This orange-hued building belonged to one of Russia's strangest and most pitiful leaders. Paul I grew up in the shadow of his powerful mother, Catherine the Great, whom he despised; no doubt correctly, he held her responsible for his father's death. By the time Paul became tsar, he lived in terror that he, too, would be murdered. He claimed that shortly after ascending the throne, he was visited in a dream by the Archangel Michael, who instructed him to build a church on the site of his birthplace—hence the name of this landmark: Mikhailovsky Castle. Paul built not just a church but a castle, which he tried to make into an impenetrable fortress. Out of spite toward his mother, he took stones and other materials from castles that she had built. The Fontanka and Moika rivers cut off access from the north and east; and for protection everywhere else, he installed secret passages, moats with drawbridges, and earthen ramparts. All of Paul's intricate planning, however, came to nothing.
On March 24, 1801, a month after he began living there, he was suffocated with a pillow in his bed. Historians speculate that his son Alexander I knew of the murder plot and may even have participated. After Paul's death, the castle stood empty for 20 years, then was turned over to the Military Engineering Academy. One of the school's pupils was Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who may have absorbed something of the castle while he studied here: as a novelist he was preoccupied with themes of murder and greed. The castle is now part of the State Museum of Russian Art; it houses temporary exhibits from the museum, plus an exhibit on the history of the castle.