A Window to the West
History has it that the United States capital city of Washington D.C. was
designed with the intention of intimidating visiting foreign heads of state. The
creation of this city had purpose and reason; neither of which are very natural or
human. St. Petersburg was viewed by the Russian people in this context.
Typically a city grows from a small town to a massive metropolis with years and
years of expansion outward. The Russian people already plagued with
xenophobia, could not accept Peter the Great’s new city designed with Western
ideals and made by Western minds.
Peter the Great sought to bring his country into the modern and more
western world. By means of taxing old dress, and creating a table of ranks by
which upward mobility is possible and higher education institutions. Through his
travels throughout Europe Peter, yearned to update and facilitate Russia as a
respected power and as a modernized country.
In order to westernize Russia a physical connection had to be established
between the Old World Russia and the rest of Europe. The only way to
accomplish this feat, was to create trade and travel routes between the West
and Russia. After securing his borders, the next task “of expanding Russia’s
contacts and territory, especially in ways that would liberate Russia from its long
isolation as a landlocked country.”(Thompson 98) Contact with the west was
limited because of Russia’s lack of access to warm water seaports where trade
and travel between Russia and the West could take place. The need for warm
water seaports therefore shaped Peter’s foreign policy.
Peter attempted to gain access to the Baltic Sea by defeating Sweden,
the most powerful force in north central Europe. War with Sweden raged on for
twenty-one years during which Peter gained enough access in the Baltic to
establish a city he named St. Petersburg, his “window to the West.”(Thompson
98) . Indeed Peter’s efforts helped create a window to the Western Europe but
like all windows the rest of Europe could look into Russia as mush as Russia
could look out to Western Europe. Peter wanted to create a city that showed
Europe Russia’s prestige.
The premeditated creation of the city, through
Peter’s will to carve for himself a “window on the
West” overshadowing the old capital of Moscow
and steering the country away from its cultural
and religious traditions, led to the notion that the
city’s life had a rootless, unreal quality. Leiter 5
Petersburg was seen as an unnatural city to many of the Russian citizens.
Physically situated upon a march on the Neva River, the plan of the city was
planned and created according to the plan of Peter’s. “The terrain on which St.
Petersburg rose was a marshy coastal plain divided into many islands by the
branches of the Neva.”(Shvidkovsky 20) This site, for all of its obvious flaws,
should have never been developed into a city making the physical plan of the