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PALACES IN SAINT PETERSBURG

The Palace of Beloselsky-Belozersky is a typical example of a rich aristocratic mansion. It is situated in Nevsky Prospect behind the Anichkov Bridge.

 

The palace belonged to the Princes Beloselskiy, a family who claimed descent from Yuri Dolgorukiy, the founder of Moscow. Their first palace was built on the same site by the Fontanka River in 1747, but it was a much more modest affair. The family's fortunes increased thanks to the close relationship between Prince Alexander Mikhailovich Beloselskiy-Belozerskiy and Emperor Paul I, and through marriage to two heiresses to Urals mining fortunes. It was one of those heiresses, the widowed Princess Elena Pavlovna Beloselskaya-Belozerskaya, who commissioned the present palace, petitioning Emperor Nicholas I to allow his court architect, Andrey Stackensneider, to design the building (his only civil commission in the city).

 

The palace was built 1847-1848, and became renowned for the lavish parties thrown there by Elena Pavlovna. A few decades later, however, the family found the palace too expensive to maintain, and it was sold to Grand Duke Sergey Alexandrovich, brother of Emperor Alexander III, in 1884. He had part of the interiors redesigned in 1888, and in 1897 the facades were restored and first painted in the deep pink that can be seen today.

 

Nationalised after the October Revolution, the Beloselskiy-Belozerskiy Palace became the headquarters of the Regional Committee of the Communist Party for the centre of Leningrad. In this role, its historic interiors were carefully maintained during the 20th century, despite significant damage in the Second World War, and the original rococo decorations have largely survived intact. The building is now home to a Municipal Cultural Centre (along with several smaller institutions), and hosts regular concerts of chamber music as well as offering occasional guided tours of the state rooms (three or four times per month or by appointment).

The Cabin of Peter I is a unique monument of Saint Petersburg's architecture. The cabin, which is the only wooden structure of the city foundation period that survived until nowadays, was constructed within a very short time from 24 till 26 May, 1703. The cabin, made of hewn pine-tree logs and painted brick-like, was the first residence of Peter the Great in Saint Petersburg.

 

The planning of the tsar residence was very simple. It consisted of a study and a dining-room separated with a hall and a bedroom. The inside fittings of the room were quite modest. The walls were covered with white linen. Peter I preferred small quarters, that's why the ceiling height was just 2,5 meter and the doors were even lower. Peter I periodically lived in his «palace» during his visits to Saint Petersburg underway. The house did not feature heating, so the tsar stayed in the cabin only during summers. On the roof of the house there were wooden carved mortars and bombs «with burning fire».

 

Saint Petersburg climate damaged the log cabin, and in 1723 the tsar ordered to protect the house with a roofed gallery. Many years passed, and in 1844 the cabin of Peter I was covered with a brick case designed by architect R. Kuzmin. At the end of the 19th century the garden in front of the palace was decorated with a bronze bust of Peter the Great sculptured by P. Zabello. 

 

In 1930 the historical and memorial museum The Cabin of Peter I was opened. During World War II the exhibits were evacuated or hidden within the city. The cabin itself suffered from bombing, but it was restored and opened to the public again in 1944.

 

Nowadays the exposition of the Cabin consists of Peter the Great epoch's objects, as well as personal belongings of Saint Petersburg's founder and his close associates. The visitors to the Cabin of Peter I can see the tiled stove faced with Dutch tiles that dates back to Peter times, furniture pieces, prints, paintings by unknown Dutch artists, and applied art objects. The exposition also features the boat that was probably made by Peter I himself. In the museum one can find the materials concerning the Northern war as well. During the restoration works of 1971-1976 the masters reconstructed original paintings of the walls, doors and window panes. One of the most interesting exhibits in the museum is the plaster hand print of Peter the Great.

Up to 1948 the town of Lomonosov was called Oranienbaum, and it is with this name many interesting pages of Saint Petersburg history are connected.

 

At the beginning of the 18th century Peter the Great presented the vast territory on the shore of Finnish Gulf to duke Alexander Menshikov. For the construction of the residence Menshikov chose the territory to the west of Peterhof just opposite Kotlin Island. There the Great Palace, that surpassed in its sumptuousness even the palace of Peter the Great in Peterhof, was constructed and a park, one of the first regular parks in Russia, was laid out.

 

The name Oranienbaum (that is German for an orange tree) reminds us of the whims of Menshikov, who liked to live high and spent freely on entertainments of all kinds. In his country residence Menshikov arranged a greenhouse for planting of all possible exotic trees, oranges among them.In 1727 Menshikov fell into disgrace - he was exiled to Siberia and all his fabulous property passed to the national treasury. In 1743 Empress Elizaveta Petrovna presented Oranienbaum to her heir - the future Peter III. Thus the new page in the history of Oranienbaum was opened. For the new owner the Great Palace was rebuilt and the ensemble was enriched with several new constructions.

 

Among the most interesting ones is the unique Poteshny (Toy) fortress Peterstadt that was built particularly for wargames of the small emperor. Unfortunately only the Gate of Honour designed by architect Rinaldi has preserved till nowadays. The present of the Empress turned to be fatal for Peter III. It is in Oranienbaum he learnt that his wife had dethroned him and shortly after he was throttled.

 

Under Catherine the Great the palace and park ensemble of Oranienbaum was reconstructed by architect Antonio Rinaldi. He designed the ensemble of the so-called "Personal Dacha" that comprised the splendid Chinese Palace, the Sliding Hill Pavilion and the surrounding Upper Park. Although the Empress spent a fortune on her new residence she rarely lived there. Soon after the revolution of 1917 the parks and palaces of Oranienbaum were nationalized and turned into a museum.

 

In 1948 Oranienbaum was renamed Lomonosov in honor of the outstanding Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov. Actually he didn't have lot in common with Oranienbaum except for the fact that not far from the town he established a factory where colored glass and mosaic smalts were produced. Most likely the town was renamed to get rid of the odious German name that after World War II acquired many painful associations.

 

Nowadays Oranienbaum is a state museum-preserve and, in spite of the fact that the restoration works are still on, the palace and park are an attractive sight for the citizens and guests of Saint Petersburg.

The Menshikov Palace is one of the first stone mansions in Saint Petersburg. After the glorious victory of Russian troops in Polatava battle on June 27, 1709 it became clear that Swedish army was about to lose the Northern War. It was obvious that the enemy troops would never attack the lands on the Gulf of Finland Coast, so the conditions were favorable enough for Saint Petersburg to grow.

 

Peter I, the founder of the city, asserted that «the victory at Poltava put the perfect stone in Saint Petersburg basis». The construction of the Menshikov Palace was started in 1710 under supervision of architect D.-M. Fontana. Soon he left Saint Petersburg, and in three years German master J. Shadel took his place. The palace was put up in several stages. The famous restorer A. Gessen determined that at first the Menshikov Palace looked like a relatively small mansion that was lately enlarged by building two symmetrical wings that formed a garden in front of the palace. Along the palace walls an open gallery was constructed, so the construction looked like a single whole. The garden was decorated with numerous sculptures, nice fountains, grottos and greenhouses with exotic plants. The bank of the Neva River in front of the palace was equipped with a dock so the ships could land close to the Menshikov Palace gala entrance.

 

The palace built for the associate of Peter I is a very immense construction. It combines elements of both Russian and Western European architecture. Some parts of the palace remind of Italian Renaissance palazzo, and the vaults decoration of the Menshikov Palace is typical for Russian architectonics. The visitors of the palace can see original interiors, such as the hall, the gala staircase, the Dutch-style rooms with tiles covering the walls and the ceilings. The interiors of the palace are decorated with gold, silver, marble, precious kinds of wood, paintings, moldings, Antique Italian sculptures, large Venetian mirrors, crystal chandeliers, Chinese silk wallpaper, and tapestries. The palace features rich collections of applied art objects, sculpture, coins and canvases by Russian and European artists. The Walnut study is especially remarkable. The restorers of the study discovered under the plafond painted in 1717-1719 by F. Pilmann a fresco dated back to the first quarter of the 18th century. It depicts Peter I as a victorious warrior.

 

When Alexander Menshikov and his family were exiled to Siberia, his magnificent palace was adjusted for the needs of the First Cadet Corps. Most of the interiors were changed. In the second half of the 20th century the palace was restored to its original look.

 

The Menshikov Palace was opened to the public in 1981. Nowadays the palace houses part of the State Hermitage collection dedicated to Russian culture.

One of the oldest and finest of the aristocratic residences in St. Petersburg, the Stroganov Palace has a prominent location on the corner of Nevsky Prospekt and the Moika River Embankment, and now houses part of the collections of the State Russian Museum.

 

The Stroganov family had been prominent merchants since the 15th century, but rose to the ranks of the aristocracy only in the reign of Peter the Great, when the family was ennobled in thanks for considerable financial assistance to the Tsar's armies in the Great Northern War. The family was brought to national prominence by Baron Sergey Griogoryevich Stroganov in the reign of Empress Elizabeth, and by his son Count Alexander Sergeevich Stroganov, who was a leading St. Petersburg administrator and ended his life as President of the Academy of Arts and Director of the Imperial Public Library. It was the former who commissioned the building of the Stroganov Palace from Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli in 1752. The exteriors that he created were completed in 1754, and remain intact to this day, one of the most prominent masterpieces of late Baroque in St. Petersburg.

 

The most impressive interiors of the palace, however, are those created by Andrey Voronikhin, architect of the Kazan Cathedral, who was employed by Count Alexander Sergeevich in the 1790s and 1800s to remodel the interior decor in the neoclassical style (recent scholarship has contested that much of this work was done by Fyodor Demertsov). Many of these have now been restored and opened to the public as the State Rooms in the eastern enfilade of the building, among them the remarkably ornate Mineral Study, which housed Count Alexander's library and collection of precious stones and minerals, and the Picture Gallery, which was once home to his impressive art collection, including works by Rembrandt and Poussin. Restoration is ongoing in other parts of the palace.

 

The Stroganov Palace was nationalized in 1918, and originally operated as a Museum of Aristocratic Life. This, however, was closed in 1929, and the exhibits were handed over to the Hermitage. Other artifacts from the palace were passed to other Soviet museums or sold abroad. From then on the palace served as offices for various Soviet enterprises, including a botanical institute and as a ship-building research facility.

 

The building was passed by the government to the Russian Museum in 1988, and the Stroganov Palace has been the subject of intensive restoration work ever since. External restoration was completed in 2003, while the results of work on the interiors are now gradually being revealed.

Across the river from the Peter and Paul fortress and the wooden Cabin of Peter the Great you can visit the historical Summer Garden. Behind the beautiful wrought iron fence there is an old park that has witnessed some of the most spectacular moments in St. Petersburg's early history.

 

Impressed by the royal parks that he had seen in Europe, Peter the Great was very keen to create something similar in his newly built "Venice of the North". In Peter's new park everything was created according to the latest fashions; the trees and bushes were trimmed in the most elaborate way and all the alleys were decorated with marble statues and fountains. Peter the Great used to organize regular receptions and balls in the gardens, his " assamblei ", which involved dancing and drinking and impressive firework displays.

 

Tsar Peter commissioned the city's first and foremost architect, the Italian Domenico Trezzini, to build a small palace in the park. The palace had no heating and was intended only for summer time use, hence its name "Summer Palace", as opposed to the "Winter Palace" that Peter had built just down the same embankment of the Neva. The Summer Palace, a small two-storey yellow building, was built between 1710 and 1714, with 7 rooms on each floor. After the Second World War the palace was carefully restored, the older interiors were recreated and a collection of early 18th century artifacts, many originally owned by Peter the Great, was put on display.

 

It is always a great pleasure to take a stroll down the alleys of the Summer Garden, passing by the palace, the marvelous marble statues and the pond. A pair of white swans returns every year to the Karpiev pond in the Summer Garden, even though the park is located in the middle of a bustling city.

The Marble Palace is one of the most beautiful palaces in Saint-Petersburg. It was commissioned by Catherine II to Antonio Rinaldi as a present for one of her favorites Count Gregory Orlov. It was decided that the palace would be situated at the end of the Palace Embankment on the north edge of Tsarinas Meadow (the present-day Field of Mars). It necessary to emphasize that the Marble Palace is faced with natural materials: for the construction of this brilliant sample of the early classic architecture the celebrated architect Rinaldi, who pioneered the use of natural rocks (7 kinds of marble and granite) in the palaces decoration, accomplished the facades and the interior of the palace in 32 kinds of marble, all arranged with tremendous taste according to subtle shades of color, hence the name of the palace. The facades are decorated with two statues which were made by Russian sculptor Shubin.

 

As the palace was completed in 17 years his first owner Grigory Orlov did not see its magnificence, because he died in 1783, and the palace was transferred into State Treasury. Then the palace was presented to Catherines grandson, Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich who became married. 1832 palace became the property of Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevich and was reconstructed by Alexander Brullov. During the reconstruction the interiors of the palace were changed completely. The Academy of the History of Material Culture got the palace after the October Revolution of 1917. Since 1992 the palace is owned by the Russian Museum, the largest museum of Russian  art in the world.

The Mikhailovsky Castle was constructed in 1797-1801 by order of Paul I. Afraid of intrigues and assassinations he didn't like the Winter Palace where he could never feel himself safe. His mother Catherine the Great overthrew her husband Peter III to gain access to the Russian Imperial throne and Paul I was afraid that he would suffer the same fate.

 

The Mikhailovsky Castle was built to the south of the Summer Garden and replaced the small wooden palace of Empress Elizabeth Petrovna. Paul I strove to create an irreproachable shelter where he could hide from his numerous enemies and ill-wishers and make the castle as unassailable as possible. From four sides the castle was surrounded by waters of the Moika River, the Fontanka River and two canals, which were specially dug. To leave the palace and depart for the city, one should use the hanging bridges, which were raised in the nights. The new royal residence, that was isolated from the city and looked like a fortified medieval castle encompassed with a deep moat, stroke fear into the hearts of people.

 

The Mikhailovsky Castle was designed by architects Vincenzo Brenna and Vasily Bajenov. The castle looks different from each side, as the architects used the motifs of various architectural styles French Classicism, Italian Renaissance and even Gothic. In 1800 in front of the castle the gracious bronze monument to Peter the Great was established. By order of Paul I the inscription «From Great Grandson to Great Grandfather» was made on the pedestal that is decorated with bas-reliefs depicting scenes of two Russian victories over the Sweden during the Northern War.

 

Emperor Paul I spent only 40 nights in the castle. On the night of the 12th of March 1801 he was murdered in his own bedroom by a group of officers. The plot was inspired by Paul's son Alexander. After the death of the Emperor the castle was abandoned as none of the members of the royal family dared to live in such an ominous house. In 1819 the castle was given over to the Main Engineering School that bestowed the castle second name the Engineers' Castle. Among the most well-known graduates of the school one can remember the famous Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky. Nowadays the Mikhailovsky Castle is a branch of the Russian Museum and houses several permanent exhibitions: «Portrait Gallery of the Outstanding Figures of the 18 19th Centuries Russian History» and «Exposition of the 18th Century Sculptural Portrait». The core of gallery is formed by the official portraits of Russian monarchs starting with Peter the Great and ending with Nicolas II, as well as members of royal family and Russian generals. The portraits were made by outstanding Russian and foreign artists.

The first palace built in Saint Petersburg is not really a palace at all. It is simply a regular two-story stone house in which Peter the Great, the first Russian Emperor, spent the summer months. However, this house is the beginning of the glorious history of Petersburg palaces, which would soon match and even surpass the grandeur of Versailles, Buckingham Palace and other great palaces of the world. Since its construction, the Summer Palace has hardly been altered, and today it gives its visitors a rare opportunity to see life as it was 300 years ago.

 

Before 1703, the estate of the Swedish officer Conan stood here, next to the Neva and Fontanka Rivers. After the founding of Saint Petersburg, Peter I built a wooden house on the site. In 1710, it was decided that a stone house would be more fitting for the Russian Tsar than a wooden one. The building was designed by the Swiss-Italian architect Domenico Trezzini while the sculptural and interior decoration was carried out by the German architect and sculptor Andreas Schluter, including the attractive red bas reliefs that run between the windows all around the building. Behind the palace is the Summer Garden, founded in 1704.

 

Peter's quarters were on the first floor of the Summer Palace, and the second floor was for his wife Ekaterina and their children. Each floor consists of seven rooms. The rooms included: reception; the assembly (grand hall); a jail where Peter personally prosecuted, locked up, and released prisoners; and the Russian tsar's favorite room - his workshop. The palace's interiors are well preserved: carved oak panels in the lower lobby with images of Minerva; unique Dutch tiles; fireplaces with stucco decorations; and beautiful lampshades.

 

The palace was originally surrounded by water on three sides: The Neva to the north, the Fontanka to the east, and the diminutive Gavanets Creek (now drained) to the south. Dinghies approaching the palace on the Neva were anchored to the facades as if they were tying up to a ship. Mooring rings are still visible on the southern and eastern facades. This water-centric arrangement allowed the creation of a running sewer system which was the latest development in technology at the time.

 

After the death of Peter I and Catherine I, the Summer Palace remained untenanted for many years, though once a Supreme Privy Council meeting was held here. Soon after, the palace was turned into a summer resort for the Imperial court. In 1826, the architect Carlo Rossi turned it into the Coffee House. Today the palace has become a branch of the Russian Museum. It showcases the original interiors, many personal belongings of Peter and Catherine, unique devices of the 18th century, rare paintings, and much more.

This charming summer palace on one of the islands in the north-west of St. Petersburg was commissioned in 1818 by Alexander I from the young architect, Carlo Rossi, who would go on to become the undisputed master of neo-classicism in the city.

 

The land and the original palace had been bought for the Imperial Estates from the heirs of Ivan Yelagin, a historian, poet, and statesman in the reign of Catherine the Great. Alexander chose it as the site of a summer residence for his mother, Empress Maria Fyodrovna, who found the journey between the city and her permanent home at Pavlovsk too wearisome. Rossi was responsible not only for the design of the palace building, but also for the stables and kitchen building, three pavilions in the palace grounds, and for much of the interior decoration of the palace, which feature richly painted marble walls and intricately inlaid wooden doors.

 

After Maria Fyodorovna's death, Yelagin Palace was never again the official residence of any member of the Imperial family - although it was the residence of Alexander II's morganatic wife, Duchess Yuryevskaya, and her children - and, by the time of the October Revolution, it had become a summer retreat for Russia's prime ministers. Briefly turned into a museum by the Bolshevik government, the palace was badly damaged during the Siege of Leningrad, but fully restored in the 1950s following photographs and the original blueprints and used as a resort for workers. Since 1987, Yelagin Palace has been home to the Museum of Decorative and Applied Art and Interiors from the 18th-20th Centuries. Exhibitions are hosted on the second floor of the building, while the ground floor is devoted to Rossi's restored interiors.

One of two surviving St. Petersburg residences of the monumentally wealthy Yusupov family, the Yusupov Palace on the Moika River is perhaps most famous as the scene of the assassination of Grigory Rasputin, and is one of the few aristocratic homes in the city to have retained many of its original interiors.

 

The land on which the palace stands, in the south of the historic centre close to the Mariinsky Theatre, was originally the site of a wooden palace belonging to Tsarevna Praskovia Ivanovna, niece of Peter the Great. In the mid-18th century it was bought by Count Peter Shuvalov. In 1770, his heir Andrei Shuvalov commissioned the French architect Jean-Baptiste Vallin de la Mothe, designer of the Small Hermitage, Gostiny Dvor and the Academy of Sciences, to build a new palace on the site. De la Mothe's building forms the basis of the palace that can be seen today, although various additions and alterations were made by leading architects as the palace changed hands over the years.

 

In 1830, the palace was purchased by Prince Nikolay Borisovich Yusupov, and it remained in the ownership of the family until seized by the Bolsheviks in 1917. The legends surrounding Rasputin's murder, which took place in the basement of the Yusupov Palace on 16 December 1916, are mostly based on the sensationalist account in the autobiography of Prince Felix Yusupov, who claimed to have led the plotters in first poisoning, then shooting, then beating Rasputin with clubs and throwing him into the icy Malaya Nevka River, where the Mad Monk eventually died of hypothermia. There is now a display in the palace museum that uses photography, documents, and wax figures to recreate the assassination and the following investigation.

 

After the October Revolution, the palace was handed to the educational authorities, which fortunately opted to preserve many of the original interiors and used the building as a type of clubhouse for the city's teachers. As well as the Rasputin display (which can be seen only on guided tours in Russian, unless booked in advance), the modern museum offers guests the chance to explore the reception rooms and living quarters on the ground floor of the palace (English-language audio tours available). The Yusupov Palace also functions as a cultural centre, hosting classical concerts and theatre performances in the beautiful rococo Palace Theatre and the equally impressive White-Columns Hall.

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