Peter the Great’s Russia: 1690–1725
Peter the Great developed a deep interest in boats from the Dutch sea captains he hired to handle Russian commercial interests. He became determined to give Russia a port on the Gulf of Finland and a port on the Black Sea. As part of this plan, Peter captured the Turkish stronghold of Azov at the mouth of the Dnieper River and built a naval base on the Sea of Azov. However, he had to give up Azov to the Turks when he became deeply involved in a 21-year war with Sweden. After a series of bitter losses to the Swedish king, Peter the Great eventually defeated the Swedes, and Russia became the dominant power in northern Europe.
One of Peter's greatest achievements was the founding of St. Petersburg in 1703. This city, at the head of the Gulf of Finland, deep in Swedish territory, took a decade to build. Determined that St. Petersburg would not be subject to fires like those that often ravaged Moscow, he instructed builders to make houses of stone. In 1714, Peter ordered the Senate to move to St. Petersburg. Foreign visitors to St. Petersburg that year considered the planned city one of the wonders of the modern world. Peter the Great's new capital was his “window on Europe.”