Well, before the beautiful people, they needed a beautiful city. The location, where the Neva River comes out to the Baltic Sea, was good. The area, in the 9th century, was called Novgorod. This place was a great spot for international trade with Europe.
It was so great, that in 1240, the Swedes landed there, to take it over. Prince Alexander repelled them in the Battle of The Neva. So they started calling him Alexander Nevsky or Alexander of the Neva and the Russian Orthodox Church made him a saint and a few centuries later, he was the patron saint of St. Petersburg.
Well, the Swedes just sat back and waited for their next chance. Only a few centuries later, they saw it. Tsar Fiodor Ioanovich had the nerve to die without a son to take the throne. The new ruler, Vasily Shuisky, actually invited the Swedes to fight on his side and ended up giving the Neva River area to them.
Well, this didn’t sit well with Peter the Great. In 1703, the Russians got back the Neva river and he named the city, St. Petersburg! Although he said it was in honor of St. Peter from the bible, we all know what he was thinking.
He carefully supervised the building of the fortress. The area was primitive, the weather was damp, the housing bad and the food in short supply. But the fort had to be finished and the workers died in great numbers as they worked on and on. That’s just the way it was with the tsar; no calling in sick.
Flooding and boggy terrain made this a lousy place for a town, but the strategic importance pushed Peter the Great to continue constructing the city despite everything. St. Petersburg of Peter the Great was now a small town hiding behind a big fortress. But in 1712, he declared it the new Russian capital!