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St Petersburg - My 'White Night' introduction

Updated: Jul 31

I grew up in Western Society that preached the Soviet Union is to be feared and now it is Russia we should fear. I decided I wanted to experience life and make my own judgement from a first hand experience. After experiencing living in the USA, UK and Spain, I have very different view to each country, its politics and its people.


Now experiencing Russia, you may find my conclusions interesting, but we will come to that later in a later blog. One thing I have learnt is not to judge a people by its politics.


Church of the Saviour on Blood, St Petersburg


St Petersburg is unlike any other Russian city you will encounter. I see it as a celebration of Peter the Great who founded the city in 1703 and named after the Apostle Saint Peter. It was the original site of a captured Swedish fortress and became the Capital of the Russian Empire until the Bolshevik October Revolution of 1917.


During WWI, the name was changed to Petrograd because it was felt St Petersburg was too Germanic. The city's name was changed again after the October Revolution to Leningrad until the fall of the Soviet Union when, in 1991, it reverted back by referendum to St Petersburg.


There is definitely a sense of resilience here that is strong within the people of St Petersburg.

I will share a bit more of the St Petersburg history because I find myself inexplicably drawn to it. I am fascinated, if not obsessed, by it's history as I find myself completely immersed in it and its beauty. History was never a subject I enjoyed at school, but here I feel lost in the past and that engages my passion. Here is a city that has seen such incredible tragedy and yet its people continue to rise up and dust it off over and over.


If those outside consider the tribulations faced by these people, including the fall of the Soviet Union and subsequent embezzlement of its State wealth, there would be a better understanding as to why they have become conditioned to and less impacted by suffering.


The Bolshevik October revolution of 1917 led to the unjustifiable murder of the entire Russian Monarchy and the romantic in me believes the Russian people lost part of themselves as a result.

The murder of the Monarchy and failure to offer stability led to the Russian Civil War of 1917 - 1923. St Petersburg suffered Lenin's 'Red Terror', Stalin's 'Purge' and Germany's 1941-1944 'Siege'. The Siege resulted in the deaths of 1.2 Million of the 3 Million population due to bombing, starvation and disease.



It is a city built around a myriad of canals and bridges and I wondered, where do all these boats go when it all freezes over during its cold winter?


It is often referred to as the 'Venice of the North'

I do take comfort in the fact that a lot of the historic buildings have or are being restored to their original greatness. The city, which is built on the Neva, is similar to Venice in many ways.



There is no mistaking the Italian and French architectural influences that represent the the Tsar Peter Great's particular fondness of the Palace of Versailles, which he found the most impressive, along with many other European Palaces.


I arrived during the 'White Night' celebrations when the sun never sets fully.

I remember driving after the Opera at 11pm whilst the sky was in a perpetual sunset which lasted hours. Traffic is better moving here than in Berlin with most streets limited to 60kmh against the 30kmh limits in Berlin. The main roads are up to 6 lanes wide. There is an abundance of public transport trams, trolley buses, buses and a metro. The apartment complexes in the centre of the city offer private parking in their private squares that are accessible through these huge electric remotely operated gates.


Svetlana had a University Reunion and I was invited to photograph the event, which took place on a river boat when the weather was overcast and windy. But the beauty of the city still stood out to me as I mixed for the first time with my new Russian friends.


This was my first day photographing in St Petersburg and the light was not ideal. I will soon share more of this incredible city and its people.


©2022 Noel Castley-Wright




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