St. Petersburg photos offer glimpse of a “hidden” past

Any visitor to Saint Petersburg will quickly understand the city’s reputation as the “crown jewel” of Russia. Built by Russian monarch Peter the Great to compete with the great capitals of Europe, Saint Petersburg’s architecture is characterized by ornate European-style buildings and colorful onion dome cathedrals set along a series of grand canals.

Yet the startling beauty of this former Russian capital city does not immediately reveal the harsh secrets beneath the beautiful facades. During World War II, when city had been renamed as Leningrad by the Soviets, it was the site of a brutal siege by an invading Nazi army. Website English Russia is featuring a series of images taken by photographer Sergei Larenkov, who has superimposed photos taken during the World War II siege with the same locations today.

The siege was a horrible time for the town’s residents. Not only was the city was assaulted by an invading army – they were forced to also endure a brutal winter and dwindling food supplies, leading many to resort to eating their shoes and stray rats (if they were lucky). Meanwhile dead bodies lay decomposing in the streets and machine gun nests staked claim to once busy intersections. Larenkov’s photos effectively connects the viewer these horrific scenes, juxtaposing idyllic 21st Century street shots with stark black and white snapshots of a time of war.

Needless to say, the siege was a horrible moment – but the Germans were eventually beaten back and life slowly returned to normal. Nearly 65 years later, the city is as pretty as ever. Yet as any visitor walks the streets of St. Petersburg circa 2009, lined with gorgeous architecture, chic cafes and trendy boutiques, it’s interesting to think of how far Russia has come from those days of the past – and just how close it came to the brink of disaster.

[Via Environmental Graffiti]