Colloquially known as "Piter" and "the Northern Capital," and formerly known as Leningrad (1924–1991), the city of St. Petersburg is located in northwestern Russia on the Baltic Sea. Today, St. Petersburg is Russia's second largest city (with about 4.7 million inhabitants), a major European cultural center, and the most important Russian Baltic Sea port. It is the northernmost major city in the world, and the city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Built from the ground up by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703 as a "window to Europe," St. Petersburg served as the political and cultural capital of the country during the imperial period until 1918. With its strict geometric lines and perfectly planned architecture, so unlike the Russian cities that came before it, St. Petersburg is a unique combination of European and Russian elements. Fyodor Dostoyevsky called St. Petersburg "the most abstract and intentional city on earth."
St. Petersburg has always been a major center of Russian culture and arts: it is the birthplace of Russian literature, Russian ballet, and a uniquely Russian style of music. The famous Fabergé eggs were created here. Incorporating more than 100 islands and crisscrossed by more than 60 rivers and canals, St. Petersburg has often been compared to Venice. Even during periods of economic hardship and political crisis, St. Petersburg's gleaming imperial palaces emphasize the city's regal bearing, even more so in the cold light of the Russian winter.