The 'Venice of the North', with its numerous canals and more than 400 bridges, is the result of a vast urban project begun in 1703 under Peter the Great. Later known as Leningrad (in the former USSR), the city is closely associated with the October Revolution. Its architectural heritage reconciles the very different Baroque and pure neoclassical styles, as can be seen in the Admiralty, the Winter Palace, the Marble Palace and the Hermitage.
The building of the capital of Peter the Great, symbol of Russia, began in the 18th century, thanks to the colossal forced labour of Russian soldiers, Swedish and Ottoman prisoners of war, and Finnish and Estonian workers and labourers. The metamorphosis of an inhospitable coastal area into a superb city where palaces, churches and convents, and also two-storey stone houses fit in to the urban designs of the Frenchman Alexandre Leblond, was completed in less than 20 years.
A network of canals, streets and quais was gradually built up, beginning in the reign of Peter the Great. Similarly in the 18th century, under the empresses Anna Ivanovna, Elisabeth Petrovna and Catherine II the Great, the urban landscape of St Petersburg took on its monumental splendour. An array of foreign architects, including Rastrelli, Rinaldi, Quarenghi, Cameron and Vallin de la Mothe, rivalled one another with audaciousness and splendour with the capital's huge palaces and convents and in imperial and princely suburban residences - Petrodvorets, Lomonosov, Tsarskoie Selo (Pushkin), Pavlovsk, Gatchina, etc.
Again under Paul I (who ordered the construction of the Michailovska Palace) and especially in the 19th century under Alexander I, the impetus given by the city's founder continued with astonishing monumental works: palaces and theatres by Carlo Rossi; the remarkable Arts Square by the same architect; the collegiate church of Notre Dame of Kazan by Voronikhin; St Isaac Cathedral by Auguste de Montferrand, assisted by Vassili Stassov, Abram Melnikov, and Alexandre and Andrei Michailov, are some of the great masterpieces of the period. In the history of urbanism St Petersburg is no doubt the only example of a vast project that retained all its logic despite the rapid succession of styles reputed to be irreconcilable: everything opposed the unrestricted Baroque style of the collegial church of the Resurrection begun by Bartolomeo Rastrelli in 1748 and completed by Vassili Stassov in 1835 and the refined neoclassicism of Tauride Palace; at Palace Square the exuberant architecture of the Winter Palace, where Rastrelli gave free reign to his imagination, provides the background to the irreproachable Alexander Column, built from 1830 to 1834 by Auguste de Montferrand. From the disparity of styles, an impression of timeless grandeur comes to life in this distended historic centre where the greatness of the monuments is on a scale with a landscape free of any background, open to the sea, perpetually swept by sea breezes and criss-crossed by canals running beneath, it is said, more than 400 bridges. The multicoloured, sparkling capital of the Baltic, St Petersburg reconciles the lively colours of plaster and stucco, the reflection of marble, granite and porphyry, and the brilliance of gilt decorations, with the green of the parks, and the unreal blue of the waters of the Neva, the opposing principles of the architects who succeeded one another at the site from 1703 to the modern era.
The ensembles designed in St Petersburg and the surrounding area by several international architects exerted great influence in the 18th and 19th centuries on the development of architecture and monumental arts in Russia and Finland. The site links outstanding examples of Baroque imperial residences with the architectural ensemble of St Petersburg, the Baroque and neoclassical capital par excellence. St Petersburg was, moreover, directly associated with events of universal significance.