Peterhof and Peter the Great, Russia

Today was one of those idyllic days, with weather as if you’d ordered it and the perfect activity to match: a visit to Peterhof – the home of Tsar Peter the Great just outside St Petersburg. They call Peterhof ‘the Russian Versailles. Fortunately, the key features of Peterhof are out in the sunshine: his extensive gardens are filled with elaborate fountains – most, clearly just because he could, and a couple of trick fountains, presumably to have a bit of fun with visiting dignitaries. 

His gardens are both beautiful and clever: the fountains don’t use any pumps, only an elaborate underground system based on water pressure exerted from a reservoir of water located on higher ground. So I’m thinking: this Peter, he seems like a fun kind of guy, OK, perhaps some slight megalomanic tendencies but who wouldn’t have a few golden fountains in their yard if they could? But apparently my fun-kind-of-guy-rather-like-my-grandpa (who’s also called Peter) image is not quite accurate: 

1. Apparently he was a womaniser, and frequently instigated orgies when visiting Amsterdam (this related by Mr K who is Dutch so is a slightly suspect source, in the sense of: it couldn’t possibly have been the well-behaved Dutch aristocracy who was to blame for that type of shenanigans

2. Apparently he had his own son murdered for disagreeing with him (source here also Mr K but I googled it and it seems he’s at least partially right – Wikipedia can’t make up its mind if Mr K is or correct or if rather his son was sentenced to be executed but this had to be signed off by Peter himself, while Peter was deciding what to do the son died in prison, from injuries from being tortured during his interrogation). There are also rather nasty reports of his wife and his mistress both being falsely accused of adultery (I don’t want to contradict Wikipedia but I would have thought such accusations not necessarily unfounded in the case of the mistress). 

3. Also from Wikipedia, I found out that he forced his wife of ten years to become a nun (did anyone else know this was possible?) He did the same to his half-sister. 

4. In an apparently contradictory move he also made it illegal for a Russian man to enter a monastery before he was fifty. Apparently at this time few people lived this long. 

Further notes: Wikipedia makes no mention of orgies so perhaps the Dutch gossip magazines invented that one. Peter’s activities in Amsterdam that are noted mostly centre on shipbuilding, which seems innocuous enough. All is not lost though: he did instigate a beard tax for noblemen who wore a beard. 

Plus it made me laugh to see the kids getting drenched trying to figure out how not to get wet running through the trick fountains. 

Photo by vsmoothe and used, with thanks, under the creative commons agreement 

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