Catherine I (1684 – 1727) was the second wife of Peter I of Russia, reigned as Empress of Russia only two years, from 1725 until her death.
Her real name was Marta Skavronskaya. There are no documents that confirm her origins. The historians say, she was born in Jakobstadt (now Jekabpils, Latvia) but was orphaned early in life and reared by Johann Ernst Gluck, a Lutheran pastor in Marienburg (now Malbork, Poland). Marta’s parents died of the plague in 1684, and her uncle gave the girl to Lutheran pastor Ernst Gluck, known for his translation of the Bible into the Latvian language. At the age of 17, Marta married Swedish dragoon named Johann Kruse. A day or two after the wedding Johann went to war.
When the Russians captured Marienburg in 1702, she was taken prisoner by the Russian commander, who sold her to Prince Aleksandr Menshikov, best friend of Peter the Great of Russia. Menshikov and Marta formed a lifetime alliance, and it is possible that Menshikov wanted to procure a mistress on whom he could rely. In 1703 Peter met Marta at Menshikov’s home, and shortly after that he took her as his own mistress. In 1705, she converted to Orthodoxy and took the new name – Catherine.
Catherine and Peter married secretly in 1707. They had twelve children, two of whom survived into adulthood, Anna (mother of Peter III) and Elizabeth Petrovna (empress 1741-62).
Peter married Catherine again (this time officially) on February 9, 1712. Catherine was Peter’s second wife.
In 1724 Catherine was officially named co-ruler.
Peter died in 1725 and Catherine became a ruler. Catherine was the first woman to rule Imperial Russia.
Catherine gave her name to Catherinehof (Ekaterinhof) near St. Petersburg, and built the first bridges in the new capital. She was also the first royal owner of the Tsarskoye Selo estate, where the Catherine Palace still bears her name.
Catherine I died just two years after Peter, at the age of 43, in St. Petersburg, where she was buried at St. Peter and St. Paul Fortress.
The Amber Room (Amber Chamber) is the most well-known thing in the Catherine Palace. This Room is a complete chamber decoration of amber panels backed with gold leaf and mirrors. The Amber Room was sometimes dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World, but unfortunately it disappeared during World War II, and was recreated in 2003.