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Alexander II became known as Tsar the Liberator able to implement the most challenging reforms undertaken in Russia since the reign of Peter the Great. During his reign, Russia continued its expansion into Central Asia. Alexander II’s most important reform was the abolition of serfdom with the Tsar's Emancipation Manifesto of February 19, 1861. Then other reforms followed: jury trial; local self-government for rural districts and larger towns possessing restricted rights; more or less independent printed media; higher education available to the lower classes, etc.
In the 1860s, a Russian revolutionary organization of Narodniki (“close to the people”, populists) appeared, lead by a party called Land and Liberty. Its supporters of the political struggle against autocracysplit off as a party called Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will) and were keen to kill the Emperor. They made seven thwarted attempts on his life, but the eighths one of March 1, 1881 resulted in Alexander’s fatal wounding. His consequent death was taken by many as a national catastrophe.

In his childhood, Grand Duke Alexander Nikolayevich, the future Emperor Alexander II, lived in the Alexander Palace from early spring till late autumn. His rooms were on the ground floor with windows facing the park: from them he could see the pond and the Children’s Island within it – a place for Alexander and his brothers and sister to play. To complete his education he traveled in Europe where he met and fell in love with the 15-year-old Princess Marie of Hesse, thereafter known as Empress Maria Alexandrovna, to whom he became engaged in 1840. The wedding was celebrated in 1841; then the young couple moved to Tsarskoe Selo, which became their favourite place. They were installed in the Zubov Wing of the Catherine Palace, where they continued to live after becoming Emperor and Empress. Maria occupied the rooms of Catherine II, Alexander the rooms below on the lower floor, with access directly to the garden. Their children’s rooms were located next to the Empress’s. Like his predecessors, Alexander II took good care of the imperial summer residence, being the first who tried to make it comfortable rather than luxurious. Thanks to technical progress, the palace halls were electrified for the first time, a barometer was mounted at the Main Staircase (designed by Alexander’s court architect Ippolito Monighetti), a telegraph station and plumbed water supply with taps were installed; a photographic study was created in the Llama Pavilion. Because of several attempts made on the Emperor since 1866, unprecedented security measures were taken, including armour-plated iron doors in the basement and attics of the Catherine Palace. Tsarskoe Selo preserved Alexander II’s life that was cut short in St Petersburg in 1881 as a result of another terrorist act.