St Petersburg Palaces - Opulence fit for a tsar in the Russian imperial capital (29 May)
Interesting Facts about St Petersburg Palaces
THE AMBER ROOM at Catherine Palace, just outside St. Petersburg, glitters with amber panels containing more than six tons (5.5 metric tons) of precious stone. Gilded friezes, mirrored pilasters, and Florentine mosaics add to the lavishness. This single shimmering room, installed in 1755, epitomizes the wealth that made the royal Russian capital of St. Petersburg one of the world’s most beautiful, rivaling the grandest European cities.
St. Petersburg was founded in 1703, and the tradition of an imperial way of life—and the raising of dozens upon dozens of palaces built by the best European architects—started soon after. One of the most luxurious of these is the Winter Palace, in the heart of St. Petersburg. Built on the site of Peter the Great’s Dutch-style wooden house of 1708, this mint green, white, and gold confection was the official residence of the Russian tsars until 1917. Today, it houses the world-famous State Hermitage Museum. A quick glance at its state rooms will give you a sense of how the imperials lived, with beautiful parquet floors underfoot and ornate cornices and frescoed ceilings overhead.
Peter the Great also established a royal retreat on the Gulf of Finland, 18 miles (29 km) west of the city. That single modest residence would be expanded over the centuries to become the venerable Peterhof, a complex of palatial buildings and gardens often referred to as the Russian Versailles.
Nearby, the rococo, turquoise-and-white Catherine Palace in Pushkin (also known as Tsarskoye Selo), completed for Empress Elizabeth in 1756, is one of the 18th century’s most glorious works of art and architecture. Its gilded exterior is decorated with more than 220 pounds (100 kg) of gold. Inside, one room surpasses the next in sumptuousness, with the Amber Room the most decadent of all.
And the list of glittering palaces goes on: Yusupov, Yelagin, Alexander, Stroganov…
What’s not immediately apparent as you make the palace rounds is that World War II devastated St. Petersburg. Peterhof and Catherine Palace and many other suburban palaces were left in ruins. The beautiful buildings you see today were meticulously re-created down to the tiniest details (including the panels of the Amber Room—the originals were whisked away by the Nazis; their whereabouts are still a great mystery today). As such, the palaces are not only a testament to the lavish lifestyles of the imperials, they’re a credit to the modern artisans (and abundant government and private funds) that were dedicated to mastering nearly forgotten crafts so that a former way of life could be brought back for the benefit of the modern world.