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2012-11-14 at 10-41-49Twenty five kilometres south of St Petersburg lies the town of Tsarskoye Selo, which translates as Tsar’s Village. In the eighteenth century it became an out-of-town imperial residence for the Russian royal family. Its centrepiece is the magnificent Catherine Palace, above, designed by Rastrelli, the architect also responsible for the Winter Palace featured in the previous post. Catherine Palace was built for Empress Elizabeth Petrovna and was completed in 1756.

2012-11-14 at 08-27-54The facade features over 100 kilograms of gold.

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There’s plenty of gold inside too. This is the main state room called The Great Hall, used for important banquets, balls and masquerades.2012-11-14 at 08-54-08

It is quite breathtaking.2012-11-14 at 08-53-41Also very large.

2012-11-14 at 09-01-21This is one of the Ante Rooms, where guests came before they were brought into the Great Hall. The large structures on either side of the central door are two of the numerous blue and white Delft pottery stoves that created and circulated heat.

2012-11-14 at 09-00-43This is known as the Golden Enfilade. Palaces like this had no corridors so each room opened into the next. The enfilade seems to go on forever.

2012-11-14 at 09-06-39The Arabesque Hall.

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This is known as the Dining Room for Cavaliers-in-Attendance.

2012-11-14 at 09-14-35Next is the White State Dining Room.

2012-11-14 at 09-18-42This is followed by the Crimson and the Green Pilaster Rooms. The pilasters are decorated with a very modern invention at the time – coloured tin foil!

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This is the Portrait Hall. In the centre is a paper model of Empress Elizabeth Petrovna in her official court attire.

2012-11-14 at 09-22-12You then enter the most famous room in the palace – the Amber Room – sometimes dubbed the “eighth wonder of the world”. You are not allowed to take photos in that room so I go the one above sneakily through the doors before you go in…

img_02This is a better picture of the Amber Room, which I found on the official Catherine Palace website. The walls of the room are decorated in precious amber, which was a gift from the King of Prussia in 1716. The amber panels were plundered by the Nazis during the second world war and were displayed in Konigsberg. In 1944 the display was dismantled as the Nazis retreated and then the panels disappeared without a trace. The Amber Room was lost. In 1979 it was decided to recreate the Amber Room and it took twenty four years to complete. Isn’t it tantalising to think that somewhere the original Amber Room might still be hidden? Most experts agree though that the panels were probably destroyed, and if not, the amber is so fragile that it has probably disintegrated.

2012-11-14 at 09-31-44This is the Picture Hall.

2012-11-14 at 09-35-11The Chinese Drawing Room of Alexander I.

2012-11-14 at 09-36-26 The room is decorated with hand painted silk panels.


2012-11-14 at 09-38-52The Green Dining Room.

2012-11-14 at 09-42-14The State Blue Drawing Room.

2012-11-14 at 09-44-11The Chinese Blue Drawing Room.

2012-11-14 at 09-45-44The Choir Ante Room, so called as it adjoins the choir gallery of the Palace Church (which is currently closed for restoration).

2012-11-14 at 09-46-00The walls are covered in embroidered silk from the eighteenth century. This room is the last of the State Rooms of the Palace. The private apartments are still being restored.

2012-11-14 at 10-12-00This is because Catherine Palace was intentionally destroyed by fire as the Nazis retreated from the Siege of Leningrad (St Petersburg) in 1944.

2012-11-14 at 10-13-40There was virtually nothing left except some brick walls.

2012-11-14 at 10-13-09This was the Grand Staircase after the fire.

2012-11-14 at 08-47-36And here it is restored. It’s incredible to think of the restoration and rebuilding work that has taken place to return Catherine Palace to its grand original state.

2012-11-14 at 10-54-56Our tour of Tsarskoye Selo continued with a visit to Alexander Palace. Alexander Palace was completed in 1796 and was a gift from Catherine II to her grandson, the future Alexander I. It was also the final residence of Tsar Nicholas II and his family during the last 13 years of the Romanov dynasty. It was from here that the Romanovs were sent into exile before their eventual execution. It was then converted into a museum but closed because Stalin believed the Russian people were starting to romanticise the Romanovs. During the second world war the palace was a German military headquarters, then it was used by the Soviet Navy and then became an orphanage. The Palace is still undergoing restoration.

2012-11-14 at 11-27-58It is a fascinating place to visit though because it displays many of the Romanov’s private possessions.

2012-11-14 at 11-17-55There are toys, the military uniforms of the children and other artefacts.

2012-11-14 at 11-17-07These items belonged to Alexei, the haemopheliac son of Tsar Nicholas.

2012-11-14 at 11-08-30Many of the rooms are still being restored and the large photographic reproductions on the walls show you how the rooms used to look.

2012-11-14 at 11-24-47This room is called Nicholas II’s New Study, and was part of the palace’s remodelling by the final Tsar, showing the family’s taste for Art Nouveau, which was considered very bourgeois at the time and not fitting for a royal family.

2012-11-14 at 12-03-05On the way back into St Petersburg we passed a great deal of Stalinist Empire Style architecture such as this government building. Outside is a statue of Lenin, which is known locally as ‘Lenin Hailing a Taxi’.

2012-11-14 at 12-01-44We also passed the great memorial to the Siege of Leningrad, in which about one and a half million civilians and soldiers died.

If my memory serves me correctly we then visited a souvenir shop where I sampled the vodka and this was followed by coffee and cake at a local cafe. Dinner that night was at Tandoori Nights, quite a good nearby Indian restaurant.