"City of Order" (1800-1855)
When Catherine the Great died in 1796 a whole new period in Russian history started. Catherine's son Paul I introduced some ultra-conservative policies, curtailed the St Petersburg local administration and made several major steps towards turning Russia into a bureaucratic state. The worst fear in Paul's life was the fear of being assassinated. Trying to hide from possible plots, he built a well-protected palace for himself - the Mikhailovsky Castle. However that did not help, and on March 12, 1801 Paul I was assassinated in the newly-built castle, in his own bedroom. Ironically, the coup was engineered by his son Alexander, who had sworn to continue the policies of his grandmother - Catherine the Great.
Upon assuming power Alexander I had introduced a series of reforms. A political reform brought to life a new structure of government: in 1802 Alexander approved a system of ministries with ministers reporting directly to the monarch; in 1810 - the State Council was formed. For better or for worse, bureaucracy flourished. Soon St. Petersburg became a very bureaucratic, ordered city and its traditional regular street layout and heavy policing just contributed to such an image.
During the reign of Alexander I the Russian army successfully stopped Napoleon's invasion of Russia and drove the French army back to Paris (1812-14). The captured French banners were put in the newly built Kazan Cathedral, where the Russian army commander, Field-Marshal Kutuzov, was buried in 1813.
In the Russian Imperial capital everything had to look very orderly. It was the heyday of architectural ensembles and perfectionist "classical" designs. The Admiralty, the naval headquarters of Russia, was remodeled in 1806-23. The complex of the Stock Exchange and the Rostral columns was built at the Southern edge ( Strelka) of Vasilievsky Island. Arts Square with the Mikhailovsky Palace (1819-25) was designed by Carlo Rossi. In 1818 the construction of St. Isaac's Cathedral began but was completed only 40 years later.
When Alexander I suddenly died in the town of Taganrog (some say, he ran away to Siberia to escape the heavy burden of power) in December 1825, a political crisis erupted. A group of liberal young army officers (later called the "Decembrists ") started a revolt, hoping that Nicholas I, Alexander's younger brother, would have to sign a Constitution for the country. They brought their soldiers to the Senate square by the Bronze Horseman, but remained inactive. The uprising was cruelly crushed, the five organizers executed and the rest exiled to Siberia.
Due to the Decembrist Uprising the new Emperor, Nicholas I, adopted the most conservative policies. Russia was left to be an economically backward bureaucratic state. That was well reflected in the Imperial capital - St. Petersburg. The desire for orderliness reached ridiculous heights. The orderly appearance of a marching army was Nicholas's ideal. Military order was everywhere. Even the civil educational institutions (colleges) were treated as military schools.
Paradoxically, culture flourished under such an oppressive regime. Alexander Pushkin wrote some of his best poetry, before being killed in a duel in 1837. Mikhail Glinka , one of the first great Russian composers, wrote his best operas and chamber music. Fiodor Dostoyevsky lived in St. Petersburg from 1837 and in 1844 started his career as a writer.
Despite its obvious economic backwardness, which resulted in a humiliating defeat in the Crimean War (1853-56), Russia was gradually moving down the road of technical progress. In 1837 the first Russian railroad was opened. It connected St. Petersburg with the royal residence at Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin). In 1851 another railroad connected St. Petersburg with Moscow. In 1850 the first permanent bridge across the Neva River was opened. Before that there were only temporary (pontoon) bridges which could not operate in winter.
St. Petersburg became more and more majestic. The ensemble of Palace Square was finished with the construction of the General Staff building (1819-29), the Alexander Column (1830-34) and the Royal Guards Staff building (1837-43). In 1839-44 the Mariinsky Palace (nowadays the City Hall) was built for Nicholas' beloved daughter Maria. St. Isaac's Cathedral, the main church of the Russian Empire, was finally completed only in 1858, when Nicholas I had already died and his son Alexander II was on the throne.
Next Topic: St. Petersburg on the road to capitalism (1840s -1895)
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