After the Peter and Paul fortress on the island was done, Peter went across the River Neva from the fortress and built the fortified Admiralty Complex where they started building big ships to enter the Baltic and win fame for Russia.
From his cabin, Peter the Great commissioned a Summer Palace to be built for him and then later a Winter Palace just a little further down the river. There were no bridges crossing the mighty Neva River so ferry service ran between banks. St. Petersburg was called “the Venice of the North”. By whom, I don’t know. Certainly not the Swedes.
No city of Europe was worth anything without a church, so the Trinity Church was built, and houses for the local nobility, a Gostiny Dvor (a market for merchants) and several inns and bars were built. The Summer Gardens was the place to be for prestigious social events or maybe the new residence of the Governor General of St. Petersburg, the luxurious Menshikov Palace.
When Peter the Great died in 1725, his wife, Catherine, took over but she couldn’t keep the nobility and merchants from moving back to Moscow now that Peter the Great wasn’t there. St. Petersburg did make a big comeback when Peter’s daughter, Elizabeth, became Empress in 1741. Elizabethan St. Petersburg became a lively European capital with about 150,000 people.
Elizabeth wanted St. Petersburg to be a fine European capital so she brought in Bartolomeo Rastrelli, the Italian architect who had done the Winter Palace and Smolny Cathedral. She had him remodel the suburban royal residences in Peterhof. With the Grand Palace and Grand Cascade fountain now luxuriously adorned with gold, precious stones and statues, Elizabeth was ready to entertain!
The Yekaterininsky Palace or Catherine’s Palace was turned into a magnificent royal residence with a big Baroque garden and Elizabeth commissioned other wonderful buildings as she tried to keep up her father’s policies. As a patron of the arts and sciences, she established the Russian Academy of Arts. How she had time for all this stuff as she organised balls, receptions, masquerades and firework displays, I don’t know. Anyway, St. Pete was a happening place.
She died before all the buildings were complete and her nephew Peter III assumed power but not for long. His wife, a German princess, became the famous Catherine the Great.
She assumed power in 1762 after a coup d’ etat. I love that phrase. Everyone liked her better it seemed in Russia and Europe, too. She moved into the newly redone Winter Palace and started a royal art collection which is now the world-famous Hermitage on the Neva. Catherine commissioned the building of the Hermitage Theater and made sure the area surrounding the palace was adorned with the finest houses and only the most elegant architecture.
The embankments of the River Neva were reworked in elegant red granite and the Summer Gardens were adorned with an intricate wrought iron fence. To Catherine, science and the arts were as important as trade. New buildings for the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Fine Arts and the first Public Library were built along with the large Gostiny Dvor Trading Complex on Nevsky Prospekt, the main street of the city.
She even put a new wing on the royal palace, the Cameron Gallery, where she lived and filled the delightful park surrounding the palaces with pavilions and other great architectural stuff.
No wonder a monument to Catherine the Great now stands in a small garden just off Nevsky Prospekt between her Public Library and the Alexandrinsky Theater. Under her, St. Petersburg became a “Grand City” indeed.