Three hundred years ago, thousands of workers died in Russia’s Baltic swamps in the name of completing Peter the Great’s vision. St. Petersburg was to be his window on the west, designed with European order and symmetry. During the city’s construction, Peter himself inhabited a modest wooden cabin, which still stands today. St. Petersburg is home to the Winter Palace, built for Empress Elizabeth, who died in 1752 prior to the completion of this masterpiece of Russian architecture. The palace houses the Hermitage museum. Another intriguing site is the Engineer’s Castle, built by the son of Catherine the Great, whose paranoia prompted the construction of this fortress as a sanctuary against potential assassins. He lived there for just 3 days before being murdered in his own bedroom.
St. Petersburg is widely regarded as Russia’s center of culture. Its climate is characterized by bright, brittle winters and endless “White Nights” in the summer. The Mariinsky Theatre is home to the Kirov ballet, whose principal dancers included Vasily Nijinsky. Its hotels and restaurants have been described as superior to those of Moscow, and its history is equally rich and tumultuous.