The determined determination of one man built this city in a swamp, in a territory claimed by the enemy. Years later, Hitler decreed that he should be wiped off the face of the earth. The name of the city? Saint Petersburg, Russia’s Window to Europe, Venice of the North, City of Light, it is simply the most beautiful city I have ever seen. It overwhelms the eye and the soul.
He was conceived in the mind of Peter the Great, aptly named, as he stood 7’2 “tall and cast an even longer shadow, and was born of his will, built, as they say, from the bones of thousands of servants, and built where no city could or should be built.
“The history of the city,” writes the BBC, “is a history of the triumph of the human will over the elements.” After all, it was the Russian winter that finally defeated Napoleon, and St. Petersburg almost parallels Helsinki.
It is said that one day the Tsar of Russia, who, determined to make Russia a country in its own right, not the colony of one of the occupied superpowers at the time it divided the world between them, dragged his country without help from no one. the appropriate century, he galloped across the swamp to where the Neva River meets the Gulf of Finland, dismounted, plunged his saber into the mud, and declared: “Here will be a city.”
Not only was it built in a swamp, it was built in a swamp that Russia didn’t own. Perennially at war with Sweden, the land was claimed at that time by the Swedes. The first settlers experienced flooding immediately, and it was deemed habitable … none of which mattered to Peter.
Or maybe it did. The man had a vision and a statement to make, and it was a politically strategic location.
Peter’s mission was to drag the Russian people, kicking and screaming, into the modern world. Because what is a city without people in it? Peter ordered the boyars to move from Moscow to St. Petersburg, dress and behave like Westerners, and shave their beards. In the Russian Orthodox religion, the longer the beard, the greater the probability that it will enter heaven. Peter the Great didn’t care.
St. Petersburg was a political statement, and so was its rebuilding for its 300th anniversary two years ago. With roads and houses in disrepair, people watched as hundreds of millions of dollars were invested in rebuilding the presidential palace and other cultural treasures. The total for the renovation was said to be $ 2 billion.
On the restoration, Bob Parsos, BBC, wrote: “The people of this most European of Russian cities are proud of the city’s cultural heritage … But the hundreds of retirees whose country houses and gardens were razed Until giving way to the restoration of the Konstantinovsky Palace are seething with rage. ” It was done without your input or consent, so as not to be an embarrassment when dignitaries visited for the celebration.
Like most of us, in many ways, they were “grudgingly happy” with the outcome. Shall we say ambivalent?
Does the city, the world, need The State Hermitage, one of the world’s great museums, which is made up of six buildings and stretches along the Neva in the heart of the city?
The city has its history. Stalin’s purges in the 1920s included up to a quarter of the city’s inhabitants, and more than a million died as the Germans besieged the city for 900 days during World War II. That is three years.
Standing inside the Hermitage, we saw images of the devastation. On the Hermitage website, you can read an excerpt from Hitler’s high command’s instructions on the destruction of Leningrad, dated September 29, 1941:
“… 2. The Führer has decided to erase the city of Saint Petersburg from the face of the earth. We have no interest in preserving even a part of the population of that city.
4. It is proposed to hermetically enclose the city and bombard with artillery of all calibers and constant aerial bombardments to destroy it to the ground … “
Almost two million civilians, including some 400,000 children, plus troops were trapped inside the city. According to ‘The History of Saint Petersburg’:
“Food and fuel supplies were very limited (enough for 1 or 2 months only). All public transportation stopped. In the winter of 1941-42 there was no heat, no water supply, almost no electricity and very little food. In January 1942, in the middle of an unusually cold winter, the city’s lowest food rations were just 125 grams (about 1/4 pound) … “
Just below Heritage is the Peter and Paul Fortress, the first stones laid by Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia. We toured for this too. Over the years, it housed Russia’s most famous political prisoners.
Human beings are not reasonable creatures. If we were, half the wonderful things in the world would not exist. But we are capable of being reasonable. If we weren’t, the inclination of the windmills would have torn us apart eons ago.
It requires the wisdom of Solomon to know and be both, and to choose when and in what proportion.
“The reasonable man adapts to the conditions around him,” wrote George Bernard Shaw. “The irrational man adapts the environment to himself. All progress depends on the irrational man.”