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For centuries, prior to the fitful age of Peter the Great and the "Petrine" reforms he initiated early in the 18th century, Russia had been a closed society by and large. An "iron curtain" separated our country from Western Europe and the East. The pat formula- "Moscow, the third Rome" - isolated Rus, Old Russia, still more from the rest of the world. Just two windows were left open-on the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire before its capture by the Turks in 1453, and on the Balkans populated by the Slavs. Russian culture kept to itself and adhered to tradition, to "good old times". One did not tolerate infidels, those of the unorthodox faith: Moslems, Jews and pagans, of course. The very name-"pagan"-carried a connotation of foul, vile, profane. In a nutshell, there was a lot of bias and prejudice. But there came a waft of fresh wind in the latter half of the 17th century.


Articles in this rubric reflect the opinion of the author. - Ed.

Pages. 108


by Ludmila CHERNAYA, Dr. Sc. (Hist.), V.I. Surikov Art Academy, Moscow

First very cautiously (with certain reservations and hand-washing after touching the "evil ones") the Russians came in contact with alien physicians, watchmakers, engineers and army officers. Czar Alexei Mikhailovich (ruled in 1645 to 1676) opened his court to foreigners, while his son, Peter I, otherwise known as Peter the Great (ruled in 1689 to 1725), had foreign ways spread to all of Russian culture, thus touching off the process of intemalization of European civilization on Russian soil. Here we do not deal with the phenomenon of "Western influence" but rather with the desire of the Russians to partake from the wellspring of foreign culture.

As 19th-century scholars thought it (and many of our contemporaries still do), the "Western influence" did not invade Russian turf all of a sudden but spread gradually, without any forcing on the part of European powers. The Russians could afford to pick and choose-they adopted only what did not rub them the wrong way, what did not run counter to their spirit, their mentality and outlooks, the "decent order" of Old Russian culture. And even though the Russians had got in touch with West European aliens well before the Petrine age, say, in the 16th century (under Ivan the Terrible), they remained closed to foreign influences and confined themselves to timid superficial borrowings in keeping with the Russian canon and tradition. Our forefathers were prone to show their conservative side.

Change came when the Russians started looking beyond the confines of convention and had their eyes open to novelty as something natural, in the scheme of things. This sense of inquisitiveness excited interest in West European lands and far beyond Europe, say, in the "lands of America" and elsewhere. In this sense the "Western influence" is but a misnomer; rather, we are dealing with the openness of Russian culture in that carry-over period from the Middle Ages to new, modem times.

Pictorial images had a role to play too. Pictures of the world's nicest cities, their streets and buildings stirred up great interest. The personal impressions of Czar Peter I of such West-European cities as Amsterdam, London and Vienna whetted this interest and ultimately prodded him to found a new capital, the city of St. Petersburg whose formal, European look came to epitomize the openness of reformed Russia.

The northern capital had an outlet to the sea, that is it was open to the world. As a port it handled a significant part of foreign trade traffic. It was the seat of foreign embassies, and the hub of diplomatic contacts. A ukase of 1702 proclaimed freedom of faith and religion, and it was strictly observed in St. Petersburg. Thus aliens enlisted in the Russian service had no worries in this respect. A Lutheran kirk was put up simultaneously with St. Petersburg's first Russian Orthodox cathedral, the St. Trinity Church. St. Petersburg was visualized as a world's cultural center-Peter the Great wanted it to become "the greatest and most renowned town all over the world".

The czar sought glory not only for his own self but also for the town he created, his handiwork, so to speak. The first modest victories of the Russian arms in the long Northern War of 1700-1721 triggered a spate of fulsome praise, with Peter extolled as a great military leader. And after the historic victory over the Swedes in the battle of Poltava (1709) the floodgates of eulogy were flung open for Peter and his "Petrine town". Encomiums were uttered by church hierarchs in their sermons, they were incised on triumphal arches raised to commemorate Peter's feats, and they filled theater performances. One of the "corps of savants", Feofan (Theophanus) Prokopovich, went out of his way comparing Peter and St. Petersburg to the first Roman Emperor Augustus (ruled from 27 B.C. to A.D. 14): Augustus "inherited a Rome of brick and left it of marble", while Peter "in possession of a Russia of wood, had it created of gold".

Pages. 109


Like most Russian towns of that time, St. Petersburg rose from a citadel founded in 1703, the Sts. Peter and Paul Fortress. Towering above the right bank of the full-flowing Neva, it graces the central part of St. Petersburg. From the very start Peter I pictured it in his mind as a novel, European-type city with formal layout and straight avenues. All that we can see today in the rectangular grid of prospects (avenues) and "lines" (streets) of Vasilyevsky ostrov (island), a town district originally chosen as the heart of St. Petersburg. The construction work proceeded strictly according to a single plan for layout and housing, drawn up by the Swiss architect Domenico Trezzini who came to Russia in 1703. The builders who did not comply and "broke the line" were fined, and the structures thus raised were pulled down to give place to regular houses erected strictly in keeping with the building code.*

Landscape architecture became an important element of town- planning in St. Petersburg. Large squares, parks, gardens and fountains-all that was meant as a proper urban environment enhancing the architectural ensembles. To some people the northern capital was a "new Rome", to others - a "second Constantinople", and to still others - both. As to Peter I, he wanted to turn his city into "straight Amsterdam" and, after his visit to France in 1717, he had Paris uppermost on his mind. While in Paris, the Czar sent a "model drawing" of a palace by the French architect Jean Batiste Leblon "for promulgation" and recommended it to St. Petersburg nobles for house-building on Vasilyevsky ostrov.

The new Russian capital St. Petersburg, came to be known as the "northern Palmyra", and this epithet sticks to this day. From the outset it was meant for new, free and open life styles, with social gatherings (assemblies), festive processions, fireworks and other amusements. Even though all that was alien to most Russians, the reformist Czar had no qualms about forcing the nobility to entertain so many guests at home. And they came in droves. By old Russian tradition guests were hosted with much ceremony ("in proper order"); seeing guests in and out was an important part of ceremonials. Both the guest and the host had to watch their step so as not violate certain essential rules. All that changed all of a sudden under Peter the Great. Guests could come and go as they pleased with scant ceremony. What the host was supposed to do was to fling the door of his house wide open to any guest, welcome and unwelcome alike, and make room enough for drinks, victuals and sundry games to entertain all those who wished to partake in a social meeting, or assembly. Communication, or rather, socializing, was the main thing. The head of the household could stay away, and none of the guests would feel sore. He had to keep open house anyway.


See: O. Ageyeva, "Russia's Gateway to the West", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2002. - Ed.

Pages. 110


The free ways of the Czar (which he learned still in his youth at Nemetskaya sloboda, a Moscow district populated by foreigners in the 17th and 18th centuries) were harsh and grotesque. Peter behaved like a medieval tyrant in inculcating rules of the new etiquette by making a liberal use of his fists and stick. Yet gradually, step by step, new life styles and mores came to be assimilated by the Russian upper crust.

Classical mythology and European belles lettres (especially love and adventure stories), ballet and many other things of the "Enlightenment age" became part and parcel of St. Petersburg's high society They found fertile ground in every sort of extravaganza, such as carnivals, drinking bouts and merrymaking, masked balls, carousals, theater shows, boisterous New Year parties, fireworks and other fetes in which the sovereign partook readily.

Book learning was of special significance as part of the monarch's policy of reforming Russia into an advanced European power. As early as 1700, that is three years before the founding of St. Petersburg, Peter I outlined a broad program of book publishing in the "Slavonic language". Those were foreign editions for the most part - both science literature (geography and history the art of warfare) and belles lettres. The Czar wanted all that published "to augment the glory of the great sovereign... and add to popular welfare and wisdom". The owners of two printing-houses in Amsterdam, I. Kopievsky and J. Tessing, turned to this undertaking which, however, failed to materialize. This job was carried on in Moscow at the printing-yard founded back in the 16th century and, from 1711 on, at the printing-houses of the new capital.

There came a change in the very approach to reading - one could also read for pleasure too, not for learning alone. The book catered to the cultural needs of high-society culture. There appeared a clear divide between church and secular literature, as testified by I. Turoboisky, a professor of philosophy and an adept in baroque and its symbolism. In fact, the ecclesiastical and the secular domains came to be divorced.

Keeping open house meant a new role for the mistress. In medieval Russia she would come out to greet gentlemen by offering each a drink and a kiss on the lips, and then retire to her quarters. In Petrine Russia, however, the mistress of the house was obliged to grace assemblies with her presence and entertain guests-talk to them and dance, accept compliments from gallant ("politic") cavaliers and exhibit other forms of "politesse". In short, the Russian lady "left her chamber", as I. Zabelin, a historian and archeologist of the latter half of the 19th and early 20th century (and honorary

Pages. 111


member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences), put it. She left the seclusion of her "solar" and quickly learned her new role in the beau monde, as witnessed by foreign guests and compatriots.

"Politic" ladies and gentlemen were the hallmark of the multidimensional Petrine age. But this was not Peter's whim alone. Not at all. There were also objective causes related above all to the propagation of West European culture in Russia and to the notions of a "politic" state. The word "politic" carried a much broader meaning, not only that of showing good judgement, tact, or shrewdness. It came to mean "cultured", "cultivated", "civilized" as well. This notion was imported from Western Europe by Peter's pensioners resident there and by learned monks from the Ukraine, who had taught at the Kiev Academy and had been invited to Moscow in 1701. They suggested expressions like "politic state", "politic cavalier" and so on. "Politic" is obviously associated with "polity" as a form, system, or method of government.

A "Politic cavalier" became the ideal of that age. He epitomized the best human and civic virtues: wisdom, learning and valor in his country's service in war and in peace. He was a gallant gentleman where ladies were concerned. All that was an essential part of "politesse", a paragon both for Peter himself and for his subjects. And such was the message of all kinds of sermons and literature of the day, the "Petrine stories" so-called. Literary heroes combined crude force and valor in the battlefield with European finesse, refinement, sensuality and erudition. A character like that could board and seize an enemy warship and then sing a romance for his beloved one. It was natural for him to come down with fever because of a sudden passion. Eager to leam and perpend, he always cherished the sovereign, Peter I, as an idol.

St. Petersburg, open to the outside world, was to be a model of "politic", that is cultivated, life-that's why it was founded to begin with. That's why it was built on wetlands, in a rather inclement natural environment, with floods, storms, cold and all, at the cost of great effort and sacrifice.

The formal, European style of architecture which Peter the Great was so zealous about, had another and more significant dimension. All of Russia, not St. Petersburg alone, was part of Europe. By this virtue the Russians were obliged to become Europeans too. Russia was moving into a new era when an "open society" was unthinkable in the absence of culture and civilization. All that was the purpose of the Petrine reforms.


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L. CHERNAYA, "Town Open to the Wide World" // London: Libmonster (LIBMONSTER.COM). Updated: 10.09.2018. URL: https://libmonster.com/m/articles/view/-Town-Open-to-the-Wide-World (date of access: 28.11.2021).

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