Signs of Catherine the Great abound in St. Petersburg. We have visited her summer home, winter home, the Hermitage (which she founded) and even her tomb. Who was this woman that lived during the time of our revolutionary war?
Fortunately we read "Catherine the Great" by Massey before we left home and our guides have filled in the many gaps. Still, sorting all of the Catherines, Peters, Alexanders and other Romanovs can be a challenge.
Massey took hundreds of pages to explain the woman. I can best give only highlights.
She wasn't Russian, she was Prussian.
She didn't ascend to the throne. She claimed the throne after a coup against her reining husband who was soon killed by the brothers of her lover.
She had 12 primary lovers; 3 before she became empress and 9 after. (Massey questions her child and heir to the throne was even fathered by her husband who was one strange nobleman.)
She expanded the Russian empire and gave it access to the sea with wars against Turkey and "border adjustments" with neighboring Poland.
She was attracted by the period of "enlightenment sweeping Europe and corresponded regularly with Voltaire.
She collected the finest art from collections throughout Europe and created most of the collection now housed in the Hermitage.
She started the first school for girls of Noble rank.
The list could go on. She was a part of the Romanov Dynasty that ended with the 1917 Russian Revolution. The Romanovs were held up as examples of evil during the Soviet period but now tourists, including Russians, flock to see the palaces and emblems of the Romanov past.
She was quite a lady then, still respected now. Here are a few views of Peterhof, her summer palace, and the Hermitage collection.