|This is my contribution to Round Fourteen of ABC Wednesday. For the fifth time I am focusing on people – some famous, some infamous and some half-forgotten, but all with a tale to tell.|
You can read more about the latter on Wikipedia if you must, but I wanted to concentrate on Catherine’s great contribution to the modern world – the roller coaster.
One of the pastimes that entertained 17th century Russians during their long and bitterly cold winters was the ice slide. As the name suggests, these were simply long chutes of frozen water down which people would slide.
Patrons would slide down them at tremendous speed on sleds made of wood or ice.
The ice sleds were simple blocks of ice with a straw mat giving some protection from the cold for the riders’ bottoms. A length of rope was looped through a hole drilled in the block giving the riders something to hold onto.
Sometimes bumps were added at the end of the slide for even more excitement and the ride ended when the sled drove into a pile of sand to slow them down. The slides were also built in parallel pairs, facing in opposite directions, so riders could spend the day going back and forth down the slides.
The image on the left is of her visiting the slide in St Petersburg and she was so impressed that she had one like it built at her palace in the city. The problem, of course, was that Catherine’s fun would end with the winter.
The solution was to build a hilly wooden track in the gardens of her summer palace at Oranienbaum and to use carts with wheels instead of blocks of ice.
Called the ‘Russian Hills’, the platform was 108 feet high and the track over a third of a mile and it became the first roller coaster, sparking a craze across Europe, leading to Les Montagues Russes a Bellevilles (The Russian Mountains of Bellevilee) in Paris in 1817 when the carts were placed on tracks.
And all because Catherine the Great was a thrill-seeker.