Russia Peterhof Strelna Konstantin Palace

Konstantin Palace

The Konstantin Palace was the imperial residence at Strelna, which was first visited by Peter the Great in 1706. The emperor had long had his eye on this piece of land running along the Gulf of Finland, where he planned to create Russia's own version of “Versailles by the sea.”

The first canals for the future palace and park ensemble were dug in 1710, while a garden was laid out by Bartolomeo Carlo Rastrelli in spring 1716. Peter the Great then set off on his Second Embassy to Western Europe, visiting Germany in 1716, Holland in the winter of 1716–17 and France in spring 1717.

During his time in France, Peter visited Versailles and was struck by the opulence of French garden architecture. Having virtually defeated Sweden in the Great Northern War, he now wanted to build an empire and to leave his name in history. And the Russian emperor did not want his summer residence to be any less splendid than that of the Sun King.

Returning to St Petersburg in 1717, Peter immediately increased the pace of work at Strelna, transferring teams of builders and soldiers from nearby Peterhof. The tsar examined the two projects that he had previously commissioned from Bartolomeo Carlo Rastrelli and Jean-Baptiste-Alexandre Le Blond. He chose the Frenchman’s project and construction of a palace and park began.

After Le Blond died in 1719, work was continued by Nicola Michetti, who had developed his own project for Strelna a year earlier. Although the Italian’s concept was a clear digression from the “Versailles” idea, and not as grand as Le Blond’s proposals, his project was cheaper and more practical. Michetti envisaged a grotto with a cascade flanked by handsome arched stairways.

Construction of a magnificent palace began in the summer of 1720, when Peter presented the residence to his daughter Elizabeth. Two years later, the ground floor was already in place – only for building work to unexpectedly stop.

The exact reason for Peter’s sudden cooling towards Strelna is unknown, but was probably due to the discovery of a convenient source of water for the fountains and cascades of Peterhof. For a long time, the main problem at Peterhof had been the lack of fresh water. But in 1721, just when Nicola Michetti had laid the foundations for the palace and park in Strelna, reservoirs were found in Ropsha. The following year, the architect and all the builders were transferred to Peterhof.

Although construction work did continue at Strelna, very little was achieved after the death of Peter the Great. Between 1723 and 1730, the project was headed by a series of Russian architects – Mikhail Zemtsov, Timofei Usov and Pyotr Yeropkin. Under Anna Ioannovna, the unfinished palace caught fire and the walls were covered with an awning.

Anna Ioannovna was succeeded by Elizabeth Petrovna, who worshipped everything done by her father. Between 1747 and 1755, she asked Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli to complete the palace, dig new ponds and lay out new bosquets . But work ground to a halt after the empress died in 1761.

Forty years later, Strelna suddenly sprung back to life during the reign of Paul I. In 1797, the emperor awarded the site to his second son, Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich. After one of the terraces collapsed in 1800, Andrei Voronikhin and Luigi Rusca were hired to restore the palace and park. English gardeners planted the new Konstantin Grove and an English Garden.

In 1802, Andrei Voronikhin restored the West Wing, where the owner lived. Work continued in and around the palace, and soon it seemed that the end was in sight. But on 28 December 1803, when the palace was almost finished, the building caught fire and was completely gutted. All that remained was the bare walls. Everything had to begin all over again.

Luigi Rusca began to rebuild the palace, but Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich never returned to Strelna. He went off to fight in the Napoleonic Wars in 1799 and settled in Poland in 1814. After his death in 1831, the Konstantin Palace was inherited by his nephew, Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevich. For sixty years, the palace was his property and still bears his name to this day.

Between 1847 and 1851, Heinrich Stackenschneider and Christian Meyer rebuilt the Konstantin Palace for the needs of the new owner’s family. Stackenschneider created the Blue Room and redesigned the private apartments of the grand duke and his wife. Many of the interiors offered a stunning view of the sea. The park was completely reconstructed with the creation of new gardens, orangeries, greenhouses and pavilions.

Konstantin Nikolaevich often held dinner parties, balls, concerts and theatrical performances at the palace. Such famous composers as Anton Rubinstein, Mily Balakirev and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov were frequent guests. In 1856, Johann Strauss visited the palace, where he wrote the Strelna Terraces Quadrille and dedicated the Alexandra Waltz to the grand duchess.

After Konstantin’s death in 1892, the palace was inherited by his second son, Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich. In 1915, the estate passed to the next son, Dmitry, who was executed by the Bolsheviks in 1919. This signalled the end of the imperial history of the Konstantin Palace, leading to many years of ruin and neglect.

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