Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Summer Cottage in Tsarkoe Selo

Of course no visit to St. Petersburg is complete without embarking on a visit to some of the royal palaces that the city is famed for, and the jewel in the crown is the Catherine Palace at Tsarkoe Selo 25 kms. outside the city.

Nothing prepares you for the splendor and history that lies beyond the facades of some of these palaces. One has seen everything from the Chinese Imperial Palaces of China, to the magnificence of Versailles, and the almost provincial charm of Kensington Palace and Hampton Court in London. However the series of palaces in St Petersburg will leave you gaping not only for the splendor, but for the tumultuous past of which these structures have risen like phoenixes from the ashes of history. They have been witness to it all, from wars, revolutions, famine and destruction.

(Note, with this post I have included so called ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs of the palace. The before photographs were taken in 1931 and the after my own.)

It has long been a dream of mine to visit Tsarkoe Selo the home of the summer residences of the Romanovs. There being two main palaces in the area, The Catherine Palace and the Alexander Palace (which I dearly wanted to visit, however due to time etc. could not)
The palace by architect Rastrelli in the Roccoco style with a 325 meter long façade is dazzling! It takes your breath away when you first see it.

From the amazing façade, with its sugar coated frosting to the gold gilding, one cannot help but be impressed (along with the many 1,000s of people, who seemed to arrive just before us). One cannot quietly wander through rooms or the grounds without the ever present hordes of tourists and tour groups jostling for space or that ‘perfect’ picture.

The interiors of the Catherine Palace are no less spectacular.

The Great Hall, also known as the Hall of Light, measures nearly 1,000 square meters, and occupies the full width of the palace and one gets more of an impression of light and grandeur than the fabled Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

However primarily all come to see the legendary Amber room. (unfortunately photos were not allowed, however the before shot is below)

To create this extraordinary chamber, Rastrelli used the panels of amber mosaic originally destined for an Amber Cabinet at Konigsberg Castle and presented to Peter the Great by Friedrich-Wilhelm I of Prussia, and surrounded them with gilded carving, mirrors, more amber panels created by Florentine and Russian craftsman (comprising a total of 450kg of amber), and further mosaics of Ural and Caucasus gemstones. The room was completed in 1770. Due to the fragility of the materials used, a caretaker was employed constantly to maintain and repair the decorations, and major restoration was undertaken three times in the 19th century. The room was used to house a substantial collection of amber-work and Chinese porcelain.
In 1941, when German troops took Tsarskoe Selo, the Amber Room was dismantled in 36 hours, and shipped to Konigsberg in a tawdry pretence at historical fidelity. As the Nazi war machine crumbled, the panels were crated up and moved out of danger, but their eventual fate is unknown. The room has been re-created in a process that took over 20 years working from photographs and drawings. While impressed with this room, it was all a bit too much for me, as I thought there were much other nicer rooms we visited.

When the German forces retreated after the siege of Leningrad, they intentionally destroyed the palace slashing canvases, burning tapestries and looting everything of value. What they could not carry off they burned, leaving only an empty shell behind.

Prior to World War II, the Russian archivists managed to document a fair amount of the contents, which proved of great importance in reconstructing the palace. Although the largest part of the reconstruction was completed in time for the Tercentenary of St Petersburg in 2003, much work is still required to restore the palace to its former glory.

Year after year, the work continues. That the palaces have been rebuilt seems even more startling that their original construction. The renovations speak volumes about Russian passion, spirit and national pride. Peter (the great) would be proud.


  1. Spectacular! Especially love the painting of the albino peacock in the Catherine Palace.

  2. David that pink carpet running along the enfilade and with those blue walls.

    Art by Karena

  3. What a job in constructing and then reconstructing the place!

  4. An incredible restoration/recreation! I have a high tolerance for decoration, so it would be a great pleasure to go.

  5. The blue paint on the outside is absolutely breathtaking ... what an incredible landmark and a treasure trove of history :)

    You always go on the best adventures ... if you ever consider doing "tours", let me know :)

    ♥ Cat brideblu

  6. Stunning! What wonderful experiences you've had David.

  7. Ahhh so jealous!! This looks amazing.. Hopefully one day I too will visit there..

    All the best, Angel

  8. Wow, all of those fabulous details, it's incredible! That is an amazing restoration. Hugs,
    Nancy xo

  9. Oh my, I've read about Tsarkoe Selo since I was a kid! Beautiful!
    There can never be enough gilding, as far as I'm concerned.

  10. What an interesting post David. I can't even imagine living in such ornate splendor....savoir faire indeed!

  11. Hello,
    Your blog is really nice, so interesting.
    Those pictures are so lovely !
    This place is amazing.

  12. Hi, David - Thanks for a glorious posting! I seem to remember from the book Nicholas and Alexandra that Tsarkoe Selo was the royal family's favorite home, but I never realized it was so BIG! I've really enjoyed comparing the before and after pictures (and I note that the imperial eagle has been replaced on the gate).

  13. Ye Gods! That place is GORGEOUS! I had no idea, thank you for sharing.

  14. I'm amazed at the quality of restoration and reconstruction. I've heard of the famous Amber Room but never seen it until now. My favourite Russian Palace is Pavlosk, which was also basically totally reconstructed.

    I'm all of favour of rebuilding our demolished Toronto residence of the Lieutenant Governor, Chorley Park. I'm sure our Mayor Ford will be happy to dispense whatever funds are necessary.

  15. It's like a big beautiful gilded cupcake!


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