Environment Field Note

Field Note on Environment

The way the city of St. Petersburg, Russia was built was heavily influenced by the different bodies of water that surround and go through it. When the Russian tsar, known as Peter the Great, founded this city in 1703, he picked the location very specifically. Water seems to be one of the most important geographical features of St. Petersburg!


Introduction – How are people connected to the environment?

If you can, go grab a world map or a globe! Find the continent of Europe. Can you find the Baltic Sea? Now, try to find the two European countries of Finland and Estonia. Between them lies the Gulf of Finland. Look to the far right and you’ll find St. Petersburg! The city itself is located right where a very important river, called the Neva River, meets the Gulf of Finland.

What makes this environment special or different?

During my time here, I’ve learned that Peter the Great picked this spot to build St. Petersburg for several reasons. One of the biggest reasons was because he wanted to have a Russian city close to the sea. Not just any sea, but one close to the rest of Europe. Also, Peter the Great’s loved ships! The city’s location next to the Baltic Sea was the perfect place for him to create shipyards. In these shipyards he would be able to build an entire fleet of new ships! All these new ships made St. Petersburg a very important Russian port! This is where many ships come to be loaded and unloaded with goods from all around the world.

St. Petersburg also has another body of water winding and running right through it! This body of water is called the Neva River. It is the most well-known river in all of St. Petersburg. The Neva River is only 74 kilometers long which is about 46 miles (Wikipedia.org/Neva_River). This is not very long but its length isn’t what makes it so well-known and important. It is known as the third biggest river in all of Europe because of how much and how quickly water flows through it! More importantly, this makes it the main source of water for the people living here.

Traffic and Pedestrians on the Troitsky bridge

Also, there are many other rivers and waterways that go through St. Petersburg. They all branch off the Neva River and from each other. This has forced the Russian people to build many bridges. Today, there are over 342 bridges in St. Petersburg (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neva_River#Bridges)! These bridges were all built throughout the course of this city’s history. They come in all different shapes and sizes depending on the river brach or water canal it is crossing.

One of the most famous bridges that crosses the Neva River is called the Palace Bridge. This bridge is considered as a symbol for St. Petersburg. The Palace Bridge is a moveable bridge also known as a drawbridge. Like many other big bridges which cross the Neva River in St. Petersburg, the Palace Bridge is drawn open late at night. This is done in order for big ships to pass through!

Although I’ve seen and walked on the Palace Bridge during the day, I’ve never been able to see it drawn open. By the time they draw it open, I’m fast asleep in bed and it is already 1 or 2am! They are drawn during these early morning hours on purpose. This is when there are very little cars and people traveling around the city. It’s the perfect time to let ships pass because people are home and probably asleep during this time.

What challenges do people face living in this environment?

These two bodies of water were essential into making St. Petersburg a great city and port for Russian people. Unfortunately, they also caused great trouble for them. When Peter the Great first founded the city, he failed to notice something very important. The land on which he was building his new city is not much higher above sea level. This meant that whenever a big wave from the Baltic Sea hit the shores of St. Petersburg, the city would be flooded. Since 1703, this wonderful city has dealt with over 300 floods! Some of them were complete catastrophes and destroyed many, many buildings (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neva_River#Floods).

How have people been adapting to this environment?

This is the Troitsky bridge which crosses the Neva River

Russian people living here have learned to adapt to these natural disasters. They made two very important changes to prevent terrible flooding from happening again. The first change was raising some of the land on which the city was initially built. This brought the city a little higher above sea level, making it a little safer from flooding.

The second and biggest change was the construction of the Saint Petersburg Flood Prevention Facility Complex. This is the long and official name for the St. Petersburg Dam. A dam is a large barrier built to hold back and stop water from coming into a specific area. It took a very long time to construct this dam, which is 25 kilometers long or about 16 miles (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Petersburg_Dam). They finally finished building it in the year 2011! And guess what? That very same year, the St. Petersburg Dam saved the city from what would have been its 309th flood

As you can see, water is a very important characteristic to St. Petersburg’s environment. The Baltic Sea and the Neva River have helped make St. Petersburg the wonderful city it is today. The relationship between these two bodies of waters and this city has been rough at times. Through these times, the Russian people of St. Petersburg have learned how to change and adapt to their environment.

Right now the Palace Bridge is undergoing some major renovations

Postcards showing what the Palace Bridge looks like when it’s open at night

Peter and Paul Fortress and the Palace Bridge across the Neva River

View of the Palace Bridge and Vasilyevsky Island on the Neva River

An old ship on the Neva River













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