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St Petersburg University is the oldest and one of the largest universities in Russia. It will turn 300 years in 2024.


Establishment of St Petersburg University

In January 1724, the decree signed by Peter the Great established the Academy with University and Gymnasium as its part which trained future specialists for the Academy. That’s when the history of the university education in Russia started. It was the era of the Academic University. Till the end of the 18th century, the University was within the Academy. During this period, educational and scientific traditions were established.

Many professors were invited from Germany, some were famous scientists. Lectures were in Latin like in Europe. There were few students in the beginning. Besides, there was no clear or strict system of faculties or curricula; students would enroll for lectures and choose professors they liked.


First rectors

The 1st rector of the Academic University was Gerhard Friedrich Mueller — a German historian, professor and academician. He studied Siberia and participated in the second Kamchatka expedition. He loved Russia very much and considered it his second homeland.

The 2nd rector was Stepan Krasheninnikov — a geographer and explorer of Siberia who gave the 1st full description of Kamchatka in the early 18th century which is still relevant and significant. It was even re-issued in 1994.

One of the first rectors was Mikhail Lomonosov (1758-1765) who made a significant contribution to the development of the University in Russia, he made projects on the reorganization and improvement of the University: implemented curricula and syllabi, started teaching in the Russian language, asserted the right of the lower class to study at Gymnasium and University. Lomonosov’s seven years of rectorship are considered to be the period of the highest activity of the University in the 18th century. Most graduates became famous scientists then.

In the late 18th century, the Academic University began to fade away, as the pedagogical education came to the fore. In 1783-1819, due to the urgent need of a great number of teachers for secondary schools, the university education repurposed from training scientists for the Academy of Sciences to training teachers.

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Gerhard Friedrich Mueller

Stepan Krasheninnikov


Renewal of St Petersburg University

On 8 February 1819, the decree of Emperor Alexander I reorganized the Main Pedagogical Institute into St Petersburg University which was actually a renaming — the University regained its historical name. This was the end of the initial period of organization and development of the University in St. Petersburg.

In 1821 the University was renamed St Petersburg Imperial University.

Initially, there were 3 faculties: History and Philology, Law and Philosophy, Physics and Mathematics. The system of faculties was borrowed from German universities. In 1855, the Faculty of Oriental Languages was added to them. Such a structure of the University existed until 1918.

St Petersburg Imperial University

St Petersburg Imperial University

In 1830, the Twelve Colleges building designed by the architect Domenico Trezzini was given to the University.

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Development of sciences at the University

The 19th century became the golden age for the University. At that time, outstanding scientists worked and world-famous scientific schools were established and developed at St Petersburg University: in mathematics by Pafnuty Chebyshev , in physics by Emil Lenz, in chemistry by Dmitri Mendeleev and Alexander Butlerov , in botany by Andrey Beketov, in embryology by Ilya Mechnikov and Alexander Kovalevsky, in physiology by Ivan Sechenov, in soil science by Vasily Dokuchaev, in geology by Alexander Inostrantsev, in Russian history by Konstantin Bestuzhev-Ryumin, etc.

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Pafnuty Chebyshev Dmitri Mendeleev Vasily Dokuchaev

 

Scientific societies have been established at the University since the end of the 1860-s. The natural scientists society was founded in 1868; the Russian Chemical Society was founded by Dmitri Mendeleev in 1869 and renamed into the Russian Physico-Chemical Society in 1878. Later on, there were founded Philological, Anthropological, and Historical Societies, the Botanic Garden and Observatory. In 1893, the first Institute of Chemistry was established in Russia, and in 1901 — the first Physical Institute in Russia. In 1895, the prominent physicist and University graduate Alexander Popov demonstrated the first radio receiving device, and the first radiogram was sent from one building of the University to another the following year.

In the end of the 19th — the beginning of the 20th centuries, prominent Russian scientists worked at the University: the mathematicians Andrey Markov, Aleksandr Lyapunov and Vladimir Steklov, the physicists Orest Khvolson and Dmitry Rozhdestvensky, the astronomer Sergey Glazenap, the chemists Nikolai Menshutkin and Dmitry Konovalov. The Faculty of Oriental Studies became the largest center for Oriental studies in Russia.

Outstanding graduates of St Petersburg University

St Petersburg University is famous for its graduates who brought fame to our country in all areas of science, politics and culture. Many graduates of Saint Petersburg University became renowned artists and musicians, poets and writers, theater and political figures, scientists and sportsmen. St. Petersburg University played a significant role in the development of Russian socio-political thought and culture. It has always been a center of freethinking.

Many prominent artists well known in Russia as well as in the world graduated from St Petersburg University, e.g. the writers Ivan Turgenev and Gleb Uspensky, the poets Alexander Blok and Nikolay Gumilyov, the composers Mikhail Glinka and Igor Stravinsky, the artists Nicholas Roerich and Alexandre Benois, the theatre personalities Serge Diaghilev and Alexander Yuzhin.

St Petersburg University became the Alma Mater for many leaders of our country, e.g. Pyotr Stolypin, Boris Stuermer, Alexander Kerensky, Vladimir Lenin, Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev.

The discoveries and achievements of the University professors and graduates have become part of the history of both international and Russian science and technology. We have eight Nobel Prize laureates and two Fields Medal winners (the mathematician’s Nobel Prize).

Nobel Prize winners

In physiology or medicine:

 

Павлов

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Ivan Pavlov (1904)

Ilya Mechnikov (1908)

In chemistry:

 

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Nikolay Semenov (1956)

 

In physics:

 

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Lev Landau (1962)

Alexander Prokhorov (1964)


In economics:

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Wassily Leontief (1973)

Leonid Kantorovich (1975)  Sir Christopher Antoniou Pissarides (2010)



Fields Medal winners

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Grigory Perelman (2006)

Stanislav Smirnov (2010)


St Petersburg University today

In November 2009, St Petersburg University received a special status — «a unique scientific and educational complex, the oldest university in the country, of great importance for the development of Russian society». The University has now the right to issue its own diploma.

Since the establishment of the University and till the present days, many research areas have arisen here which become classical and internationally renowned. The University scientists conduct researches in almost all areas of knowledge. But not only scientists and students of the University but also colleagues from all over the world can use the numerous University resource centers. The University is open for cooperation and actively integrated into the global scientific and educational environment.

St Petersburg University has extensive international relations. International meetings and forums take place here regularly, especially in the beautiful Assembly hall or in the Peter’s Hall.

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St Petersburg University entered the XXI century with a vast store of values collected for three centuries, the main of which — alumni who never lose touch with their ALMA MATER.