The area of Saint Petersburg city proper is . The area of the federal subject is, which contains Saint Petersburg proper (consisting of eighty-one municipal okrugs), nine municipal towns – (Kolpino, Krasnoye Selo, Kronstadt, Lomonosov, Pavlovsk, Petergof, Pushkin, Sestroretsk, Zelenogorsk) – and twenty-one municipal settlements.
Petersburg is situated on the middle taiga lowlands along the shores of the Neva Bay of the Gulf of Finland, and islands of the river delta. The largest are Vasilyevsky Island (besides the artificial island between Obvodny canal and Fontanka, and Kotlin in the Neva Bay), Petrogradsky, Dekabristov and Krestovsky. The latter together with Yelagin and Kamenny island are covered mostly by parks. The Karelian Isthmus, North of the city, is a popular resort area. In the south Saint Petersburg crosses the Baltic-Ladoga Klint and meets the Izhora Plateau.
The elevation of Saint Petersburg ranges from the sea level to its highest point of at the Orekhovaya Hill in the Duderhof Heights in the south. Part of the city's territory west of Liteyny Prospekt is no higher than above sea level, and has suffered from numerous floods. Floods in Saint Petersburg are triggered by a long wave in the Baltic Sea, caused by meteorological conditions, winds and shallowness of the Neva Bay. The four most disastrous floods occurred in 1824 ( above sea level, during which over three hundred buildings were destroyed), 1924, 1777, 1955, and 1975 . To prevent floods, the Saint Petersburg Dam has been constructed.
Since the 18th century the terrain in the city has been raised artificially, at some places by more than, making mergers of several islands, and changing the hydrology of the city. Besides the Neva and its tributaries, other important rivers of the federal subject of Saint Petersburg are Sestra, Okhta and Izhora. The largest lake is Sestroretsky Razliv in the north, followed by Lakhtinsky Razliv, Suzdal Lakes and other smaller lakes.
Due to location at ca. 60° N latitude the day length in Petersburg varies across seasons, ranging from 5:53 to 18:50. A period from mid-May to mid-July when twilight may last all night is called the white nights.
Under the Köppen climate classification, Saint Petersburg is classified as Dfb, a humid continental climate. Distinct moderating influence of the Baltic Sea cyclones result in warm, humid and short summers and long, cold wet winters.
The average daily temperature in July is ; a maximum temperature of occurred during the 2010 Northern Hemisphere summer heat wave. A winter minimum of was recorded in 1883. The average annual temperature is . The Neva River within the city limits usually freezes up in November–December and break-up occurs in April. From December to March there are 118 days average with snow cover, which reaches an average snow depth of by February. The frost-free period in the city lasts on average for about 135 days. The city has a slightly warmer climate than its suburbs. Weather conditions are quite variable all year round.
Average annual precipitation varies across the city, averaging per year and reaching maximum in late summer. Soil moisture is almost always high because of lower evapotranspiration due to the cool climate. Air humidity is 78% on average, and there is on average, 165 overcast days per year.
The first and fairly rich chapter of the history of the local is the story of the own name of the city itself. The name day of Peter I falls on June 29, when the Russian Orthodox Church observes the memory of Saint Apostles Peter and Paul. The consecration of the small wooden church in their names (its construction began simultaneously with the citadel) made them the heavenly patrons of the Peter and Paul Fortress, while St. Peter at the same time became the eponym of the whole city.
An explanation that the origin of "Saint-" in St. Petersburg is due to Peter the Great's contact with Dutch culture is a common misconception. However this is unlikely as the Dutch Republic adhered to Calvinist Protestantism and had long abandoned and even frowned upon the culture of veneration of saints and the naming of places after them, since the era of reformation. Moreover "Saint-" in the Dutch language is Sint- and not Sankt-. The sample which czar Peter followed does sound like the names of another European cities: Sankt Goar in Germany, Sankt Michael in Austria and some others, of which the closest to Sankt Petersburg was Sankt Michel in the rival Swedish Empire (now Mikkeli in Finland). Sankt- in these toponyms is merely a Germanized form of .
A 14–15-letter long name, composed of the three roots proved too cumbersome, and a lot of shortened versions appeared in habitual use. The first General Governor of the city Menshikov is maybe also the author of the first nickname of Petersburg which he called Петри (Petri). It took some years until the known Russian spelling of this name finally settled. In 1740s Mikhail Lomonosov uses a derivative of (Petropolis, Петрополис) in a russified form Petropol’ (Петрополь). A combo Piterpol (Питерпол) also appears at this time. In any case, eventually the usage of prefix "Sankt-" ceased except for the formal official documents, where a 3-letter abbreviation "СПб" (SPb) was very widely used as well.
In the 1830s Alexander Pushkin translated the "foreign" city name of "Saint Petersburg" to the more Russian Petrograd in one of his poems. However, it was only on, after the war with Germany had begun, that tsar Nicholas II renamed the capital to Petrograd. Since the prefix 'Saint' was omitted, this act also changed the eponym and the "patron" of the city, from Apostle Peter to Peter the Great, its founder.
After the October Revolution, and until the city was renamed Leningrad in January 1924, the name Красный Петроград (Red Petrograd) was often used in newspapers and other prints.
In the referendum on reversing the renaming of Leningrad on June 12, 1991, renaming it to Petrograd was not an option. Because of this only 54.86% of the voters (with a turnout of 65%) supported "St.Petersburg". This change officially took effect on September 6, 1991. Meanwhile, the oblast whose administrative center is also in St. Petersburg is still named Leningrad.
Having passed the role of capital to Petersburg, Moscow never relinquished the title of "capital", being called pervoprestolnaya("first-throned") for 200 years. An equivalent name for Petersburg, the "Northern Capital", has re-entered usage today since several federal institutions were recently moved from Moscow to Saint Petersburg. Solemn descriptive names like "the city of three revolutions" and "the cradle of the October revolution" used in Soviet era are reminders of the pivotal events in national history which occurred here. For their part, poetic names of the city, like the "Venice of the North" and the "Northern Palmyra" emphasize town-planning and architectural features contrasting these parallels to the northern location of this megalopolis. Petropolis is a translation of a city name to Greek, and is also a kind of descriptive name: Πέτρ~ is a Greek root for "stone", so the "city from stone" emphasizes the material which had been forcibly made obligatory for construction from the very first years of the city. (Its official Greek name is Αγία Πετρούπολη.)
After 1991 a wave of re-namings started within the city. It affected not only toponyms of the Soviet era, but in some cases their pre-revolutionary ones (in 1993 Gogol Street which bore the name of Nikolai Gogol since 1902, was renamed to Malaya Morskaya).
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