The early eighteenth century is known in Russian history as the period when the country finally won an outlet onto the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland. The Russian lands of Novgorod had previously stretched to the region where the River Neva flows into the Gulf of Finland, but these lands had been lost to Sweden following the unsuccessful Livonian War. There, on the sites of former Russian towns, fortresses and villages, the Swedes proceeded to build some seventy fortified population points in the seventeenth century. Modern Finnish scholars affirm that no less than forty of these fortifications had a Russian Orthodox population.
When Peter the Great brought his forces here in 1703, he discovered an entire network of small Swedish fortifications defending the land between Lake Ladoga and the Gulf of Finland. These lands ran along the Neva and the numerous other rivers lying in the region now occupied by the city of St Petersburg. The fortifications lay on the present-day sites of Oranienbaum, Gatchina and Pavlovsk, stretching all the way to Schlusselburg. To this day, one can still encounter here neglected fortifications dating from the seventeenth century.
This defensive geography was reflected in the future layout of Russia's northern capital and suburbs. It was from here that Peter the Great looked west, into the misty distance, to the lands that gave Russia her culture and technology, medicine and military arts, shipbuilding and navigation. Like the rest of Russia, Peter's dream was to breathe the salt air of the Baltic Sea.
St Petersburg, the new capital, sprung up on the low swampy shores of the Neva. It was girdled in the south by a semi-circle of Imperial residences originally based on the remnants of the former Swedish fortifications. Peterhof was the first to be built as a symbol of Russian power on the Baltic. It was followed by Tsarskoe Selo, located on the highest geographical point of the surrounding area. Peter himself laid the basis for the future palace and park ensembles in the suburbs of his new capital, work which was carried on and completed over the next century and a half by others.
Catherine the Great laid the foundation for a castle in Gatchina in the 1760s. She intended Gatchina to be a reward for her favourite, Grigory Orlov, the man who had helped her to ascend the throne. Twelve years later, at the age of almost fifty, Catherine laid the foundations of yet another palace, this time in Pavlovsk.
Catherine was a German princess and the first foreign Empress to occupy the Russian throne. The historical significance of Gatchina and Pavlovsk was thus doubly important for her. When Catherine's husband, Peter III, ascended the throne, the Almanac de Gotha noted that Russia was now ruled by a new dynasty, the House of Holstein-Gottorp Romanov. Although Catherine was herself an Anhalt-Zerbst, unlike her husband, she aspired to rule Russia with the help of Russians, basing her decisions on Russian traditions and the experience of Russian history. It was very significant for Catherine, therefore, that Gatchina and Pavlovsk lay on sites that had in the sixteenth century been Russian, part of the ancient domains of Novgorod. This is in fact confirmed in the Novgorod cadastres. Peter the Great declared these lands to be his personal property and only rarely did he endow them to people outside the Imperial family. When he did, it was only to those within his own intimate circle, like his son the Tsarevich Alexis (Rozhdestveno, south of Gatchina) or his foster brother Prince Kurakin.
Catherine the Great began to construct a palace at Pavlovsk for her eldest son, Pavel, later the Emperor Paul. She began building an Imperial residence in Pavlovsk in 1777. Catherine saw her son Pavel as the continuer of her undertakings and tried to cultivate his love and devotion, often resorting to expensive gifts. It may well be that the Empress deliberately chose to build Pavel a private residence in Pavlovsk rather than in Tsarskoye Selo. She herself spent the greater part of her time in the latter place and may have feared Pavel becoming party to potential palace intrigues (of which she, of course, was a master).
Whatever the reason, at the end of the 1770s the twenty-five year-old Pavel acquired his own home, court and a second family. His first wife, Princess Wilhelmma von Hesse-Darmstadt, died while giving birth in 1776. At first inconsolable, Pavel was not long in falling in love a second time. That same year, he married the seventeen-year-old Sophie Dorothea Augusta von Wurttemberg, who converted to Russian Orthodoxy and took the Russian name of Maria Feodorovna.
Pavel and Maria were blessed with a happy family life. Maria soon gave birth to a son, Alexander, not without difficulties, on 12 December 1777. Catherine the Great described her grandson with enthusiasm in a letter to Baron Grimm and how she cried with happiness during the christening ceremony. Right then, she took Alexander away from his parents to be raised personally by his grandmother. A little later, she wrote: "I don't care whether or not Alexander has any sisters, but he must have a younger brother." In 1779 Pavel and Maria had a second son, Konstantin, whom Catherine also took away to be educated. The appearance of her first grandson Alexander in 1777 prompted Catherine to present Pavel with one thousand acres of "woodlands, ploughed fields and two villages with peasants" lying along the bank of the river Slavyanka, four miles from Tsarskoe Selo. This was the site of hunting territory, surrounded all around by dense forest land. It was only on the plots of the first wooden palaces, Paulust and Manenthal, that small gardens with flower patches were laid out and new trees planted.
Catherine II loved St Petersburg and was adept at decorating the city and its southern suburbs. She paid generously for commissions to reconstruct the capital of her Empire and "once noted that the mania for construction is a devilish thing, it devours one's money. The more you build, the more you want to build."
Catherine was, however, begrudging in assigning money to Pavel and his palace and often reproached the young couple for excessive expenditure. She did however invite the man who was later to become her favourite architect, Charles Cameron, to come from Scotland to construct a palace in Pavlovsk. Charles Cameron arrived in Russia in 1779. He was an ardent admirer of the great sixteenth century Italian architect Andrea Palladio, whose creations displayed a whimsical interlacing of modern ideas with the heritage of Ancient Rome. Cameron began his activities in Russia with the erection of the Temple of Frendship in Pavlovsk, which the young heirs to the throne dedicated to Catherine II in an attempt to sooth any ill feeling between them. His next task was construction of the Apollo Colonnade at the entrance to the park, followed by the Dairy and a number of other buildings.
In 1787 Pavel and Maria took the decision to build themselves some permanent stone houses. Working on this commission, Cameron took as a basis one of the Italian palaces depicted in Andrea Palladio's famous publication The Four Books of Architecture. He designed a similar palace in Pavlovsk on the top of a hill that descended sharply down into the spacious valley of the river Slavyanka. The architect planned a modest palace, a three-storey main building crowned with a cupola, extremely reminiscent of his earlier creation, the Temple of Friendship. Adjacent to the central building were two small semicircular galleries with in-built auxiliary wings. These semi-circular galleries formed a wide parade ground. Their interior decor was intended to comply with modern tastes and fashions.
Pavel and Maria then asked Catherine for permission to travel abroad to Western Europe. In September 1781, under the pseudonyms of the Count and Countess Severny, the heir to the Russian throne and his wife set off on a journey that lasted fourteen months and took in Poland, Austria, Italy, France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. Paris made a special impression on Pavel and his wife. They were given a ceremonial welcome by King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, who were later executed during the French Revolution. Pavel and Maria launched into a non-stop whirl of receptions, firework shows, balls, hunting trips and theatrical performances held in their honour. They took in all the tourist sights, including palaces, fountains, parks, churches, educational and scientific establishments and gobelin, porcelain and furniture factories. In every town that they stopped in, Pavel and Maria visited artists' studios and antique shops. When visiting the famous Sevres pottery, they acquired various porcelain goods for the astronomical sum of 300,000 livres. When the time came to leave France, Queen Marie Antoinette presented Maria Feodorovna with a unique toilet set decorated with her crest and costing 60,000 livres. Everything that Pavel and Maria saw and acquired on their European trip was actively employed in the palace being constructed for them in Pavlovsk. The names of the finest masters adorned their collection of painting, among them Pompeo Batoni, Angelica Kauffmann, Hubert Robert and Jean-Baptiste Greuze. Relying on their own excellent taste, the owners of Pavlovsk acquired many pieces of furniture, bronzes, fabrics, glass and porcelain for their new palace. They never forgot about Pavlovsk for a single day whilst abroad and declared that Pavlovsk provided them with "more pleasure than all the beauty of Italy."
New features of Pavel's personality came to light during his foreign trip. He seemed to be a completely different person. His free and irreproachable knowledge of French created the impression of someone brought up in France. This also had an influence on Catherine II. Before her son's trip - or, to be more exact, before the high praise that Pavel won in Europe reached her ears - Catherine had often been intolerant of her son. Possibly thanks to this trip, the Empress began to look at the heir to the Russian throne through new eyes. This is evident in 1783, when Pavel's third child - his first daughter, Alexandra - was born and Catherine made her son the fabulous present of the Gatchina Palace. Catherine's present was of course deeply ironic, for Gatchina was the former palace of Grigory Orlov, Russia's Claudius and murderer of Peter III. It was now inherited by the victim's son Pavel and became the object of his affection for the rest of his life. It was to Gatchina that he sent many works of art originally acquired for Pavlovsk. Gatchina was also the scene of large-scale work on the reconstruction of the enormous Imperial palace, the largest in all the suburbs of St Petersburg. For many years, these repairs occupied all of Pavel's time and energy.
The palace at Pavlovsk remained under the tender and loving care of Maria Feodorovna. Pavlovsk became the child of this clever, talented, purposeful and energetic princess, who gave it forty years of her life and all her strength and energy. Pavlovsk was, without a doubt, the greatest creation of this remarkable woman. Over her 67 years, she bore and raised Pavel ten children, surviving his tragic death and doing everything in her power so that the idyllic, Jean Jacques Rousseau-like Pavlovsk might grow into an important part of Russian cultural life.
That, therefore, is the history of the appearance of Pavlovsk in the eighteenth century. The fate of Pavel is complex and confused. He was the heir to the throne for forty years and Emperor for exactly four years, four months and four days. He was murdered on 12 March 1801 in St Michael's Castle in St Petersburg, after which Pavlovsk ceased to be an Imperial residence.