Catherine II (1729–1796) went down in Russian history as the Great: her reign became Russia’s Golden Age, the time of great reforms and glorious victories. Born Princess Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst, she was settled on by the Empress Elizabeth of Russia as a bride for her nephew. The young Princess was brought to Russia in 1744, given the name Cathrine Alexeyevna on her conversion to the Russian Orthodox Church, and married off to the future Emperor Peter III of Russia in 1745. In 1762, Catherine’s loyal Leib Guard (Imperial Russian Guard) revolted, deposed Peter, and proclaimed her the ruler of Russia. Catherine II had a remarkable way with people and knew how to be liked and surrounded with outstanding and loyal companions. During her 34 years reign, Russia gained several glorious victories in the Russo-Turkish Wars (1768–1774 and 1787–1791), defeated the Ottoman Empire forces, annexed the Crimea and obtained access to the Black Sea shores, where the Russians founded many new cities, including Sevastopol. Russia expanded south and west and become a multinational empire. In spite of Catherine’s image as an “enlightened despot”, in the last years the degree of her growing intolerance and conservatism became evident in her harsh treatment of such social writers as Alexander Radischev, Nikolai Novikov, and others. Baneful was also the influence of Catherine’s last favourites, especially Prince Platon Zubov. The Empress suffered a sudden stroke in 1796 and died intestate.
Called by her contemporaries Minerva of Tsarskoe Selo, Catherine II preferred this place to all the other imperial suburban residences. From here, on 28 July 1763, she made her ceremonial entry into St Petersburg after the coronation in Moscow. Catherine’s imperial court arrived here each spring, spent the whole summer and left when the weather turned cold in autumn. Herewasherhideawayattimesofillness. As Catherine’s rule began, a capriciously intricate Baroque was replaced by a lucidly harmonious Classicism, congenial to the Empress. She spent enormous amounts of money on her favourite residence. At her wish, in the 1770s the architect Yury Velten added a wing, named after Catherine’s last lover Platon Zubov, on the southern side of the palace. The Empress’s private apartments in the new wing, just as her son Paul’s (afterwards Emperor Paul I) in the northern side of the palace, were designed by her favourite architect Charles Cameron. In the park, the talented Scotsman built a gallery named after him and an adjacent complex. The highest point of Classicism at Tsarskoe Selo is represented by Giacomo Quarenghi’s Alexander Palace. During Catherine II’s epoch, Tsarskoe Selo became a “Pantheon of the Glory of Russia”, with many triumphal monuments to victories of the Russian army and navy. The 34 years of her reign became the prime of the Tsarskoe Selo palaces and parks.