City Day in St Petersburg: An annual celebration of history

(Photo credit: Wikimedia)

Unlike other cities in Russia which celebrate their birthdays on different days each year, for St Petersburg, regardless of whether or not the day of celebration falls on a working day, the date remains the same: 27 May. With this iconic day just around the corner, or День Города (Day of St Petersburg), as it has come to be known, Prospekt Magazine takes a brief look at the history of the city and offers an insight into what will be happening

Legend has it that the idea of building a city on the Neva delta was conceived when Peter the Great spotted a soaring eagle while out on a boating trip with his associates. The eagle, a symbol of power and dominion, had for centuries been adopted as an important motif in the heraldry of the imperial families of Russia, and Tsar Peter interpreted the sighting as a good omen. The fortress that he subsequently gave the command to build has since become an iconic destination for flocking tourists from all over the world.

St Petersburg is, in many ways, a unique city. Its connotations with its great founder, who, measuring at a staggering 6 ft 8 (2m), was quite literally head and shoulders above his contemporaries, remain very much intact to this day. Though the history of the city is brief in comparative terms, it is nevertheless rich, and its cultural spirit, as well as its special atmosphere, can be attested by all that have visited the beautiful northern capital.

One thing that is particularly fascinating about the city of St Petersburg is how deeply its history is ingrained in its citizens. If you ask any schoolchild here about the history of their city, they can no doubt provide you with a brief story about its origins. Prospekt Magazine spoke to some children around the city to see what being a citizen of St Petersburg means for them, and to find out what they know about the amazing history of this city.

(Photo credit: Jago Leckie)

Nastya, 11: For me St Petersburg is the most beautiful city in the world. It used to be the capital of Russia before it changed to Moscow. The city is home to more than 300 museums and 600 monuments. In school we learn about how Peter the 1st founded St Petersburg on the swamps that were there, he wanted it to be the Russian Venice.

Liza, 13: We spend a lot of time in school talking about the history of St Petersburg. We learned about how Peter the 1st decided to build the city because of its location, it is close to the Baltic Sea and he described it as the ‘window to Europe.’ I love living here, especially in the summer, people are so happy.

Bogdan, 14: St Petersburg was founded in 1703 when Peter the 1st built Peter and Paul’s fortress. It has since become a city that is defined by its heroism; the people of the city survived the siege during the Great Patriotic War. I like living here because it is so beautiful, and because it is not far from Europe.

Not many other cities around the world can boast such an impressive knowledge of their history by its youth. Nevertheless, this is far from surprising. St Petersburg’s history is rich and this should be celebrated. In its just over 300 hundred years of existence it has; been the capital of the Russian Empire, seen multiple revolutions, inspired the Golden age of Russian Culture, including such famous writers as Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol and Fyodor Dostoevsky, changed its name three times, and been victim to one of the worst sieges in human history. It is therefore no surprise that the citizens of St Petersburg, or Петербуржцы (Peterburzhtsy) as they refer to themselves, express such pride when celebrating its birthday.

A guide to the day

The 2017 celebration in St Petersburg will begin traditionally with the laying of wreaths and bouquets of flowers at the monument to the great sovereign Peter I, thanks to whom St Petersburg was the capital of Russia from 1712 to 1918, and which even after the loss of this status remains a truly unique city.

Arguably the highlight of the celebration will be the Classic at the Palace Square, a concert with opera stars from all over the world performing. The concert will start at 9pm and admission is free. More information can be found on the website here.

There will also be a festival for the early Middle Ages taking place in the Peter and Paul Fortress. The festival features large-scale reconstruction of fighting, a historical costume contest and the performances of folk groups of ancient Scandinavian music. Entrance is free.
As is tradition with all great Russian spectacles, the day will end with a grandiose firework display. The fireworks will be launched from Vasilyevsky Island at 10.50pm, and will be visible from both Neva river banks.
And even if you’re out of town for all of that, you still have a chance to catch the Traditional Carnaval Show on Nevsky Prospekt on 29 May at 12.40!

Happy City Day everyone!

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