New Town, New Townspeople: Transforming Gatchina in the 1790s

Alison K Smith


On 11 November 1796, only five days after the death of Catherine II, her son and successor Paul released a decree naming two of his villages, Pavlovsk and Gatchina, towns. In an odd way, given their fraught relationship, this act echoed his mother’s past practice. She founded several hundred new towns to serve as new administrative centers for her newly formed provinces. Paul’s actions are more obscure, tied not to administrative needs but perhaps instead to a desire to glorify his own landholdings—or if not to glorify at least to increase the economic prosperity of his lands. The end results, however, followed a similar path: new towns needed new courts and new schools, new town seals and new town plans, and above all new townspeople. This article examine the process by which Gatchina, the village, was transformed into Gatchina, the town. In particular, it will focus on the establishment there of new merchant and meshchanin corporations, and of a town ratusha to oversee their management. Many of the new town’s new townspeople came from elsewhere to register there; as a result, they not only built up the town in numbers but also created a Russian space within what was an imperial periphery. This transformation shows both an effort at social organization and engineering and also the limits of those efforts when faced with individual desires.


Social history; Towns; Society; Paul I

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ISSN: 2333-1658