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The "Grand City" of Catherine the Great

The Bronze Horseman statue Catherine the Great assumed power in 1762 after a coup d' etat, which she engineered together with officers of the Royal Guard. Unlike her husband, she was well loved by the country's elite and received a very good press in Europe thanks to her contacts with many figures of the French Enlightenment.

Catherine's court was extremely luxurious. She was the first to move into the newly built Winter Palace. Catherine started a royal art collection which later became the world-famous Hermitage. Several additional buildings (the Small Hermitage and the Old Hermitage) were commissioned for the growing royal collection of art. The Hermitage Theater was built and the area around the palace was put in order and built up with the finest houses and palaces.

The most prominent embankments on the left bank of the Neva river were upgraded to their present red granite look and the marvelous wrought iron fence of the Summer Gardens was built by Yuri Felten in 1773-86.

Under Catherine's patronage science, the arts and trade flourished. New buildings for the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Fine Arts and the first Public Library (now the Russian National Library) were constructed and the large Gostiny Dvor trading complex was opened on Nevsky Prospect. Many educational institutions were established.

In Tsarskoye Selo (now Pushkin) several additions to the royal palace were built. One of these new wings (the Cameron Gallery) served as the living quarters for Catherine the Great herself. The lovely park which surrounds the palaces still bears the stamp of Catherine's lively and luxurious court.

Among Catherine's many reforms was the reform of St. Petersburg local administration. In 1766 the position of gorodskoi golova (a mayor) was established. In 1774 a Magistrat (municipal council) was formed, and in 1786 it was transformed into the city Duma.

A monument to Catherine the Great was built in 1873 in a garden just off Nevsky Prospect (by the Public Library and the Alexandrinsky Theater. Thousands of people come to visit her tomb in the Peter and Paul Cathedral.

Next Topic: The "City of Order" (1800-1855)

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