Russia Tsarskoe Selo Catherine Palace

Catherine Palace

The Catherine Palace was named after the wife of Peter the Great, Catherine I, who had a summer residence at “Saary Muis,” an estate sixteen miles south of St Petersburg. The first “stone chambers of sixteen rooms” were built for Catherine after a project by Johann Friedrich Braunstein (1717–24). A garden was laid out in front of the palace, followed by hothouses and conservatories.

After Catherine’s death in 1727, Tsarskoe Selo was inherited by her daughter Elizabeth Petrovna. After her accession as empress in 1741, she decided to expand the palace. Constructed by Mikhail Zemtsov, Andrei Kvasov, Giuseppe Trezzini and Savva Chevakinsky (1742–51).

Construction of the Tsarskoe Selo residence was headed by court architect Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli, who supervised the complete reconstruction of the palace and the building of a western courtyard with semi-circular wings and cast-iron railings (1752–56).

The distance from the capital meant that it took several years for Rastrelli to build the Catherine Palace, but when it was finished, it was an architectural wonder – a shimmering azure mirage with golden decorations shining against the blue sky. Rastrelli wrote: “The entire facade of the palace was executed in the modern Italian architectural style. Everything was gilded – the capitals of the columns; the gables and the window frames; the pillars supporting the balconies; the statues on the pedestals along the upper balustrade.”

The impression of obscene splendour increased upon entering the palace. The first room led to an enfilade of magnificent halls, where gold and crystal, mirrors and tapestries, parquet floors and blue-tiled stoves shone in the sunlight. Every room had something special. There was the Chinese Room, with its collections of oriental pictures, furniture and rare porcelain. There was the famous Amber Room, where the shining wall panels, backed with gold leaf and mirrors, combined with the matching tones of the parquet floor to create an unforgettable experience.

The French diplomat Count Frottier de la Messeliere was once invited to a reception in the Grand Hall of the Catherine Palace: “All the curtains were closed at once, and daylight was suddenly replaced by the shining of 1,200 candles, reflected from all sides in the numerous mirrors... An orchestra of eighty musicians burst into sound... We suddenly heard a muffled noise, auguring something majestic. The doors were thrown open, and we saw a magnificent throne, from which the empress descended, surrounded by her courtiers. As she entered the Grand Hall, a common hush descended.”

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