As Peter the Great’s “Window onto Europe”, St. Petersburg was conceived as a city unlike any other in Russia, taking its cues from the latest architectural and technical advances in Europe.
To implement his vision, Tsar Peter employed hundreds of foreign experts in the construction and administration of his new city. Many rose to prominence in the Russian armed services and government, while others brought knowledge and expertise in the arts, crafts and sciences that boosted Russia into the forefront of the Enlightenment.
Before the October Revolution, St. Petersburg was one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, and individuals and communities from all over Europe have left their indelible mark on the culture, customs, and built environment of the city.
Like the United States, St. Petersburg was founded in the 18th century, and like the Unites States, St. Petersburg was built and populated by immigrants from all across Europe.
And yet, while rooted in European culture and essentially European in character, both Russia and the United States retained an uneasy and ambiguous relationship with the Old World, by turns embracing their position in Western Civilization and rejecting its perceived decadence in favour of a more primitive, homegrown culture.
While enthusiasm for the American way of life may have cooled over the last decade, just as a certain level of political antagonism has returned to relationships between the two countries, cultural ties remain vital to many of St. Petersburg’s greatest institutions – the Hermitage with the Guggenheim Museum and the Mariinsky Theatre with the Metropolitan Opera House.
The cultural wealth shared by St. Petersburg and the USA and the large number of American citizens with recent roots in the city mean that private relations between Petersburgers and Americans are stronger than ever.