Catherine the Great was a German by birth but, without a doubt, she was one of the greatest rulers of Russia. She possessed an astonishing level of energy that made her capable to conduct wars brilliantly and suppress insurgencies. She had sincere concern for the everyday aspects of governing her kingdom. Not only that, she had an outsized association with devotees throughout the Europe. She was also engaged in writing philosophical treatises, and this aspect of her personality makes her a special intellectual (Blumberg 27). As far as the cultural history of Russia (in particular St. Petersburg) is concerned, the name of Catherine the Great is perhaps most noticeable in bringing a cultural revolution in the said places.
The Russian Empress was an open-minded rationalist. She did not make emotional decisions and had an unswerving trust on her common sense. After coming into power, Catherine the Great made it certain that Russia turns out as a modern empire. She did everything she could to make advancements in the Russian architecture and infrastructure. She did so as she employed specialized European architects and gave them the task to modernize the conventional town planning of Russia. Those architects were also used by her for designing like the Kremlin Palace etc. By making such changes, Catherine the Great wanted to have a lasting impression on the culture of Europe. It was her utmost desire to show her power to the world by making revolutionary changes in the infrastructure of Russia.
St. Petersburg is the best example of her architectural and cultural influence as she made it a model "Western" city following the footsteps of Peter the Great (Blumberg 29). She carried out dynamic building programs within the city. Due to her enthusiasm in developing the city, St. Petersburg turned into one of the most beautiful cities of the European continent. She also took services of the great Italian architect, Bartolomeo Rastrelli, to design the most outstanding landmarks of Russia. Those included the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoe Selo, Smolnyi Convent, and the 4th Winter Palace in St. Petersburg (Ziegler 46).
It is extremely important to mention here that Catherine the Great has strict rules regarding her architect style. She could not stand any mistake in the design of a structure. There were many incidences when she forced the architects to change a style or fired them if they did not make the designs according to her instructions. The St. Petersburg Academy of Arts is one of such examples. Catherine the Great had ordered the design of the mentioned academy in the early 1760s. She gave strict orders to architects Alexander Kokorinov and Jean-Baptiste-Michel Vallin de la Mothe regarding the building’s design. However, she continued to make amendments in their proposed design until it became what she wanted. Later, the two architects were successful in ending up with a neoclassical design that represented the revolutionized, innovate Russian architecture with outsized windows and tall columns with ornamental attractions.
Supported mainly by the Beccaria and Montesquieu writings, Catherine the Great also sketched out a guide to serve as an enlightened code of laws. Voltaire saluted her Great Instruction of 1767 and regarded it as the century’s finest monument. This proposal paved the way to the 1775 provincial government reform (Blumberg 29). These reforms not only strengthened the nobility’s administrative power but also confirmed the central government’s control over pastoral territories of the kingdom ("Catherine II").
Before her rule, women were not given equal rights and opportunities in Russia. Seeing Catherine as their role model, the Russian women were encouraged to take up prominent positions and responsibilities in the society. For winning the support of the aristocratic Russian class, Catherine lessened her European connections intentionally. By doing so, she wanted to stress her sincerity and commitment for her homeland. She was sure that her success depends on her strong bondage with the Russian gentry. Thus, she pursued such policies that which plainly favored the Russian society’s upper classes. The position and treatment of peasants in Russia worsened with the expansion of the privileges of aristocratic classes (Ziegler). By making changes in the political fields, Catherine the Great influenced the culture of the empire as politics and culture had a deep connection in that era.
Catherine the Great can be regarded as a unique Russian empress. She has a prominent place among the Russian tsars due to her intellectualism, interests and inquiries (Raleigh). During the 34 years of her period of influence, she proved to the world that she is rightly considered as “Great”. She succeeded in destroying the Kingdom of Poland and conquered the largest part of the dominion. She deserves the title of being “Great” as she not only detained a part of the Turkish Black Sea Coast but also created a new seaport at Odessa. By doing so, she opened the secluded Russia to the world. What is also remarkable is her role as a founder of an outstanding navy. This is amazing to know that at the time of her death, the Russian flag not only flew in Europe but also in the Asian and Alaskan North American continents (Blumberg 28).
Thus, it won’t be incorrect to state that Catherine the Great is truly one of the most remarkable historical figures in world history as she ruled over Russian Empire with full grace and style. It is not easy to find such a fine example of female powers like Catherine II who modernized Russia politically, culturally and socially. It was due to her constant efforts that the Russian Empire expanded with improved Westernized administration. She was presumed as a "free-thinking authoritarian”. Nevertheless, it is also true that she was also admired far and wide for her bigheartedness and compassion. It was because of her that Russia’s status in the world enhanced and improved.
Blumberg, Arnold. Great Leaders, Great Tyrants? Contemporary Views of World Rulers Who Made History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995. Print.
"Catherine II." Questia. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Mar. 2014. <http://www.questia.com/read/1E1-Cathrin2/catherine-ii>.
Raleigh, Donald J. The Emperors and Empresses of Russia: Rediscovering the Romanovs. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1996. Print.
Ziegler, Charles E. The History of Russia. 2nd ed. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Greenwood Press, 2009. Print.