Why We Build Cities on Swamps

One man’s single-minded determination built this city on a swamp, on territory claimed by the enemy. Years later, Hitler decreed it must be wiped off the face of the earth. The name of the town? St. Petersburg, Russia’s Window on Europe, Venice of the North, City of Light, is basically the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen. It overwhelms the attention, and the soul.

It was conceived in your brain of Peter the Great, aptly named, as he stood 7’2″ tall and cast an even longer shadow, and born by his will, built, reported by users, with the bones of thousands of serfs, and built where no city could or must certainly be built.

“The real history of the town,” writes the BBC, “is a story of the triumph of human will within the elements.” It was the Russian winter, in the end, that finally defeated Napoleon, and St. Petersburg is nearly parallel to Helsinki.

It’s said this one day the star of Russia, who, determined to produce Russia a nation in its own right, not the colony of one of many super powers busy at the time dividing the planet amongst them, single-handedly dragged his country into the appropriate century, galloped over the swamp to where the Neva River meets the Gulf of Finland, dismounted, plunged his saber in to the mire, and declared, “Here will be a city.”

Not just was it built on a swamp, it absolutely was built on a swamp that Russia didn’t own. Perennially at war with Sweden, the land was at the time claimed by the Swedes. Early settlers immediately experienced floods, and it absolutely was considered inhabitable … none which mattered to Peter.

Or maybe it did. The man had a vision and a record to produce, and it absolutely was a politically strategic location.

Peter’s mission was to drag the Russian people, kicking and screaming, into the modern world. For what’s an area without any people inside it? Peter commanded the boyars to maneuver from Moscow to St. Petersburg, to dress and behave like Westerners, and to shave their beards. In the Russian Orthodox religion, the longer one’s beard, the more the likelihood he’d enter heaven. Peter the Great didn’t care.

St. Petersburg was a political statement, and so was its reconstruction because of its 300th anniversary 2 yrs ago. With roads and houses in disrepair, the folks watched as countless millions of dollars were poured into reconstruction of the presidential palace and other cultural treasures. The sum total for renovation was said to be $2 billion.

Of the restoration, Bob Parsos, BBC, wrote: “The folks of this, the most European of Russian cities, are happy with the city’s cultural heritage…But the countless pensioners whose country cottages and gardens were razed to the floor to produce method for the restoration of the Konstantinovsky Palace are seething with rage.” It was done without their input or consent, whilst never to be an embarrassment when dignitaries visited for the celebration.

Like the majority of us, about many things, they were “grudgingly happy” with the outcome. Shall we say ambivalent?

Does the town, does the planet, need The State Hermitage, one of many world’s great museum, that will be comprised of six buildings and sprawls over the Neva in the center of the town?

The city has its history. Stalin’s purges in the 1920s included as much as a quarter of the city’s inhabitants, and greater than a million died while the Germans held siege to the town for 900 days during World War II. That’s three years.

Standing in the Hermitage, we saw pictures of the devastation. On the Hermitage website, you are able to read an excerpt from the instructions of Hitler’s high command on the destruction of Leningrad, dated September 29, 1941:

“…2. The Fuehrer has decided to wipe the town of St Petersburg from the face of the earth. We’ve no fascination with the preservation of a area of the population of this city.

4. It’s proposed to tightly encircle the town and by shelling from artillery of all calibres and constant aerial bombing to raze it to the ground…”

Nearly two million civilians, including about 400,000 children, plus troops were trapped in the city. According to ‘The History of St. Petersburg.’ :

“Food and fuel supplies were very limited (enough for 1 or 2 months only). All public transportation has stopped. By the winter of 1941-42 there is no heating, no water supply, very little electricity and hardly any food. In January 1942, in the middle of an unusually cold winter, the cheapest food rations in the town were only 125 grams (about 1/4 of a pound)…”

Just down from the Heritage could be the Peter and Paul Fortress, the initial stones Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia, laid. We toured this as well. Over the years it housed Russia’s most famous political prisoners.

We people are not reasonable creatures. When we were, half the wonderful things on earth wouldn’t exist. But we are designed for being reasonable. When we weren’t, the tilting at windmills would have broken us eons ago.

It requires the wisdom of Solomon to learn and be both, and to decide on when and in what proportion.

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him, “wrote George Bernard Shaw. “The unreasonable man adapts surroundings to himself. All progress depends on the unreasonable man.”