The Belgians know Tsar Peter’s secret

The National Park in Brussels, right in front of the Royal Palace, is a welcome touch of greenery in the city. But why would the Belgians commemorate the spot in the park where Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia, felt violently sick?

The park was built in the late eighteenth century over the remains of the Coudenburg Palace. (Pro tip: This palace is now buried underground. You can pop in and walk around this buried palace through the ticket office in the Royal Palace). Previously this park was part of the gardens of the old palace and was inaccessible to the general public.

A photo of the tree-lined boulevard in the Royal Park - Brussels, Belgium

Tree-lined boulevard in the Royal Park – Brussels, Belgium

In 1717, the Treaty of Utrecht was still fresh in many people’s minds. Several European powers signed the treaty to end the wars of Spanish succession. For Brussels, this meant they no longer formed part of the Spanish Netherlands. Instead, the Austrian branch of the House of Hapsburg was in control. [6]

Peter the Great was Tsar of Russia at the time. He was pro-European and studied European countries to see how he could improve Russia. [4] He travelled around the continent, and was in Brussels in 1717.

On 16 April, after drinking heavily, he staggered towards a fountain in the park at 3:00 pm much the worse for wear. If he was in the Royal Palace I think it’s fair to suggest he had been drinking with royalty for some time. We know he wanted help fighting the Swedes in the Baltic region; [4] perhaps this was one of those ‘negotiations’?

A photo of the statue of Peter the Great - Brussels, Belgium

Peter the Great – Brussels, Belgium

The fountain Peter rested against no longer exists. If you enter the Park from the southern entrance (with the Palace behind you) you walk along a tree-lined boulevard. There are ditches on either side which always seemed a little odd. They don’t add to the aesthetics of the garden, and they don’t serve any purpose. These ditches were the level of the original Palace garden. As you walk away from the Palace, turn to the ditch on your right. This is where the Tsar tried to regain himself. Hanging on to the fountain, he felt sick and vomited in the ditch right here. [1]

Charming.

When the authorities designed the park 70 years later, they left the ditches and landscaped around them. [1] In 1856, Prince Nikita Demidov decided to commemorate the Tsar’s inebriated state. Demidov was an arms manufacturer and one of the prime steel merchants in Europe. He was close to Peter, so it’s likely he thought this would be a great prank. He donated a statue of Peter the Great to the city of Brussels. The Latin inscription reads “ On the 16th of April 1717, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, Grand Duke Peter Alekseïevitch, Tsar of Moscow, sat upon the rim of this fountain and graced its waters with the wine of which he had partaken. ” [2]

A photo of the plaque commemorating Peter the Great - Brussels, Belgium

Commemorating Peter the Great – Brussels, Belgium

If you walk into the ditch, hidden from sight now, you will see the statue and inscription. [1]

 

Embarrassed yourself while travelling? If there’s a statue of it, let us know in the comments below!

References

[1] Commemoration of Peter the Great’s Vomit; Atlas Obscura; (Retrieved 2017-08-24)
[2] The Monuments and Statues of Brussels, Derom, Patrick; Petraco-Pandora NV ; 2000
[3] Brussels Park; Wikipedia; 2017-09-11
[4] Peter the Great; Wikipedia; 2017-11-18
[5] Demidov; Wikipedia; 2017-10-30
[6] Spanish Netherlands; Encyclopaedia Britannica; (Retrieved 2017-11-25)

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