St. Petersburg in the era of Paul I (1796-1801)

His reign lasted only five years, but during this time Paul nonetheless managed to leave his mark on the city's appearance. Once on the throne, Paul, who was fond of knights and chivalry, invited to Russia those members of the Maltese Order who had been driven out of Malta by Napoleon, and awarded himself the title of the Grand Master of the Order of Malta. The Vorontsov Palace in the centre of St. Petersburg was granted by Paul to the Order, and the Maltese Chapel was constructed in one wing by Giacomo Quarenghi. Unfortunately, the Chapel, which has been preserved until the present day, is located on the territory of a military college and can only rarely be viewed by purchasing a ticket to one of the classical or chamber music concerts that are occasionally held within its walls.

View of Mikhailovskiy Castle
View of Mikhailovskiy Castle
by Fyodor Alekseev

The palaces of Pavlovsk and Gatchina, both located a short distance outside of St. Petersburg, are inextricably linked with Paul I. His mother, Catherine the Great, gave Pavlovsk to Paul in 1777 and it became the private residence of the heir to the throne and his family. After Paul's death in 1801, the elegant Pavlovsk Palace with its picturesque park remained in the possession of his widow, Maria Fyodorovna, who lived there for more than two decades. When construction started on the palace in Gatchina, it was originally intended for one of Catherine's favorites, Grigoriy Orlov, but it was only finished after Catherine's death and Paul's ascension to the throne. In the last years of his mother's reign, as heir to the throne, Paul used the enormous square in front of the palace to drill his military troops in strict, monotonous military maneuvers, which later became the model for his military reforms.

As Paul disliked the vast Winter Palace and feared assassination, he decided, as Master of the Order of Malta, to build an impregnable castle surrounded by a moat, today known as Mikhailovsky (or Engineer's) Castle. Despite the moat and other protective measures, Paul was tragically assassinated by his own Guard, having moved into the castle only forty days earlier.

Paul's memory is honored with three monuments: older statues in front of Gatchina and Pavlovsk, and a new statue erected in the courtyard of Mikhailovsky Castle in 2003.