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Born: April 21 (May 2), 1729 Szczecin, Pomerania (Prussian Kingdom)

Died: November 6 (17), 1796 Tsarskoye Selo, Russia

Portrait of Catherine the GreatThe future Catherine the Great was born a German princess in one of the tiny German states, but turned out to be a powerful and enlightened ruler of the vast Russian Empire. In 1745 she was married to prince Carl Peter Ulrich, the heir to the Russian throne (the future Emperor Peter III). Being a bright personality with a strong sense of determination she joined the Russian Orthodox Church, learned the Russian language and by doing a lot of reading acquired a brilliant education. She was proud to be a friend and an active correspondent of the best thinkers of the time, such as the prominent French Enlightenment personalities Rousseau and Diderot.

In June 1762 Catherine took an active part in a coup against her husband Emperor Peter III. He was overthrown and soon killed "in an accident", while Catherine became Russia's autocratic ruler. Throughout her long reign many reforms were undertaken and the territory of Russia was further extended by acquiring the lands of Southern Ukraine and the Crimea. The rights of the Russian nobility were extended, which won Catherine popularity among the Russian social elite.

Catherine's love affairs with different officers and politicians were widely publicized, though much of what was published was not true. Nevertheless, most of her lovers were promoted to the highest ranks and some of them proved to be extremely talented people (for instance prince Potiomkin, a very prominent general and politician).

Catherine the Great, being the outsider of the Romanov dynasty, wanted to establish strong links with earlier Russian history and the Romanov tzars. She commissioned an impressive monument to Peter the Great - the Bronze Horseman. Most experts agree that the St. Petersburg of Catherine the Great changed its appearance significantly and turned out to be one of the most impressive of European capitals.

Catherine the Great died in 1796 at the age of 67, having lived longer than any other Romanov monarch. She was buried in the Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg.

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