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The mouth of the Neva River ends at a strategic location at the Gulf of Finland.
Peter the Great wanted access to the Baltic Sea and beyond. So in May 1703 he captured the Swedish fort Nyenskans  and built a new deep water seaport  Kronstadt on Kotlin Island. 
He also constructed the Peter and Paul Fortress a few km upstream the Neva. A new town called Saint Petersburg was build around this fort.
In 1712 the city became capital of Imperial Russia at the expense of Moscow. In 1714 construction was started for a summer palace complex at Petergof. This place is now known as Peterhof.
The 1905 Russian Revolution started in Saint Petersburg and caused thousands of casualties but the Romanovs clinged on to the power.
Anti German sentiments led in 1914 to change the city's name in Petrograd.
The  revolutions of 1917 starting in Petrograd and this time led to the collapse of the Russian Empire and the beginning of the Soviet Union.
The name changed to Leningrad in 1924.
The Seige of Leningrad by the German forces in 1941-1944, with the harsh winters, proved extremely lethal to the citizens but the city was never captured.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union the city changed its name back to St Petersburg in 1991.