ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA — Amazing palaces, charming canals, opulent gardens, magnificent churches and a world-class museum make St. Petersburg one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Here are a few interesting facts about the former imperial capital of Russia that my wife, Grace, and I visited recently:

• Founded by Czar Peter the Great in 1703, St. Petersburg was the capital of the Russian Empire for more than 200 years until 1918.

• St. Petersburg has changed its name several times since its founding. During World War I, Russia thought the name Sankt Petersburg sounded too German, so Czar Nicholas II decided in 1914 to rename it Petrograd. After the death of Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, the city was renamed Leningrad. In September 1991, after the fall of communism, the city’s historical name, St. Petersburg, was restored.

• A city of 5 million, it is the third largest in Europe, behind Moscow with a population of 12 million, and London with 8 million. St. Petersburg is located on 42 islands and has more than 350 bridges. Its beautiful canals, part of the Neva River, which flows into the Baltic Sea, give it the nickname, “the Venice of the North.”

• St. Petersburg has one of the deepest and most attractive subway systems in the world. To get to the platform of the deepest station, Admiralteyskaya, you need to descend 282 feet on a series of escalators. All eight metro stations are places of cultural significance. Some are highly decorated with crystal chandeliers, palatial columns and mosaics.

• Housed in the magnificent Winter Palace, a former residence of Russian emperors, the Hermitage Museum, with an astonishing three million pieces of artwork, is one of the top art museums in the world, on par with the Louvre in Paris and the Prado in Madrid. Founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great, it has been open to the public since 1852. The museum is a complex of six historic buildings along Palace Embankment. An army of cats helps guard the art stored in the museum’s cellars, keeping rats away from priceless items.

• The Blue Bridge is the widest of its kind in the world at 319 feet, while the Alexander Nevsky Bridge is the longest of its kind in the world, nearly 3,000 feet.

• St. Petersburg hosts more than 20 international art festivals each year and has more than 70 theaters and 300 museums.

• Peterhof, Peter the Great’s luxurious palace is called Russia’s Versailles and is one of the most popular visitor attractions. It is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

• Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral, the centerpiece of the Peter and Paul Fortress, is the tallest building in the city and the burial location of many Romanov czars, including Peter the Great, Catherine II the Great and the last czar, Nicholas II.

• Catherine Palace, named after Peter the Great’s wife, is one of the largest and most ornate palaces in Russia. The Great Hall — enormous at 9,000 square feet — resembles the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles with 300 mirrors and 7,000 candles.

• One of the most interesting churches in all of Russia, the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, was built on the place where Czar Alexander II was assassinated by a revolutionary in 1881. Its five onion-domes are colorfully decorated with jeweler’s enamel. The highlight of both the interior and exterior of the cathedral are its mosaic collection, one of the largest in Europe.

• St. Isaac’s Cathedral is the fourth largest in the world. It can accommodate 14,000 worshipers and now serves as a museum. Services are held only on significant religious holidays.

Terry Housholder is president of KPC Media Group. Contact him at

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