Peter the Great @ the Hermitage, Amsterdam
Peter the Great was a radical reformer. In his lifetime he changed Russia from a medieval Byzantine backwater where only the tsar had knowledge, into a modern country epitomised by the free and open new capital of St Petersburg. “If God give me time, I shall make of Petersburg a second Amsterdam.”
The exhibition explores this complex and highly gifted man. He was not afraid to roll up his sleeves and he became a skilled craftsman who mastered 14 different trades. And yet with those same hands he personally executed some of the Strelstsy (tsar’s personal bodyguards) after they had rebelled against him.
So what exactly was Amsterdam’s role in all of this? Peter visited Amsterdam twice. He stayed for three months during his first Grand Tour of Europe in 1696-1697 and he stayed again for some time during his
second Grand Tour of 1716-1717. Amsterdam inspired St Petersburg that was built on the site where Peter had defeated the Swedish army of Charles XII. St Petersburg, like Amsterdam, was built on wooden piles and it made use of the rivers and other water there as lines of defence, just like the Singel in Amsterdam used to act as a moat around the old city. When Peter first came to Amsterdam he initially stayed in Zaandam and the wooden house there inspired his first wooden cabin where he lived in St Petersburg. This new city was partly built to defend Peter’s trading interests. It provided an ice-free port all year and gave Peter command of the Baltic.