Leningrad was the name that was given to present Saint Petersburg, which is the second-largest city in Russia. The city has an area of about 556 square miles and a population of about 5.4 million people as of 2018. Founded on May 27, 1703, the city has had a number of names in different historical times. Aside from the official names, it has a number of nicknames among the nationals such as the "Window to Europe," "Venice of the North," and the "Window to the West."
The city was originally established by Peter the Great. In a mission to westernize Russia, he named the city Sankt-Peterburg, which is slightly different from the present-day Saint Petersburg. However, the start of World War I on September 1, 1914, also came about with a decision from the imperial government to change its name to Petrograd. The name “Petrograd” translates to “Peters City.” The main motivation behind the decision was that the government wanted to get rid of the German words ‘Sankt” and “Burg.” The name was changed to Leningrad about a decade later on January 26, 1924, after Vladimir Lenin passed away. Similar to Petrograd, the meaning of the name “Leningrad” is “Lenin’s City.”
The Motivations of Peter the Great
Unlike the city of Moscow, Peter and his team of architects designed Saint Petersburg from scratch. Keep in mind that the city was an inhospitable place before its design. However, Peter had a dream of accessing the sea and unlocking its potential just like Amsterdam and other European cities. In his mind, Moscow was a backward place with poor planning. In order to start work on the city’s development, he first had to defeat the Swedish, which he did in the Northern War between 1700 and 1721.
Following his victory, the truly remarkable part of the city’s rise began, which saw Saint Petersburg transform into the capital of Russia within ten years. When it was established in 1703, the city only had one Swedish fortress. At the time of his death in 1725, there were more than 40,000 people living there. By the 20th century, Saint Petersburg was within the top five largest cities in Europe.
Nicholas II decided to change the name to Petrograd in 1914 when World War I began. As Russia suffered heavy losses in the war, the Petrograd Soviet ousted Nicholas II and eventually got the control of the city. That period marked the start of the Soviet era. Once they took Petrograd, the Soviets shifted all government functions to Moscow.
Later, in honor of Vladimir Lenin, Petrograd was named Leningrad. Following the start of World War II, Leningrad took heavy losses from the Germans. However, the city survived and actually prospered under the leadership of people like Grigory Romanov of the Oblast Party Committee. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the city’s name was changed once more in 1991 to the present-day Saint Petersburg. However, the surrounding area is still called Leningrad.