Back in the days of the Grand Embassy, the inquisitive Peter I was examining foreign cabinets of curiosities, visiting anatomy courses, meeting and talking with scientists. And buying a lot: whole collections, books, machines, and instruments. He wasn’t squandering government money: speaking in today’s terms, Peter the Great was investing in education. Having enlightened himself, the reformer tsar began enlightening the people. “For teaching about the live and dead nature, and the art of men” he established the first Russian natural science museum. The museum was called Kunstkamera, which translates from the German language, so dear for the tsar, as a “cabinet of curiosities.” The tsar ordered to place the curiosities in the Summer Palace and issued a decree, saying that “hereinafter any interested person is to be received and guided, with the exhibits shown to them and explained.” Given that the ignorant public was not keen on looking at monsters, taking them for demonic spawns, the treasury allocated 400 rubles annually for advertisement. Very in line with the Russian mentality, the people were lured into the museum with vodka shots and cucumbers. The expectations were met: people began rushing in crowds. Later the museum was moved to the Kikin Hall, while the construction of a new building began on Vasilyevsky Island.
Peter didn’t live to see the opening of a new museum. Designed by Mattarnovi and other famous architects, the building took 16 years to complete with some very original solutions. For example, the 3-meter Globe of Gottorf was placed on the third floor while construction continued around it – getting it inside otherwise would have been impossible. On 6 December 1728 New Style, the Kunstkamera was solemnly inaugurated in presence of grand guests, while the building was still unfinished. On the same day and in the same building, the first Russian public library opened its doors for the public: the Library of the Academy of Sciences. The museum survives to this day, keeps receiving visitors and obtaining new exhibits. Though its new name didn’t catch on: The Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, we still call it Kunstkamera.