The New Student's Reference Work/St. Petersburg

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The Environs of St. Petersburg

St. Pe′tersburg, the capital of the Russian Empire, stands at the head of the Gulf of Finland and at the mouth of the Neva.  It is built on flat and low marshy ground, from which the sea is slowly receding, the Neva dividing into many branches, thus producing 100 islands, which all the time are getting larger.  In this way nearly 600 acres have been added to St. Petersburg in the last 150 years.  High winds sometimes raise the sea and flood the poorer parts of the city.  In 1777, 1824 and 1891 rises of ten or more feet covered nearly the whole city with water.  St. Petersburg is surrounded by wildernesses, the nearest city being Novgorod, and is almost wholly cut off from the rest of Russia.  The chief connection is by railway and by the Neva, which is joined by canals with the Volga and so is the real mouth of Russia’s greatest river.  Founded by Peter the Great in 1702, the city has spread over the banks and islands of the Neva and now covers 42 square miles.  A bar at the mouth of the river made Kronstadt, on an island 16 miles west, the real port, but the building of a ship-canal, 22 feet deep, now allows ships to unload within the city itself.  Most of the city, the finest part, is on the mainland, bordered by a granite quay, with palaces and mansions stretching along the Neva for 2½ miles.  The old Admiralty with its gilded spire is the center of the main part of St. Petersburg.  From it starts the Nevski Prospekt, one of the finest streets in the world, not so much for its houses as for its great width and length, its crowds and carriages.  East of the old Admiralty rises the huge and magnificent mass of the Winter Palace.  On the island of Vasilievski are the stock-exchange, the University, the Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Arts.  On Petersburgski Island stands the old fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul, containing the mint, the cathedral, in which the members of the imperial family are buried, and a political prison.  Many islands are joined by bridges and covered by beautiful parks and summer houses.  The chief manufactures are cottons, metals, leather, sugar and guns.  But St. Petersburg owes its growth chiefly to foreign trade.  Thousands of boats and rafts bring 3,000,000 tons of freight down the Neva yearly, while the railroads bring 1,260,000 tons.  St. Petersburg University and the many medical, technical, engineering, naval, military and other schools, as well as the Ladies’ University, number many thousands of students.  There are fine picture-galleries in the Academy of Arts and the Hermitage.  The imperial public library has 1,200,000 volumes and 40,000 manuscripts.  Population 1,870,000.