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 Empress Anna between 1730-1740 and then by 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 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.
The most famous room is the Amber Room. This was started by Frederick I of Prussia as 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-learnt. 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.
To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.