18th century – the Establishment of the Palace

The Great Northern War (1700–1721) was not yet over when Tsar Peter I, certain of his claim over the conquered territories by the Baltic Sea, started to build a new summer palace in the vicinity of Tallinn which would be worthy of Russian aspirations to become one of the great powers in Europe. Peter, who wished to appear a very European ruler, consciously stressed that he and the whole of Russia belonged to the European cultural space. In his attempts to create a new Russian reality and people, Peter I began by changing the appearance of the country and its citizens, and architecture played a significant role in this process. To construct new residences for the ruler, masters and artists were brought to Russia from all over Europe. Among others, Peter I asked for the services of an Italian, Nicola Michetti (1675–1743), whose first job in Russia was the construction of the tsar’s summer palace in a nice grove near Reval, as Kadriorg was called before the mid-18th century, when it was renamed in honour of Katherine I. The story of the palace begins in July, 1718, carefully recorded by a stonemason’s hand on a memorial plaque in the foyer.

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The construction work in the palace was a joint effort of several foreign masters: in addition to the Italian chief architect, parts of the job were carried out by the Roman architect Gaetano Chiaveri, the Venetian stucco master Antonio Quadri, Salomon Zeltrecht from Sweden, the sculptor Heinrich von Bergen from Riga, and many others. Several of those men later worked in St. Petersburg; the founding of a new Russian capital also provided employment for another Kadriorg Palace architect, Mikhail Zemtsov, who was in charge of construction after Michetti returned to Italy. Workers were ordered from Russia, and more difficult tasks were fulfilled by soldiers from the Tallinn garrison or forced labourers. In the town, which was nearly empty of people and severly damaged by war, the construction of an unprecedentedly magnificent palace to replace the modest summer manors of Tallinn citizens, seaside rocks and junipers seemed like a miracle.

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Unfortunately, the builders did not manage to carry out all of Michetti’s and Peter’s grandiose plans because, after the death of the tsar in 1725, the interest of Russian rulers in the Baltic Sea, its navy, Tallinn and the palace died down for quite a long while.