It is a well-known fact that the potato was brought into Russia by Peter the Great. But very few people know where he grew his first potatoes – they were actually planted in the sovereign's gardens in the village of Strelna. Strelna is the oldest suburb of St. Petersburg and has a number of interesting architectural monuments of the XVIII century, including the famous Constantine Palace.
Strelna is located on the coast of the Gulf of Finland. Formerly a Swedish chancellor's estate (the Strelinhof estate was founded here in late 17th century by Johannes Schutte, the Swedish Governor-General of Ingermanland), Strelna was chosen by Peter the Great as a place for his future summer house in 1714 – on his frequent travels from Saint Petersburg to Kronstadt, the tsar liked to make a stop-over in Strelna to get some rest. Jean Baptiste Le Blond, famous for his work with André Le Nôtre at Versailles, was commissioned to prepare designs for a palace and park.
In 1718, a temporary wooden palace was constructed in Strelna. It had been used by the Russian royalty as a sort of hunting lodge, and has been faithfully preserved to this day. After Le Blond's death, the commission to build the grand palace passed to Niccolo Michetti, a disciple of the Roman Carlo Fontana. A cornerstone was laid in June 1720, but next year it became apparent that the place was ill-adapted for installation of fountains, thus Peter decided to concentrate his attention on the nearby Peterhof. Disappointed, Michetti left Russia, and all works in Strelna were suspended.
On ascending the throne in 1741, Peter's daughter Elizabeth intended to complete her father's project. Her favourite architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli was asked to expand and aggrandize Michetti's design. But Rastrelli's attention was soon diverted to other palaces, in Peterhof and Tsarskoye Selo, so the Strelna palace stood unfinished until the end of the century.