Catherine’s Palace situated 17 miles from St Petersburg was acquired by Peter the Great in 1708 for his mistress Catherine who he was to marry in 1708. She was to become Catherine I in 1725 and is who the palace is named after. The palace was developed over the years by most notably Empresses Anna, Elizabeth and Catherine II. Destroyed during World War II it was subsequently rebuilt and is still undergoing reconstruction.
Catherine’s Palace is located 17 miles (28km) south of St. Petersburg in the town of Pushkin, which, prior to 1937, was known as Tsarskoe Selo. The palace started as a manor house which was acquired by Peter I (the Great) in 1708 for his mistress, who lived there until 1724. She was destined to marry Peter in 1712 and become Empress Catherine I in 1725; it is she who the palace is named after.
After her death, the palace was extended by her successor, Empress Anna between 1730-1740 and then by Empress Elizabeth between the years of 1741 – 1756, undergoing a complete overhaul by the court architect Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli in the Baroque style. When Catherine II (the Great) became Empress in 1762 she developed the palace in the Rococo style which emerged in France in the early 18th century. In the 1770s Catherine II continued to lavishly develop the palace with rich collections of art.
In 1820 it was partly destroyed by fire but rebuilt. After the Russian Revolution, it became a museum. During World War II the German army occupied the palace and in 1944, prior to their retreat, they destroyed it. The building we see today has been rebuilt since the war.
The Palace, with its own church, lies within beautiful grounds, containing out-buildings, lakes, and statues scattered around the grounds. It is 740 metres in length and like many St. Petersburg structures, the exterior is painted a light blue, trimmed in white and gold, and is decorated with many statues and embellishments.
The interior of the Palace contains many beautiful rooms, including the Grand Hall or Ballroom measuring 154 ft x 56ft with 2 tiers of windows.
The painting on the ceiling depicts a colonnade around the perimeter of the room and gives it a 3-dimensional feel, which extends the space upwards.
Beyond the Great Hall is the dining room for the courtiers in attendance, also known as the Cavaliers’ Dining-Room. Which was the Russian equivalent of the British Knights, who used to dine here.
Across the main staircase is the Formal White Dining Room This was a hall for the empresses' Formal Dinners or Evening meals and was arranged with the utmost extravagance.
The walls of the Formal White Dining room and their gilded carvings give the interior an air of elegance. The furnishings consist of gilded carved chairs. The walls feature a part of the art collection showing hunting themes. The layout in the room shows the dining room during a formal dinner. As was common in the 18th century, the table is covered in tablecloths with complex folds and compositions of flowers.
The Green Dining Room was created by Catherine II for Grand Duke Paul (the future Paul I) and his first wife.
The light green walls were covered in white stucco-work ornamentation which created the decorations in relief. The athletic figures of nude youths and girls in ancient dress stand out among the fragments of classical architecture, Greek vases and grapevines. It also includes medallions with dancing cupids and bas - reliefs depicting mythological themes on a pink background. On the night of May 12, 1820, a serious fire began in the Palace Chapel and, as a result, the rooms created by the architect Charles Cameron, including this one, suffered extensive damage. Alexander I ordered that everything be restored to its original appearance basing the work on surviving fragments of the decor and original drawings by Cameron.
The Portrait Hall or Gallery was a formal apartment and is almost 100 square meters.
The walls of the Portrait Hall are covered in white printed damask and have large formal portraits of Catherine I, Anna, Elizabeth and Catherine the Great. surrounded by carved gilded frames. The door panels are decorated with gilded carvings. They will also have on display dresses such as the one worn by Elizabeth in the paining that is on display. Following its destruction during World War II conservationists recreated not only the room's interior but also much of its furnishings due to the fact that they had photographs.
The Picture Hall is one of the formal rooms in the Palace and was designed by Rastrelli in the 1750s. It occupies approximately 180 square metres and stretches across the width of the palace.
During the 18th century, it was frequently used for diplomatic receptions, dinners and concerts. Meetings, or conferences at the high court, were also held here. The south and north walls are hung with works of art arranged like a tapestry. The main part of the art collection (112 pictures) was obtained by Elizabeth in 1745 in Prague and Bohemia especially for the Palace. It consists of works by western European masters from the 17th and 18th centuries from various schools and were arranged by size and colour.
The most famous room in the palace is the Amber Room. This was started by Frederick I of Prussia for his palace in Berlin, although it was unfinished when he died in 1713. Work was then stopped because his successor, Frederick Wilhelm I, did not like the room. When Peter the Great visited him and admired the room, Frederick Wilhelm gave it to Peter, and in 1717 the panels were sent to St. Petersburg. However, as Russian craftsmen were unable to reassemble them, they remained packed away.
In 1740, Russia’s then Empress, Elizabeth, asked for the amber to be used in the redecoration of a room in St. Petersburg's Winter Palace, although she died before it was completed. Her successor, Catherine II ordered the amber moved to her summer residence at Tsarskoe Selo. It was completed in 1770 and used as a study. During the war, an attempt was made to cover the walls with paper and gauze in an attempt to conceal the amber, but during the German occupation of the palace, it was discovered by them, dismantled, and removed to Germany, where it disappeared.
A full-scale reconstruction of the Amber Room began in the 1980s, with the techniques having to be re-learned. The room was opened to the public in 2003. It is constructed from over 100,000 perfectly fitted pieces of amber and is estimated to have a value of approximately £160 million.
Much of the palace was destroyed during the war and has subsequently been rebuilt and is still undergoing reconstruction, never-the-less, it is a most impressive building, both inside and out,
To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.