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.
You will visit the Summer Garden with it's beautiful sculptures - the beloved child of Peter the First. Michael garden with Russian Museum, Alexander garden with Admiralty Tower and the Copper Horseman, the Park of the Stone Island and Kirova Park. Walking along the paths of the parks and public gardens, admiring the well-known railing of the Summer Garden as well as the railings and lampposts of the other parks and gardens, you'll feel all of them being an integral part of the city.
Even those, who have never been here yet, have definitely seen the photographs of the magnificent fountains, park pavilions and palaces of this Tsar's Residence. Planned by Peter the First himself, the ensemble has been further developed and accomplished by many an excellent architects, sculptors and engineers.
You'll enjoy the Big Peterhoffs Palace, planned by F. Rastrelly, the Palace Mon-plaisir (the first Painting Gallery in Russia), the Big Stone Green-house, pavilion Hermitage, Marly Palace and the most remarkable here - a great number of fountains, different in form and decor, striking by their beauty, elegance and, sometimes even by their unpredictable conduct-Coming to Saint Petersburg, you ought to visit this place!
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.
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".
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.