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Thursday, 2 May 2013
Dinner with the Romanovs
Topic: Dmitri Romanovich


A relative of Russia’s deposed royal family visits Jerusalem and finds kinship in the Jewish search for home and homeland.

A participant at a recent genteel dinner in Jerusalem could not help being reminded of the scene from ”Fiddler on the Roof” in which the rabbi of Anatevka answers a congregant asking if there was a special blessing for the czar of Russia.

Of course, answers the rabbi. “May God bless and keep the czar… far away from us!”

Nearby sat Dimitri Romanovich Romanov — one of those Romanovs — the towering and gracious 87-year-old great-great-grandson of Czar Nicholas I, who died in 1855.

After dinner, Romanov mused about his own history and that of Israel, where he had just arrived for the first time, and about the nature of statelessness.

Dimitri Romanov was born in 1926, 18 years after Bolshevik revolutionaries murdered the last czar of Russia and his family at Ekaterinburg and threw their bodies into an abandoned mine shaft. The surviving Romanov grand duchesses and grand dukes along with the rest of the extended royal family, including Dimitri’s father, Prince Roman Petrovich, fled Russia, never to return.

Romanov and his wife, Dorrit Reventlow, who wore an elegant salmon dress and golden slippers, were early in a 36-hour sojourn in the country, part of a round-the-world journey on a cruise ship called the Seaborne Quest. They were being given a whirlwind tour of which the dinner — at an unmarked and luxurious Jerusalem establishment called Spoons, near Montefiore’s windmill — was part. There was Italian cabbage, Israeli wine, superb artichoke soup, and candlesticks the size of modest missile silos.

Romanov admitted he had not formed much of an impression of the country in the several hours that had elapsed since his arrival. He was surprised at how green it was, he said, and how hilly: “I always thought it would be more flat.”

Jerusalem is not entirely foreign to a Romanov visitor. The attractions before dinner included a visit to the grave of a relative, Elizabeth Feodorovna, the last czar’s sister-in-law and a Russian Orthodox saint, at a church on the Mount of Olives. (Among the city’s other Romanov-era relics is a building downtown known as Sergei’s Courtyard, which was built for Russian pilgrims and named for Grand Duke Sergei, brother of Czar Alexander III.)

Born in France and raised across Europe and, for a time, in Alexandria. Romanov spent his life, however, not as royalty but as a banker. As a young man, he recalled, he never had much interest in the complexities of the Romanov lineage, less a family tree than a chaotic forest of intersecting and competing lines linked in bewildering ways to the other active and defunct royal houses of Europe. “I was totally uninterested to know who the Princess of Baden Baden was,” he said. This disinterest also means the prince does not know what number he is in line for the British throne; his wife says he is “around 2,000th.”

Romanov returned to the country his family ruled for centuries for the first time only after the fall of Communism, when he was in his 60s.

“For me, ‘returning’ to Russia is a misnomer — I can’t return to a country I never visited before,” he said.

He has lived half of his life in Copenhagen, but until 23 years ago he held no citizenship at all. Then a friend suggested that he finally become a Danish citizen — “You’ll feel at home,” she promised. This friend, Margaret, was the queen of Denmark, so he obliged.

“It’s important to be a citizen of something, like a Jew who comes from Yemen or Morocco and comes here and becomes a citizen — it’s important to be a part of society. I felt that in Denmark for the first time in my life,” he said.

In the middle of dinner, talk turned to Jewish history and the prince was reminded of a visit he once made to Warsaw, where he was touched by the story of the Jewish partisans who took part in the uprising in that city’s ghetto during WWII. He proposed a toast to them.

“I thought I must express my feelings about these young people fighting Nazism, dreaming that one day those who lived would come back to Israel,” he said afterward.

Of course, he noted, they had never actually been to Israel. “How can you go back if you’ve never been?” he wondered. “I suppose it’s in your blood.”

© Matti Friedman (Author)

© The Times of Israel. 02 May, 2013

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 7:38 AM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 2 May 2013 8:00 AM EDT
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Russian Society to Host Prince Michael of Kent
Topic: Prince Michael of Kent


The Oxford University Russian Society will host a talk by Prince Michael of Kent on Thursday, 2nd May, at Merton College.

Maxim Kotenev, adviser to the society, anticipates that the Prince will talk about his visit to St Petersburg for the burial of the Tsar and his family, and might make a comparison between the British and Russian royal families.

Kotenev added that he would be interested to hear the Prince’s “view on the Queen, her role and some internal stories of his encounters with the Queen”.

“Prince Michael of Kent is interesting for the Russian Society because of his profile”, said Kotenev. The Prince is related to Russian royal family and involved in a large number of non-profit charities in Russia. “He has close links with Russia, speaks Russian fluently and has travelled to Russia several times”, added Kotenev.

Russian Society President Anna Danshina first learnt about Prince Michael’s links to Russia when organising the Imperial Gardens of Russia festival in St Petersburg, which is supported by the Royal Highness Prince Michael of Kent Charitable Foundation. Danshina commented that: “I was very fascinated by Prince Michael’s interest in Russia and the charitable work of the Prince Michael of Kent Foundation in the country.”

The Prince is devoted to several charity, arts and education organisations in Russia. Among them is the St. Petersburg based Nochlezhka Charity Foundation, which provides shelter and food for homeless people. He is also a patron for the Russian National Orchestra and the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce and holds an Honorary Doctorate from the Plekhanov Russian Academy of Economics and St Petersburg University of Humanities and Social Sciences.

The Prince is a cousin of Queen Elizabeth II and his mother, Princess Marina, was the daughter of Grand Duchess Helen Vladimirovna of Russia. “He is named after the brother of Russian Tsar Nicholas II and in some way he looks like Nicholas II”, said Kotenev.

The Russian Society was founded in 1909 by a member of the Russian royal family, Prince Felix Yusupov, who studied at University College. Prince Felix is known for having participated in the assassination of Grigori Rasputin, the faith healer of Tsar Nicholas II.

© The Oxford Student. 02 May, 2013

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 7:33 AM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 2 May 2013 7:37 AM EDT
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Wednesday, 1 May 2013
Fit for a Tsar: St Petersburg's Hermitage Museum to Open Luxury Hotel
Now Playing: Language: NA. Duration: 2 minutes, 26 seconds
Topic: State Hermitage Museum
The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg will branch out into the accommodation business this summer, with the opening of a new, branded luxury retreat.
The State Hermitage Hotel will be the latest gilded addition to a city that is not short on five-star hideaways. Equipped with 126 rooms, a large spa and a gourmet restaurant named after one of Russia’s most celebrated rulers, it is likely to challenge the city’s long-established hotel dames, such as the Grand Hotel Europe and the Hotel Astoria.

Crucially, the hotel will not be part of the Hermitage complex.

While the fabled gallery preens alongside the river at Dvortsovaya Naberezhnaya, the hotel will sit about a mile to the south-east, on Pravda Ulitsa (street). It will be built into a former merchant’s home that has also been used as a theatre and a cultural centre, but had fallen into disrepair.

Guests will be able to use a shuttle service that will ferry them to the museum, and also book tickets for the Hermitage in the lobby – a short-cut which will save them a meeting with the gallery’s notoriously long queues (in which you can wait for up to two hours).

The hotel’s design will pay tribute to the Winter Palace portion of The Hermitage.

Employees will wear uniforms modelled upon the style that would have been sported by palace staff under the Tsar – while china based upon designs that would have been deployed for state banquets will be used in the restaurants.

The main restaurant will also be named after Catherine the Great, the fearsome empress who ruled Russia and its empire between 1762 and 1796, and founded the Hermitage in 1764.

© The Daily Mail (Condensed and edited by Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia) & State Hermitage Museum. 01 May, 2013

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 10:27 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 1 May 2013 10:41 AM EDT
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Tsarskoye Selo - An Artful Garden for Alexander II
Topic: Tsarskoye Selo


Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve

The Romanov 400th Anniversary Commemoration Project continues at Tsarskoye Selo.

On April 29th, 2013, one of the rooms of the Romanov Dynasty display at the Catherine Palace was decorated with palms, blooming hydrangeas and poecilophyllous philodendrons, put in jardinières (flower stands) made after a mid-19th-century original, marking the 195th birth anniversary of Emperor Alexander II.

The plant composition titled “An Artful Garden” complies with the canons of the epoch when jardinières like these were a must-have element of a room with greenery.

A variety of plants, often exotic ones, would liven up and romaticize an interior – especially in a country that lies snow-covered almost half a year. Lovingly cultivated, the “green guests from overseas” were often organized into beautiful indoor gardens.

Recollecting a travel to cold Russia in his Voyage en Russie (1867), the French writer Théophile Gautier called flowers “the true luxury” that Russians loved to fill their houses with, “It does feel like the North Pole outside, but inside it's like the tropics”.

© Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve. 01 May, 2013

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:29 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 1 May 2013 6:36 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 30 April 2013
Moscow Proposes Chapel in Honour of the Romanov Dynasty
Topic: Russian Church


The Strastnoi (of the Passion) Convent was destroyed by the Soviets in 1937  

The monument to the poet Alexander Pushkin from Pushkin square in the center of the Russian capital may be moved from its current site, reported to Interfax a source in the Moscow State Duma.

"It has been proposed to move the monument to Pushkin and to build a commemorative Chapel to the Strastnoi (of the Passion) Convent and to the first tsars of the house of Romanov: Michael Feodorovich (reigned from 1613 to 1645) and Alexei Mikhailovich (1645-1676) on its site," said a spokesman of Interfax.

He noted that the monument to A. Pushkin in 1880 was raised on the square at the beginning of the Tverskoy boulevard but in 1950 it was moved to another side of Gorky street (present-day Tverskaya street) and installed on the site of the Convent's demolished belltower.

The spokesman also added that the Commission at the Moscow State Duma had received a proposal to install a commemorative plaque to the human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and the journalist Anastasia Baburova on the site of their murder—near house No–1 on Prechistenka street.

"Most probably, the Moscow State Duma's Commission for Monumental Art will consider these proposals after the May holidays. It is still difficult to state what kind of a decision will be made on these two proposals, but the commission members are categorical as regards the moving of monuments," said the agency's spokesman.

Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna arriving at the Strastnoi Convent 

Orthodox Christians have been holding prayer meetings and Cross processions on the Pushkin square for years calling to restore the Strastnoi Convent. According to them, underground on the site are the remains of ascetic nuns from the Convent, as well as foundations of destroyed monastery buildings. In summer 2012, a commemorative plaque to the Strastnoi Convent was raised on the Pushkin square.

The Convent was founded in the 17th century on the very historical site where the miraculous icon of the Mother of God of the Passion (which was brought to the capital from the Nizhny Novgorod region) had been solemnly met. This icon, famous for its healing of the sick, is thus called because two Angels with instruments of Christ's sufferings (passion)—spears and the Cross—are depicted on it next to the Most Holy Theotokos.

When the Napoleon's army hastily left Moscow, it was in this Convent that the first thanksgiving service to the Savior for miraculous deliverance from the invaders was celebrated. Also, according to tradition, the first Church bell resounded from the belltower of the Strastnoi Convent after the enemy had gone away. The central anti-religious museum was opened on the territory of the Convent in 1929, and the buildings of the Convent were demolished in 1937.

© 30 April, 2013


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:40 AM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 April 2013 6:55 AM EDT
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Nicholas II Monument Seized for Debt in Siberia
Topic: Nicholas II

Bailiffs have seized a bronze statue of Emperor Nicholas II as part of  of the assets of a Siberian distillery facing bankruptcy procedure, which may be sold over unpaid debt, a spokeswoman for the regional bailiffs service, Natalya Fomina, told RIA Novosti.

The 500-kg bust was erected in 2010 on a massive granite pedestal in the village of Shushenskoe in the southern Siberian Krasnoyarsk region by “Shushenskaya Marka,” one of the largest vodka producers in the region.

A local court has started hearings following a claim from Russia’s largest bank Sberbank against the distillery over its failure to pay back a loan and issued a warrant for the seizure of its property.

Ironically, the monument to the last Russian tsar was erected in the village where Communist leader Vladimir Lenin spent three years in exile in the end of XIX century for revolutionary activity against his rule.

For more information on this monument, please refer to my original article (+ VIDEO) posted at Royal Russia News on January 1st, 2011: 

Monument to Emperor Nicholas II Replaces Statue of Lenin

© The Moscow News and RIA Novosti. 30 April, 2013

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:03 AM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 April 2013 6:21 AM EDT
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Monday, 29 April 2013
Orthodox Christians Begin Holy Week
Topic: Russian Church


On April 28th, Russian Orthodox Christians celebrated Palm Sunday. According to the Gospels, it was the day in which Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem on a donkey. The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, held a divine liturgy at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow marking Palm Sunday.

Believers flocked to churches to have their willow branches blessed by the priests. Willows are used instead of palms to celebrate the feast in Russia. Therefore, the holiday is widely known in Russia as Willow Sunday. 

On April 29, Orthodox Christians mark Holy Monday, the first day of the Holy Week leading to Easter.

The faithful continue fasting during the Holy Week that commemorates the last week of the earthly life of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Canonical Gospels.

The Holy Week will see the faithful continue their fasting that will be especially strict during Holy Friday, the Day of the Crucifixion dedicated to the passions of the Christ.

The Holy Week culminates in Easter Sunday on May 5th (in line with the Julian Calendar), the most important day in the Church year, during which Jesus rose from the dead.

© Royal Russia. 29 April, 2013

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 5:22 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 29 April 2013 5:39 AM EDT
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Sunday, 28 April 2013
Beautiful Orthodox Churches of Russia No. 9
Topic: Beautiful Orthodox Churches


The Church of the Virgin of the Sign at Tsarskoye Selo was originally built between 1734-47 by the Russian architect Mikhail Zemtsov and his assistant Johann Blank. The church has been remodelled and enlarged several times through the centuries: by Vasily Neyelov (1772), Luigi Rusca (1817) amd Silvio Danini (1898).

The historic church got its name from the Virgin of the Sign  icon kept there that had supposedly been used by Peter the Great on his deathbed to bless his daughter, the future Empress Elizabeth.

It was here during a liturgy that the Empress Elizabeth Petrovna suffered a fatal heart attack in 1761. Future Russian sovereigns and their families held a special reverance for the church often coming to pray here.

On July 30th, 1917, a mass was held at the Alexander Palace for the Tsesarevich Alexis's birthday. The holy icon from the church was brought to the palace. Count Paul Benckendorff notes in his memoirs:  

"It was brought in procession and the clergy of this church were admitted to the Palace and to the Chapel. The Te Deum was sung and prayers were said asking God for a prosperous journey for their Majesties, their children and all those who accompanied them. The scene was moving. The ceremony was as poignant as could be: all were in tears. The soldiers themselves seemed touched, and approached the holy ikon to kiss it. They followed the procession as far as the balcony, and saw it disappear through the Park. It was as if the past were taking leave, never to come back. The memory of this ceremony will always remain in my mind, and I cannot think of it without profound emotion. In the course of the day we all went, as usual, to the kitchen-garden, and groups were taken."

In 1943 the church was closed by the Soviets. It was 48 years later, in 1991 that the building was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church. Extensive repairs and restoration work were carried out which included strenghtening the foundation, a new roof, a gilded spire and weather vane on the steeple, the historical reproduction of furnishings and decor.

The porcelain iconstasis was restored for the 300th anniversary in 2009, and many new icons have been added, including the highly revered icon of the Holy Royal Martyrs. 

Photo: The interior of the Church of the Virgin of the Sign taken during my visit to Tsarskoye Selo in June 2012. 

During my visits to Tsarskoye Selo I am always drawn to this charming church, which is situated on Dvortsovaya Ulitsa. If you are walking from the Catherine Palace towards the Alexander Palace or vice versa, you can't miss it!  It is also just around the corner from Anna Vyroubova's former house.

In 2003 a carillion was installed and every hour throughout the day the sounds of "God Save the Tsar" can be heard. Worshippers, passersbys and tourists all stop to enjoy this beautiful tune.

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 28 April, 2013


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 8:33 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 28 April 2013 8:38 AM EDT
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Peterhof - Russian Versailles
Now Playing: Language: English. Duration: 26 minutes, 17 seconds
Topic: Peterhof

The fountains of Peterhof are one of Russia's most famous tourist attractions, drawing millions of visitors every year. Fountains were intrinsic to Peter the Great's original plans for Peterhof - it was the impossibility of engineering sufficiently powerful jets of water that prompted him to move his attentions from the Strelna site to Peterhof - and subsequent generations competed with their predecessors to add grander and ever more ingenious water features to the parkland surrounding the Grand Palace.

The most famous ensemble of fountains, the Grand Cascade, which runs from the northern facade of the Grand Palace to the Marine Canal, comprises 64 different fountains, and over 200 bronze statues, bas-reliefs, and other decorations. At the centre stands Rastrelli's spectacular statue of Samson wrestling the jaws of a lion. The vista of the Grand Cascade with the Grand Palace behind it, the first sight to great visitors who arrive in Peterhof by sea, is truly breathtaking. The Grotto behind the Grand Cascade, which was once used for small parties, contains the enormous pipes, originally wooden, that feed the fountains.

Elsewhere in the park, the range and diversity of fountains is astounding, from further monumental ensembles like the Chess Cascade and the Pyramid Fountain, to the ever-popular Joke Fountains, including one which sprays unwary passers-by who step on a particular paving stone.

The official opening of the fountains at Peterhof, which usually takes place at the end of May, is an all-day festival, with classical music, fireworks and other performances, as each section of the park's fountains is turned on one by one.

This 30 minute video (in English) will take you on a guided tour of the fountains, how they were built, their operation and maintenance, and the efforts to preserve one of Russia's most beautiful symbols of the Romanov legacy.

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 28 April, 2013


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 7:38 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 28 April 2013 7:46 AM EDT
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Saturday, 27 April 2013
A Russian Moment 12 - The Yusupov Palace Theatre
Topic: A Russian Moment


The Yusupov (or Youssoupoff) Palace located on the Moika Canal in St. Petersburg is one of the city's finest palace-museums. It evokes the splendour of Imperial Russia and the opulence of one of Russia's most famous and wealthiest families, the Yusupovs.

Miraculously, many of the historical 18th and 19th century interiors of the palace remain intact, among them the palatial Louis XV style theatre.

The private theatre of the Yusupov's hosted memorable performances attended by St. Petersburg's elite society. Among the most notable guests were members of the Russian Imperial family, including Tsar Nicholas II and his family. Performing were serf actors, famous musicians, and titled aristocrats. However, it was the likes of well-known artists of the time that really made the theatre shine, among them: Franz Liszt, Pauline Viardot, Fyodor Chapiapin, Anna Pavlovna, and many others.

The palace is open to the public, offering tours in Russian (foreign visitors can rent audio guides in their respective language) which includes an opportunity to view the theatre. To this day, the theatre in the Yusupov Palace on the Moika still offers regular performances.

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 27 April, 2013


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 3:47 AM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 27 April 2013 4:37 AM EDT
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