrine reforms, the Russian public split on the issue of St. Petersburg.
Some admired the new town and seaport, its architecture and layout. Others cursed the German "paradise" and dreamed of returning to Moscow. Which party was right?
Founded in the Neva's estuary in May 1703, St. Petersburg became Russia's capital city in 1712. By the year 1725 it had a population of 40,000, that is it was the nation's second largest city after Moscow. Its very existence fueled controversy. Was it indeed a new wonder of the world? Or a foul gangrene, "the fiery disease", on the body of the Russian czardom? A limb one had better cut off and throw away?..
The Petrine authorities were thumbs up for the new capital, of course. The hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church, men of letters and artists extolled the Northern Palmyra. Its image was consonant with the ideas of Petrine reformers. Originally, however, the town on the Neva was founded for purely utilitarian purposes-as a fortress and seaport in Russia's northwest. This is what we read in the gazette Vedomosti ("Tidings") of August 1703: "... His Majesty has ordered that a town and fortress be built at the seaside not far from Schlotburg for all merchandise shipped to Riga, Narva and Schanez, and likewise for Persian and Chinese merchandise."
The new town was also seen as an important stronghold against the Swedes, at that time at war with Russia. Johann Vockerodt, a Prussian diplomat, says the idea to build a fortress, first suggested by the head of the government Fyodor Golovin after the Russian troops had captured Kantsi*, was approved by the war council.
But St. Petersburg was in for a great future. The year 1708 was an important landmark along this path. That year, on June 29 (the czar's nameday and the new town's fifth birthday), the Metropolitan of Ry ... Read more