Peter the Great

Peter the Great (Пётр I or Пётр Вели́кий), is best known in St Petersburg for having founded the city in 1703, and was ruled Russia from 1682 to 1725.

In numerous successful wars, he expanded his Tsardom into a huge empire that became a major European power, and enjoyed the title of Emperor of All Russia from 1721 to 1725, after having been Sovereign, Tsar and Grand Prince of All Russia before. Understandably, his formal Imperial title was quite long.

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Peter the Great led a cultural revolution in Russia that replaced the traditionalist and medieval social and political system with a modernised, scientific, Europe-orientated and rationalist system. He was not only great in name but in size as well, as he grew to be extremely tall for the time period: standing at 6ft 8in or just over 2m tall! He was literally head and shoulders above his contemporaries in Russia and throughout Europe.

He had two wives, the first of whom he forced into a nunnery to have the marriage annulled, as his mother had arranged the marriage. He had three surviving children, although his eldest and heir, Alexei, was suspected of being involved in a plot to overthrow the Emperor. Alexei was tried and convicted and sentenced to be executed, but Peter the Great hesitated over signing the official authorisation and Alexei died in prison before the execution could be authorised.

Peter the Great was interested in maritime affairs and wanted Russia to have a seaport in order to trade with maritime nations. During the Great Northern War, Peter build Peter and Paul Fortress, which became the first stone building of the new city he would found. Saint Petersburg was built by conscripted peasants and Swedish prisoners of war, and once constructed, Peter moved the capital of Russia from Moscow to Saint Petersburg.

Peter was involved in many reforms in Russia, and his visits to the West made him believe that European customs were superior to Russian traditions. He made all of his courtiers and officials cut off their long beards and wear European clothing. Officials who wanted to keep their beards had to pay an annual beard tax of one hundred roubles! He also ended arranged marriages, because he thought such a practice was outdated and led to domestic violence, perhaps out of resentment for his own arranged marriage. He also changed the date in Russia in 1699: he believed that the years should be counted from the birth of Christ, not from the creation of the World, and so in the year 7202 of the old Russian calendar, Peter the Great proclaimed that the Julian Calendar was in effect and it was 1700.

In 1723, Peter the Great began to have serious health problems and died in 1725: his bladder was infected with gangrene. He was succeeded by Catherine I, who erected the Bronze Horseman statue in St Petersburg in his honour.

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