Peter was the grandson of Tsar Michael Romanov. In 1682, in Moscow (the city of his birth), Peter was proclaimed Tsar at the tender age of 10. And he believed that whatever he wanted, he should have, and the sooner the better.
Peter wanted two things most of all: for Russia to be like Europe, and for his country to have a naval port full of beautiful ships. So when he was grown, he travelled West - the first tsar ever to leave Russia! Wherever he went, he asked, "What does this do?" and "How does this work?" When he returned a year and a half later, he brought with him modern ideas (not all welcome) and equipment and over eight hundred specialists to work in his country.
Russia was vast, the largest nation on earth...but the Russians did not wish to change...Peter produced a razor and began removing the noblemen's long beards. To these men their beards were a symbol of their religious belief. God made men with beards; it was therefore a sin to shave them off. No matter!...He passed a law that all men, except priests and peasants, must share. If a man insisted on keeping his beard, he could pay a yearly tax on it..."
Peter brought Western customs and clothing back with him, and commanded women to come forward and dine with the men.
And he began work on his second dream - to build a naval port and glittering capital city...rising out of a swamp!
|The Peter and Paul fortress was the first structure to be|
built in the new city as a protection from an attack by
the Swedish army.
Below is how the Peter and Paul fortress - with the Cathedral of Ss. Peter and Paul in the middle - looks today (my photo was taken on a cloudy Russian winter day!) The cathedral is the oldest church in St. Petersburg. It is intimately linked to both the history of the city and to the Romanov dynasty, as it is home to the graves of nearly all the rulers of Russia since Peter the Great!
Peter wanted his city overnight. An army of workers was ordered to the frigid, desolate place...Because picks and shovels were scarce, in the early years workers were forced to dig the foundations with their bare hands. Through floods in summer and unbearable cold in winter the work went on. Thousands of men lost their lives. The Russians called it a "city built on bones".
Originally the city had no bridges, and people had to be ferried between the banks by boat, leading to St. Petersburg's name the "Venice of the North." Bridges were eventually built, joining the nineteen islands to the shore.
|The view across the Neva looking from Vasilevsky Island|
over to St. Issac's Cathedral.
On January 16, 1725, while he was busy with the building of his city, Peter fell ill...January 28, after days of hovering between life and death Peter died. He was fifty-three years old...Though his life was ended and other tsars would sit on his throne, what Peter began went on and on, and Russia was changed forever.
The Bronze Horseman is a monument to Peter the Great from Catherine the Great. It stands on Senate Square, facing the Neva River and surrounded by the Admiralty, St Isaac's Cathedral and the Senate and Synod buildings. The statue, created by the famous French sculptor Etienne Maurice Falconet, depicts Peter the Great as a Roman hero on horseback, pointing the way for Russia, while his horse steps on a snake, which represents the enemies of Peter and his reforms.
Go here for a photo virtual tour of the sights of St. Petersburg!
Read my past post about author/illustrator Diane Stanley, here. You can see all her books on her website, here.