There have been smaller, non-Russian settlements in the area as early as the tenth century, but Peter the Great founded the city of St. Petersburg in 1703 as a strategic location on the Baltic Sea. Legend says that as soon as he saw the swampland he proclaimed that this would be the site of the future Russian capital. There is no source to prove this, but from 1713 to 1728 and 1732 to 1918 St. Petersburg was indeed the capital of the Russian Empire. In the 18th and early 19th centuries it thrived culturally, especially under the reign of Catherine the Great, who brought the enlightenment to the city and founded 25 educational institutions, including Russia’s first state school for girls.
In the Soviet era the city was renamed Leningrad and the surrounding oblast (federal subdivision) kept the Soviet name. During the Second World War Leningrad was one of the key points at the Eastern front and the Siege of Leningrad is the most tragic event in the history of the city, with hundreds of thousand citizens having died when the Nazis cut off all supplies.