Smolny is, originally, a place name in central Saint Petersburg, Russia. It is a compound of historically interrelated buildings erected in 18th and 19th centuries. As the most widely known of the buildings has been used as the seat of the City Governor's Office, its name is associated with city authorities.
From late 1917 till 1991 it was mostly associated with the October Revolution of 1917 and Lenin who lived and worked there in late 1917 - early 1918.
The pre-1917 educatuional facility for young ladies gave rise after 1991 to a number of similarly named places of learning in the city because of the high prestige of the original one in popular culture.
The Tarring Yard
In the 18th century, the place was safely out of town, but close to the city limits. It got its name from its function - covering the hulls of wooden ships with tar to make them waterproof and preserved against rot and vermin.
Later in the century, Empress Elizabeth of Russia ordered to build there a Russian Orthodox nunnery Smolny Convent where she supposedly wanted to retire to in old age. It became a local historical landmark due to its Baroque Smolny cathedral designed by Francesco Rastrelli. The convent had a number of gardens and a hospice.
In the 19th century the compound received an addition in the form of a neo-Classical building that became the home of the original Smolny Institute - the first and best known royal educational institution for young ladies of noble birth.
The building in 1917-1918 and until now
Before the revolutionary events of 1917 the building was vacated by the institute and was taken over by Soviets. It was here that on October 25 (Julian calendar style) (November 7), 1917, that Vladimir Lenin declared at the II Congress of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Soviets (councils) that his Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers' Party has taken over the power in Russia from the Provisional government. Lenin and his government worked in the building, and he also lived there with his wife, until the government moved to safety from the fronts of the Civil War and World War I to Moscow in 1918, transferring the national capital to Moscow as well.
After that the building of the institute has been used as the seat of the city authorities. Until 1991, as the actual primary power lay in the hands of the Communist Party of Soviet Union and its local branches, the building was occupied by its office for the city itself (then Leningrad) and, more importantly, the whole Leningrad oblast. Since that time, the building has been used by the city's executive branch of power (the mayor, later - the governor of the city). It has kept Lenin's memorial apartment as a historical museum.
Buildings of the convent have been used as offices of various organisations. One of the Smolny compound buildings is used for its Schools of Sociology and International Relationships by Saint Petersburg State University.
Usage of the name of Smolny Institute since 1991
Since 1991 the name of the Smolny Institute has been revived by several educational establishments independently from one another. Before 2011, Saint Petersburg State University had as a semi-independent its branch called Smolny Institute (Rus.; College (Eng.)) of Liberal Arts and Sciences (Smolny College, Rus. Смольный институт свободных искусств и наук) that offered joint study programs with Bard College in the US. In 2011, this institute was converted into the School (or Faculty, Rus. факультет) of Liberal Arts and Sciences. It has been located in another part of the downtown Saint Petersburg, like yet another, present-day, Smolny Institute  started in new post-Soviet Russia.
This latest one was organised by a local Azerbaijani-born entrepreneur and academic Geydar Imanov at the main office of his Electrokeramika Holding electrical insulation production facility under the auspices of Russian Academy of Education. Until 2011, it had the name of Smolny University - a higher status, according to Russian Higher and Post-graduate Education Act (Law). As of 2012, when it seems to be the only one bearing the name of Smolny institute, it is officially styled Independent Educational Institution "Russian Academy of Education Smolny Institute". It is located outside the immediate city centre.