By Sergei SEMENTSOV, Cand. Sc. (Architecture), Research Institute of St. Petersburg and Northwest
St. Petersburg, Russia's northern capital, is famous for its architectural harmony and layout. A city without peer both here in Russia and elsewhere in Europe. It numbers dozens of thousands of historical edifices and palaces erected in the 18th and 19th centuries. Now add the unique palace and park compounds in the suburbs. In 1989 UNESCO included all that into the world heritage list under special protection. Like it is with many large cities of the world, St. Petersburg's history has many a legend to it.
Peter the Great, as it is believed, has founded the new Russian capital in a desolate locality, and in keeping with a master plan (by West-European canons), materialized by foreign architects only. Yet archival materials and old drawings tell us a different tale-namely, that myth and legend may quarrel with the actual facts, and that the real history of St. Petersburg did not begin in 1703-it began much earlier, in the 14th century at least.
St. Petersburg's roots go back to the Russian-populated Neva district when the Novgorod republic had its heyday. In fact, this territory was settled centuries before the year 1703. A small Novgorodian stronghold in the Neva's mouth (under the command of voivode Pilgusy) was first mentioned in the Russian chronicles anno 1240.
In 1300, during one of their crusades, the Swedes seized lands along the Neva and founded the fort Landskron in the mouth of the Okhta, one of the tributaries of the Neva. Next year, in 1301, the Novgorodians captured this fortress and burned it down. In 1323 the Novgorodians put up a stone fortress, Oreshek, at the Neva's source; it was there that Novgorod and Sweden signed a peace treaty a few months after. All of the territory of the Neva district had belonged to the Novgorod republic up until 1478, when Grand Duke Ivan 111 annexed it to the Grand Principality of Muscovy.
By the end of the 15th century the territory of what was to be St. Petersburg numbered 994 - 998 communities of different size. This land was devastated by many wars in the 15th-18th centuries, and it changed its population several times. Once the Moscovian government deported dozens of thousands of Novgorodians hostile to Muscovy, and settled loyal folks from the Muscovy region. Still and all, the old communities remained where they were.
Sweden occupied the Neva district in the 1580s, and had made it part of the Swedish territory in keeping with the Stolbovo Treaty of 1617. It came to be called Ingermanland, and the fortress of Oreshek was renamed into Noteburg.
Force was used to convert the native population from the Orthodox to the Protestant faith. Experts say as many as 50 thousand natives fled to Russia, including ethnic Russian and Ugro-Finnish tribes (Vodi, Karelians, Izhora, Vesi, Lopi). The Swedes countered by moving in something like 60 thousand Finns and other ethnic groups from what used to be their province of Finland. Orthodox faith believers made up less than 6 percent of the population then.
The Swedes built farmsteads and settlements on the sites of old Russian communities and villages. The trade town of Nyen, founded in 1611, stood on the lands of ancient settlements populated by Russian fishermen, merchants and artisans ("on the mouth of the Okhta"). Quite nearby, on the other bank of the Okhta (which came to be known as the Black Stream), the Swedes built the fortress of Nyenschanz in 1658 - 1661 (before that, the fort of a Swedish governor-general). However, in the 16th century this had been the site of the Russian community of Ventsishche.
Swedish geodetic maps of the 17th century have survived to this day, showing in much detail the location of communities, estate boundaries, plowland, pastures and roads. Many communities changed their names after the Swedish and Finnish fashion, while others retained their old names as recorded back in 15th-century Russian registers. Many of the rivers, lakes, forests and out-of-the-way places got Finnish names too.
Captained by Peter I, the troops regained these territories for Russia between September 1702 and May 1703. The Swedes escaped from Nyen and fled to the north, to the town of Vyborg, while the Finnish stayed on. On May 27, 1703, a St. Petersburg earthwork with six bastions was founded on a islet, Zayachy, in the Neva's delta. A bit over northwards, beyond a narrow channel, the Russian military pitched camp. That's how the history of St. Petersburg, or Northern Palmyra began.
The city was being built over an area of many square kilometers. Simultaneously, dozens of sloboda suburbs were being put up, and various government departments set up, with many located on the sites of old settlements known even in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. For instance, the Summer Palace and the Summer Gardens* of Peter I were built on what used to be the estate of Major Konau of Sweden. Peter's winter house rose on the plot where one of the Swedish nobles, Lej, had his court, whereas Nyen
* See: V. Korenzwit, "Summer Gardens", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2002. -Ed.
became the core of the Bolshaya Okhta sloboda (township). The villages of Khotshino, Kipenskoye and Khrapshi, known already in the 15th century, became Gatchina, Ki-peniand Ropsha...
Something like 55 old settlements must have been converted into town slobodas. Many roads were turned into streets. Dozens of streets and avenues in present- day St. Petersburg used to be roads in olden times. The Leningrad region has thousands of kilometers of roads known in the 17th century and earlier, among them long stretches of Swedish highways linking Nyen and Ingermanland with Vyborg, Narva, Kaksholm, Noteborg, Jam and Novgorod.
We thus can say that in spite of political, social and ethnic changes wrought over many centuries, the system of settlement in the Neva district, the way it had been in the 15th through 17th centuries, remained stable enough. It is on this very basis, not "from zero" (as one will believe), that the city of St. Petersburg was created; such continuity can be traced down to the first decades of the 20th century.
Russia's northern capital is remarkable for the multiethnic makeup of its population, something that has impacted the city's architecture. People of most different religious denominations were building houses of worship. Time out mind the Neva district became a zone where two great religions-Orthodox Faith and Roman Catholicism- contacted each other. Then came the Protestants. Such contacts, on for many centuries, gave rise to a polyethnic population composed of Slavs (Novgorodian Slovenes and Pskovian Krivichi), Ugro-Finns (Vodi, Vesi, Chudi, Karelians, Izhora, Lopi) and even of Scandinavian Vikings (Varangians). Thrown into this "melting pot" in the Swedish times was a considerable number of Finnish stock from various tribes and a bit of Swedes, Germans and the Dutch. Ethnic processes speeded up under Peter the Great who ordered to enlist dozens of thousands of people all over Russia for settlement and seasonal work in St. Petersburg. The newcomers included ethnic Slavs from Russia's northern and central regions (Novgorod, Pskov, Vologda, Arkhangelsk, Moscow, Kostroma and Yaroslavl) as well as Tatars and Bashkirs from the Volga region, Germans, Estonians, Letts and Lithuanians from the Baltic, and many other nationalities. Invited from European countries were army officers, savants, architects, artists, musicians, artisans, cooks, confectioners, teachers, tutors (the Dutch, Germans, the English, Scotts, Italians,
the Swiss, Norwegians, Swedes, Greeks, the French...). Then came Georgians, Armenians, Moldavians, Ukrainians and Byelorussians.
Way back in 1717, St. Petersburg's master plan (drawn up by the French architect J. Leblon) provided for setting up compact slobodas for different nationalities, and houses of worship for them. Although this plan was not realized in full, its key principle stayed-that is creating appropriate conditions for people of many nationalities and ethnic groups in our northern capital. That's how so many townships came to be the Tatar, English, French, Greek and German slobodas. As of the 1720s, coaching inns (forerunners of hotels) were opened for foreign guests, in which national dishes were served. Churches were erected to cater to people of corresponding religions. In 1749 and 1750 houses of worship were built on Nevsky prospekt for seven denominations. Russian, German, French and Italian theaters were opened in the 17th century. Many school were set up for ethnic groups during the 19th century.
The Russians turned to the world experience in town planning still under Peter the Great, and they chose the best with an eye to harsh northern conditions. For instance, construction techniques in lowland and inundated tracts; the codes for digging canals, for building vertical-lift bridges, the foundations of houses and other structures-all that came from the Low Countries. Palaces and public edifices were designed after French, Italian and German models. Besides, the Dutch, French and English parks and gardens of the 18th-19th centuries became a nice setting for the splendid architectural ensembles in St. Petersburg and in its suburbs. The Dutch and French fortification theories were realized in the many forts, redoubts, batteries and fortifications. But all that was done in compliance with the Russian style and tradition. Up until the mid- 1710s, St. Petersburg had been built out as a traditional Russian town with wooden houses, picturesque crooked alleys, gardens and orchards. However, already by the end of the 1720s St. Petersburg's architecture had incorporated the motifs of Italian and French baroque, renaissance and classicism side by side with the native construction practices. Dutch models, such as daubed-brick-or-wood cottages, small gardens and painted tiles* in interiors, came to stay. And already in the 1740, F. B. Rastrelli began
* See: O. Ageyeva, "Russia's Gateway to the West", Science in Russia, No. l,2002.- Ed.
creating masterpieces of what came to be known as the St. Petersburg baroque. Chinese and Japanese motifs became quite fashionable in interior decorations, and special rooms were set aside in palaces and decorated that way. Early in the 1760s, French classicism moved in, and hundreds of buildings were put up in this style. Thereupon Moslem motifs came to be in vogue during the Russo-Turkish wars, in the 1770s and 1780s. Thus "Moresque" rooms and halls appeared; bath-houses built in this style became a must for any respectable palace or mansion. The facades, however, remained classicist.
And so it came to pass that in the 1830s the idea was taking body and form of St. Petersburg as an encyclopedia of the art of architecture of all countries and peoples. But this architectural trend of the 1830s and 1840s was not a novel phenomenon-not at all!-it came as a conspicuous revival of the 18th-century styles.
A galaxy of brilliant architects worked in St. Petersburg during the 18th and 19th centuries. These are the Russians I. Korobov, P. Yeropkin and A. Voronikhin; D. Trezzini of Switzerland; the French architects J. Leblon, J. Valloi-Delamote and A. Monferran; the Italians G. Quarenghi and C. Rossi; the Germans L. Bostedt, F. von Klenze and M. Messmacher; the Swedes K. Anderson and F. Lidval; A. Betancour of Spain, to name but a few.
Many wooden houses built in St. Petersburg during the 18th century were typically Russian in style which was transferred to those built of brick in the 19th century. This renaissance took on a variety of forms harking back to the 12th through 17th centuries.
Nor did St. Petersburg's architecture lose its originality in the latter half of the 19th and early in the 20th century either. Many outstanding monuments of European architecture were emulated by our architects during the "historical method" age which brought a revival of Italian renaissance, French and German baroque, English Victorians styles as well as Austrian, German and French moderne. The motifs of all these architectures came to be reflected in the buildings of St. Petersburg's streets. At the same time, our architects showed interest in Russian national styles too.
New, industrial motifs came with the 20th century: constructivism (1920s-1930s), post-constructivism and industrialism (both covering a period of the 1960s to the 1990s). In between, late in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, what we call the
"Stalinist Empire style" entered the stage; it revived many ideas and forms of the classicism of the 1820s and 1830s.
As a matter of fact, St. Petersburg's ensembles have always been formed by the canons of different architectural styles. The main thoroughfare, Nevsky prospekt, alone boasts of buildings in 13 different styles which blend harmoniously. The point is that our city has always been developing under a general plan (there have been 19 such plans all in all, with the 20th being now at the gestation stage; the first master plan was drawn up in 1717).
Russia's northern capital is remarkable for a unique town-building system; the palace- and-park estates of its suburbs are likewise a major attraction. A single architectural composition takes in hundreds of kilometers, with the Neva in the center (the river is nearly 1 km wide in the heart of the city, next to the Winter Palace). A string of architectural ensembles have risen around the Winter Palace: the Palace and St. Isaac Squares, the Sts. Peter and Paul Fortress, the Spit of the Vasilyevsky ostrov, and the Admiralty building with its famous spire (five avenues, Nevsky prospekt including, converge at the site of this building).
The city on the Neva has been built by premier architects who have personally supervised the construction works. This rule was instituted by the founder of Northern Palmyra, Peter the Great, and it has always been observed without fail. Early in the 18th century architectural and building codes were enforced for St. Petersburg and its suburbs. In the 1830s and 1840s they were elevated to the status of laws binding on everybody, even on the emperors. The czar exercised personal control over architectural and building works, he endorsed designs for the city's main streets. A series of ukases specified his powers here. Such rigid rules have been instrumental in creating St. Petersburg, a city of wondrous architectural harmony.