New Admiralty plantWhen Alexander II was crowned as Russian Emperor, the country was trying to cope with a humiliating defeat in the Crimean War. Something had to be done to boost the national economy and ensure political stability. A series of reforms was undertaken under the supervision of Alexander II. The Russian serfs were freed in 1861, although peasants had to pay for their land. Then followed a military reform, a legal reform (a trial by jury was introduced) and the city administration reform, which allowed St Petersburg a higher degree of self-government.

Despite the scale of the reforms some revolutionaries considered Alexander to be too conservative. After a series of assassination attempts, on March 1, 1881 Alexander II was fatally wounded and died the same day. The marvelous Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood (1883-1907) was built on the spot where Alexander II was assassinated. Some of the reforms (and the constitution which was ready to be signed) were repealed or curtailed by his enraged son Alexander III and a period of repressions and conservatism followed.

The Mariinsky Theater Meanwhile, St. Petersburg was becoming a capitalist city. The number of factories and plants (both Russian and foreign) grew quickly, while Nevsky Prospect and downtown streets were filled with banks and company offices. By the 1890s construction was booming and new multi-storey apartment buildings were mushrooming all over the city. During this period the famous Mariinsky theater (for a time called the Kirov theater ) was built along with a number of palaces for Grand Dukes, the Liteiny bridge (where the first street lights in the city were installed ) and monuments to Catherine the Great, Nicholas I and the poet Alexander Pushkin.

Next: "Silver Age" city (turn-of-the-century St. Petersburg)

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