Why are we building cities on swamps?

Why are we building cities on swamps?

The single-minded determination of one man built this city on a swamp, in territory claimed by the enemy. Years later, Hitler decreed that she should be wiped off the face of the earth. The name of the city? Saint Petersburg, Russia’s window to Europe, the Venice of the North, the City of Light, is simply the most beautiful city I have ever seen. It captivates the eye and the soul.

It was conceived in the mind of Peter the Great, aptly named for he was 7’2″ tall and cast an even longer shadow, and born of his will, built, as they say, from the bones of thousands of serfs, and built there , where a city cannot or should not be built.

“The story of the city,” writes the BBC, “is a story of the triumph of human will over the elements.” After all, the Russian winter has finally defeated Napoleon, and St. Petersburg is almost parallel to Helsinki.

It is said that one day the Czar of Russia, who, determined to make Russia an independent country and not a colony of one of the superpowers then busy dividing the world among themselves, dragged his country into the corresponding century himself, galloped across the swamp to the place where the Neva River meets the Gulf of Finland, dismounted, stuck his saber in the mud and declared: “Here will be a city.”

Not only was it built on a swamp, it was built on a swamp that Russia did not own. Constantly at war with Sweden, the land was at the time claimed by the Swedes. The early settlers immediately experienced flooding and it was considered habitable…none of which mattered to Peter.

Or maybe it is. The man had a vision and a statement to make, and it was a politically strategic location.

Peter’s mission was to drag the Russian people kicking and screaming into the modern world. Because what is a city without people? Peter ordered the boyars to move from Moscow to St. Petersburg, dress and behave like Westerners and shave their beards. In the Russian Orthodox religion, the longer the beard, the more likely he will enter heaven. Peter the Great didn’t care.

St. Petersburg was a political statement, as was its reconstruction for its 300th anniversary two years ago. With roads and houses in disrepair, people watched as hundreds of millions of dollars poured into the reconstruction of the presidential palace and other cultural assets. The total cost of the renovation is said to be $2 billion.

Of the restoration, Bob Parsos, BBC, wrote: “The people of this, the most European of Russian cities, are proud of the city’s cultural heritage… But the hundreds of pensioners whose country cottages and gardens were razed to the ground made way for the restoration of The Palace of Constantine, seething with anger.” This was done without their participation or consent, so that there would be no embarrassment when dignitaries came to the celebration.

Like most of us, for many things, they were “reluctantly happy” with the outcome. Ambivalent shall we say?

Does the city need, does the world need the State Hermitage, one of the largest museums in the world, which consists of six buildings and stretches along the Neva in the heart of the city?

The city has its history. Stalin’s purges in the 1920s claimed about a quarter of the city’s residents and more than a million died as the Germans laid siege to the city for 900 days during World War II. That’s three years.

Standing inside the Hermitage, we saw pictures of the devastation. On the website of the Hermitage, you can read an excerpt from the instructions of Hitler’s high command for the destruction of Leningrad from September 29, 1941:

“…2. The Führer has decided to wipe the city of St. Petersburg off the face of the earth. We have no interest in preserving even a fraction of the population of this city.

4. It is proposed to surround the city closely and by artillery fire of all calibers and constant aerial bombardment to raze it to the ground…”

Nearly two million civilians, including about 400,000 children, plus troops were stranded in the city. According to “The History of St. Petersburg.”:

“Food and fuel supplies were very limited (only enough for 1 or 2 months). All public transport is suspended. By the winter of 1941-42 there was no heat, no water, almost no electricity and very little food. In January 1942, in the middle of an unusually cold winter, the city’s lowest food rations were only 125 grams (about 1/4 of a pound)…”

Just down from the heritage is the Peter and Paul Fortress, the first stones laid by Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia. We went around that too. Over the years, it housed the most famous political prisoners in Russia.

We humans are not rational beings. If we were, half the wonderful things in the world wouldn’t exist. But we are capable of being reasonable. If we weren’t, the tilting of windmills would have broken us centuries ago.

It takes the wisdom of Solomon to know and be both, and to choose when and in what proportion.

“The intelligent man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him,” wrote George Bernard Shaw. “The unreasonable man adapts his environment to himself. All progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

#building #cities #swamps

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