In order to understand “gini loci” or genie of the place, it is necessary to go back to its origin.
St. Petersburg had a huge influence on Russia during the last 300 years of its existence. In fact St.Petersburg was Russia as far as the rest of the world was concerned for more than two centuries. Just like before that, Moscow was Russia, which was reflected in the name Moscoviya, not for the city but for the whole country.
Peter the Great who founded St.Petersburg wanted to have nothing to do with old Muscovite tradition. It could be personal feelings because he witnessed his relatives executed in front of his eyes by rowdy crowd of blood thirsty Muscovites lead by the Kremlin’s guard musketeer regiment. But he survived this ordeal, though developing nervous tick, which haunted him for the rest of his life. And later on after becoming the sole tsar of Russia he himself chopped their heads on the Red Square just outside the Kremlin.
But this decision to move Russian’s capital from Moscow to St.Petersburg wasn’t just personal for him, it was more of the business of dragging Russia in the next 18th century, braking away from backward old ways of patriarchal Muscovite Russia to embrace new European traditions of science and technology. And this affair with
progress coincidentally started when he was visiting expatriate community,
living in closed settlement outside Moscow, because they were not allowed to
settle in the city proper. Latter on Peter continued his forays into western
civilization heading, incognito, though expecting recognition from his
counterparts, his “Great Embassy” to European countries.
Russia did not have
trained standing diplomats before Peter, so any international business contact
should be carried through missions of visiting dignitaries. So he went and
there was no turning back for him after that. He secured allies for himself and
was determined to give landlocked Russia access to the sea. After initial
defeat from Swedish Charles the 12th, who by the way, was the same
age and temperament, some might say “craziness” as Peter, he wound up in this
distant Baltic shores, where only a few huts of natives stood against wide
expanses of water. And this was his second passion, which he caught in Moscow
going out in sluggish waters of a small lake on a sail boat, presented by the Queen of England to the brother of one of the Romanovs girls, whom Ivan
the Terrible married. Latter on, this boat nicknamed as a grandfather of
Russian fleet was delivered to St.Petersburg, rowed down the river Neva by
admirals, navigated by Peter himself and saluted by newly built Russian Navy
ships to be placed in a special house built for it inside Peter and Paul
Fortress. So you can imagine his excitement when he stood
overlooking this body of water. And his timing was perfect, Baltic Sea, usually
grey and overcast, wasn’t so gloomy and threatening in those spring sunny days
of early May of 1703. So Peter made his choice, this was going to be his refuge
and safe heaven, which he himself referred to as “paradise” and “window to
Europe” to provide connection to the Western World.
So even though the Northern War with Sweden for the disputed territories, where St.Petersburg latter was established, was still in progress he decided to move all his family and nobles from Moscow there. And Peter was the type of man who could make his decisions stick, so move they did kicking and screaming, to the marshy uninhabited lands, where nothing grows and you have to pay an arm and leg to get anything done. He and his family occupied almost every dry place, which was available and usually was already built up by some Finish or Swedish settlement. Peter was not known for his polite manners but for his strong will and so no matter how many could die or suffer during the process he kept to his goal, that he stated on many occasions and was no reason not to take him seriously. Everything was means to an end of Europeanization of Russia’s establishment. This also implied westernization, or making over on a European model, of the administration, the military, the court, and the elite’s culture. Peter wanted for Russia new elite, capable of playing an active role in transforming the society, not obedient and passive subjects of the patriarchal society. That’s why he wanted to get rid of this old Byzantine “Moscow as the third Rome” model and start from the clean slate. He wanted to be surrounded by loyal servants of the emperor and of the fatherland whose central concerns were to be the nation’s welfare, prosperity and progress. So right after winning the Northern war and concluding Nienshtad’s peace treaty with Sweden in 1721 he had himself proclaimed as an emperor and “father of fatherland” in Roman secular fashion and began to build triumphal arches such as the one at the entrance to Peter and Paul fortress and populate his gardens, which were supposed to rival ones in Versailles, with sculptures of mythological creatures along with Greek and Roman Gods. And seeing those naked figures made of marble was so unusual for Russian conservative mind, that Peter had to put a century to the statue of Venus in his summer garden in order to protect her from destruction.