From Byzantium to Present-day Russia, the Double-headed Eagle Still Soars Topic: Imperial Russia
This beautiful example of the Russian double-headed eagle can be seen at the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg
Copyright Notice: The following article was originally published in the July 13th, 2014 edition of Russia Beyond the Headlines. The author Vladimir Khutarev, owns the copyright presented below.
Originally the symbol of Imperial Russia, the double-headed eagle was restored as the country’s official emblem in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But how did this majestic bird first come to appear on the coat of arms of the medieval Russian state?
Although 23 years have passed since the collapse of the USSR, in the minds of many foreigners the Soviet-era hammer and sickles still a symbol of Russia.
However, Russia's current state emblem is completely different, and its history dates all the way back to the times of the Byzantine Empire.
The state emblem of the Russian Federation - the double-headed eagle - happens to be one of the oldest Indo-European symbols. Its history is a mixture of Christianity, Paganism, Zoroastrianism, the epochs of great empires and those of feudal fragmentation.
Entire states and civilizations vanished, but the double-headed eagle continued to soar above the people of Western Asia and Eastern Europe.
Here's how it evolved. The double-headed eagle first appeared on the coat of arms of the great Hittite Empire, which occupied the territory of present-day Turkey in the 17th-12th centuries BC.
There it was later adopted by the heir of the Roman one-headed eagle, the Byzantine Empire. It shortly became the symbol of Eastern Christianity and then spread across Christendom, appearing on the coats of arms of Serbia and Montenegro, Germany (the Holy Roman Empire) and Armenia.
The eagle "flew" over to Russia only in the 13th century, replacing the trident - an ancient symbol of the ruling dynasty. First the double-headed eagle appeared in Chernigov, in present-day Ukraine, then in Vladimir (176 km west of Moscow), then in Moscow itself.
After the fall of the Byzantium Empire in 1453, Russia was left the only independent Orthodox country in the world.
The eagle subsequently became Russia’s main official symbol towards the end of the 15th century, when Grand Prince Ivan III, "the gatherer of the Russian lands", married Sophia Palaiologina, the niece of the last emperor of Byzantium– and thus rightly inherited the symbol of his wife’s kin. The eagle succeeded another ancient Russian symbol of power, the lion.
As Ivan III’s grandson, Ivan the Terrible, became the first Russian tsar, the two-headed eagle appeared on the first Russian coat of arms and the tsar’s seal.
During Ivan’s reign, Muscovy annexed the Kazan and the Astrakhan khanates, the Tatar feudal states and the remnants of the Golden Horde, and began the annexation of the Siberian Khanate.
Therefore in the early 17th century, the two-headed eagle began to be depicted with three crowns – to symbolize the victory over the three khanates.
That is how Tsar Alexis himself, the father of Peter the Great, explained this in the middle of the 17th century. During Alexis’ reign, the scepter and the orb, which the eagle held in his claws, were also added to denote the tsar as the “autocrat and the owner of the land”.
Over the centuries of Russian history, the three crowns have been assigned a great lot of different meanings. Some said that they symbolized the primacy of the tsar’s power over both the government and the church.
There is also an opinion that three crowns denote the tsar’s power over Muscovy, Little Russia (later, Ukraine) and White Russia (now Belarus); or that the three crowns mean that the Russian tsar is both the sovereign of East and West… Whatever the truth may be, the three crowns remained on the coat of arms throughout the history of Muscovy and the Russian Empire.
At times, other symbols were added to the coat of arms. During the Polish occupation of Moscow in 1612, the Catholic royal lily appeared on the eagle's chest. This was later substituted by St. George or by a griffon, the symbol of the ruling Romanov dynasty.
According to Russian heraldic tradition, there has always been a difference between large and small official coats of arms. The large coat of arms, besides the eagle, also included the emblem of the Romanov dynasty, as well as the emblems of the most important lands comprising the Russian Empire.
The Russian emperor was concurrently the tsar of Poland, Georgia, Siberia and the Grand Prince of Finland. In order to emphasize the government's Christian character, Archangel Michael and Gabriel were placed alongside the double-headed eagle.
After the February Revolution of 1917, the Provisional Government removed the crowns. It is precisely the democratic "downgraded" eagle that is seen on the monetary units of the Russian Federation.
The scepter and orb were also removed. During the Civil War the anti-Bolshevik powers reinstated the eagle as their coat of arms, but the crowns were replaced with the cross.
The scepter and the orb once again appeared in the eagle's claws, though the emblem was living on borrowed time by then: After the Bolshevik victory the hammer and sickle was adopted as the official emblem of the new state on July 6, 1923.
The double-headed eagle returned to Russia only after the collapse of the USSR and a three-year study carried out by a special commission. In 1993, following President Boris Yeltsin's decree, it was reconfirmed as the symbol of the official coat of arms.
Flying in from the distant past and alighting in Russia, the double-headed eagle continues to change, as if adapting to the current political reality of its adoptive country.
Vladimir Khutarev has a Ph.D. in History and is President of the Moscow City Division of the All-Russian Society for the Preservation of Historical and Cultural Monuments.
Tsarskoye Selo and Livadia Palace-Museum's Sign Letter of Intent Topic: Palaces
"We cannot find any words to express our joy and pleasure to have such a house, built exactly as we wanted. The architect Krasnov is an amazing fine fellow"- wrote Emperor Nicholas ΙΙ to his mother, the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna on September 20th, 1911, after his first visit to Livadia, his new palace in the Crimea.
For more than half a century, the Livadia estate served as a summer residence for the last three Russian emperors and their families: Alexander ΙΙ, Alexander III and Nicholas ΙΙ. The new Livadia Palace was to be the last imperial residence built in the Russian Empire for the Romanov family. Constructed by the architect Nikolai Krasnov in only 16 months, the white limestone palace was surrounded by a marvellous park, with terraces that led down to the Black Sea.
On July 11th, 2014, Olga Taratynova and Larisa Dekusheva, the directors of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve and Livadia Palace Museum, signed a Letter of Intent at a press conference held at Livadia. The parties have agreed to implement joint projects in the fields of museum research, and publication of books, plus the internship of museum specialists, as well as the organization of exhibitions, seminars and conferences on the Romanovs and their legacy.
In addition, there are plans to create a virtual branch of the Tsarskoye Selo Palace-Museum at Livadia Palace. If this project is realized, it will be the first such project for the popular St. Petersburg district museum.
“We have a lot in common. First and foremost, we are bound by the name and the tragic fate of the last Russian Emperor Nicholas II. He loved both the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo and the palace in Livadia in the Crimea. I am sure that our mutual cooperation will offer great prospects for both museums” - said Olga Taratynova, Director of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve.
A Russian Moment No 40 - Monument to Tsesarevich and Grand Duke Nicholas Alexandrovich, Tsarskoye Selo Topic: A Russian Moment
A bronze bust of Tsesarevich Grand Duke Nicholas Alexandrovich overlooks the Great Pond in the Catherine Park at Tsarskoye Selo
A bronze bust of Tsesarevich Grand Duke Nicholas Alexandrovich (1843-1865) mounted on a granite pedestal, is located on the banks of the Great Pond in the Catherine Park at Tsarskoye Selo. Emperor Alexander II commissioned the Russian sculptor Alexander Mikhailovich Opekushin to create the memorial bust of his son and heir to the Russian throne in 1872-1873.
In 1917 the bust was placed in the vaults of the Catherine Palace Museum. For many years after World War II it was put on display alongside other sculptures in the Hermitage Pavilion at Tsarskoye Selo. It was then moved to the Cameron Gallery, dedicated to Alexander II. Before the 300-year anniversary of Tsarskoye Selo a bronze copy of the bust was produced. In the summer of 2010, the replica was mounted on a pedestal and reinstalled at its original location in the Catherine Park. The original remains in the storage vaults of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve.
Irina Stepanenko, a senior researcher at the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve notes: "Judging by the extant photographs and memoirs of his contemporaries, the Tsesarevich was quite a fragile young man who failed to achieve his birthright as heir to the throne. The sculpture looks older, more serious, than he was probably in real life."
Ekaterinburg Prepares for Royal Days Topic: Ekaterinburg
The Ural city of Ekaterinburg is preparing for its annual celebration of “Royal Days" to be held July 12-20, 2014. During these days, thousands of believers will honour Emperor Nicholas II and his family, who were all murdered in the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg in the early morning hours of July 17th, 1918.
The event which honours the memory of the Holy Royal Martyrs draws large crowds in Ekaterinburg each year. Events during this year’s festival include exhibitions, lectures, concerts, liturgies and a religious procession from the Church on the Blood to Ganina Yama. Admission is free.
The ceremonial centres of worship during the "Royal Days" will, according to tradition, be the Church on the Spilled Blood, built on the site of the Ipatiev House, and the Monastery at Ganina Yama, built on the site where the remains of the martyrs were originally disposed of by their murderers.
Many of the pilgrims will begin arriving in Ekaterinburg on July 16th. According to a press service of the Ekaterinburg Diocese, the number of pilgrims from across Russia, and even abroad is growing each year. About 300 people attended in 2000, the first year the "Royal Days" was marked, and last year, in 2013 their number exceeded 50 thousand. Organizers are expecting an even greater number of pilgrims at this year’s event.
In order to accommodate the large crowds, the ceremonies and a Divine Liturgy will be organized in the open air. A large tent with an altar platform will be erected in front of the Church on the Blood, large video monitors, and a powerful sound system and lighting will be installed.
A Divine Liturgy is scheduled to begin at 11:30 on the evening of July 16th, after which the faithful will participate in a 20 km religious procession from the Church on the Blood to the monastery at Ganina Yama in the early morning hours of July 17th.
As in previous years, Royal Russia will offer full coverage of this year’s "Royal Days" at Ekaterinburg, complete with news, photographs and videos.
This is an enormous event, spreading to more Russian cities each year. Take a moment to review Royal Russia's coverage of the "Royal Days" at Ekaterinburg in 2013, 2012 and 2011:
Monarchs' Menu: Feasts Fit for Russian Tsars and Emperors Topic: Imperial Russia
Ceremonial Dinner in the Faceted Chamber of the Moscow Kremlin. Artist: Mihaly Zichy (1827-1906)
Copyright Notice: The following article was originally published in the July 9th, 2014 edition of Russia Beyond the Headlines. The author Alexei Denisov, owns the copyright presented below.
Tsar Ivan the Terrible was radical both in his politics and his cuisine. Reformer Peter the Great never ate fish. Enlightened Empress Catherine the Great treated her guests to pheasants. RBTH explores these and other curious facts in Russia's gastronomic history.
Little is known about meals that were served to Ivan the Terrible, one of the most eccentric Russian tsars. According to Austrian envoy Sigismund von Herberstein, the author of "Notes on Muscovite Affairs", the tsar was an incredibly hospitable host. "Lunch would last three or four hours," von Herberstein wrote about meals at the tsar's palace. "During my first mission to Russia, we even ate till after midnight… The tsar often treats his guests to food and drink…" A more detailed description of a royal meal can be found in a historical novel by Aleksei Tolstoy called "Prince Serebrenni": "Once the swans were eaten, servants, in pairs, left the chamber and returned with three hundred fried peacocks… The peacocks were followed by kulebyakas, chicken pies, meat and cheese pies, all possible varieties of blinis, pastries and fritters…" The next change of dishes was even more impressive: "The tables were laid first with meat jellies, followed by cranes with spicy herbs, marinated roosters with ginger, bone-free chicken, and duck with cucumbers. Then there came different soups and three varieties of ukhas."
The tsar treated his guests only to classical Russian dishes of the time. For example, a kulebyaka (coulibiac) is a traditional pie in the form of a thin pastry shell and a generous filling, often consisting of several ingredients. The filling of a chicken pie (called "kurnik") was no less complex, with poultry meat, primarily chicken, being the main ingredient. A meat jelly (also known as aspic) is a cold jelly made of meat broth with finely chopped meat inside; while an ukha is the traditional Russian fish soup. Culinary pragmatism The first Russian emperor, Peter the Great, was a man of modest tastes. One of his close associates, a mechanic and a sculptor, Andrey Nartov, recalled: "Peter the Great did not like any splendour, luxury or to be surrounded by many servants. … His food consisted of cabbage soup, aspic, porridge, grilled [meat] with pickled cucumbers or lemons, corned beef, ham. He was particularly fond of Limburger cheese. All of the above was served by his chef Felten. Of vodkas, the tsar preferred anisette. His usual drink was kvass. At dinner, he drank Hermitage wine (red wine from the northern Rhône – RBTH), sometimes Hungarian wine (sweet, Tokaj – RBTH). He never ate fish…"
Anisette, which Peter the Great so favoured, is widespread in Europe too, whereas kvass is a traditionally Slavic drink that remains very popular in Russia still. In olden days, it was invariably served at weddings and other feasts (there were different varieties of it, depending on alcohol content). Taste of Enlightenment Catherine the Great had the reputation of one of the best educated women of her time and a proponent of the philosophy of European Enlightenment. In her later years, she developed as simple a taste in food as Peter the Great had. According to historians, her favourite dish was boiled beef with pickled cucumbers and sauce made of dried venison tongues.
Of sweets, she preferred the famous Kolomna pastila (this classical Russian dessert is made of whipped fruit puree that is later dried following a special recipe). When entertained by her favourite, Count Potemkin, who had a dozen foreign cooks working for him, the empress was particularly impressed by "bombs a la Sardanapal" prepared by a French chef. The dish consisted of cutlets made of minced game meat. However, during official meals the empress was not as modest as in her private life. In his book "Repast History of the Russian State", Professor Pavel Romanov describes one such banquet consisting of over a hundred dishes. The empress and her guests were served a dozen soups, poularde and quail with truffles, pheasants with pistachio nuts, bass with ham, teal with olives, tortoise meat, lamb roast, etc. Some of the dishes were clearly inspired by French influences. This is not at all surprising since, during Catherine the Great's rule, it was fashionable among the Russian nobility to hire French chefs and Russian cuisine was changing under their influence. Those strange Russians To an unprepared foreigner, Russian tsars' menus often seemed puzzling. One historical anecdote tells the story of how a Russian tsar sent a Western European counterpart of his a pound of black caviar and the European monarch, out of ignorance, instructed his cooks to boil it first. An English ambassador to the court of Alexander I once found himself in a similar situation.
The tsar liked discussing gastronomical topics with him and once, as a follow-up to a discussion they were having, presented the ambassador with botvinya (a complex soup based on kvass, sorrel and beet greens with boiled fish). The ambassador, thinking that "those strange Russians" have sent him a soup that has grown hopelessly cold, ordered it to be warmed up, unaware that this Russian specialty should be consumed only cold. Having said that, not all foreigners showed themselves so ignorant when it came to Russian cuisine. For example, the legendary French cookery specialist and author Alexandre Dumas Sr. described the above mentioned botvinya as "the queen of Russian soups". Under 50 minutes Alexander II, who abolished serfdom in Russia in 1861, was known on the culinary front as the tsar who introduced a strictly observed duration of meal times at breakfast and lunch for members of his family. Each meal was supposed to take exactly 50 minutes.
The task was made all the more challenging because the tsar from time to time changed the venue for these family meals, with some of them being so far from the kitchens that staff found it extremely difficult to get all the food on the table in time and hot. In the end, they came up with the idea of using large hot water bottles to keep the food warm. The trick did not always work with delicate sauces, whose original taste and smell was sometimes affected. But punctuality was more important. Alexander II's son, Emperor Alexander III, was much less of a pedant and remains in royal culinary history as the tsar who "started a new era for Russian winemaking". According to the head of staff at the Imperial Court Ministry, Aleksandr Mosolov, "under Alexander II, all served wines were foreign ones. Alexander III started a new era for winemaking in Russia: he ordered serving foreign wines only when there were foreign monarchs or diplomats present at the meal. Otherwise, all served wines should be Russian. I remember that many officers found this wine nationalism misplaced: instead of assemblies, they began eating in restaurants, which were not obliged to follow the monarch's instructions." However, soon attitudes towards Russian wines changed: largely thanks to the efforts of Prince Lev Golitsyn, who set up the famous wineries Massandra and Novy Svet. Gradually, Russian wines ceased to be seen by the Russian nobility as an oddity. Last menu The best chronicled in history are the culinary preferences of Russia's last tsar Nicholas II. Here is, for example, what Aleksandr Mosolov says in his book "At the Emperor's Court": "Lunch [at the Livadia summer palace in Crimea] began with a soup with small vol-au-vents, savoury pastries, and small cheese toasts. Importantly, vol-au-vents were served together with the soup rather than as a separate dish, as they are abroad. The soup was followed by fish, a (game or chicken) casserole, vegetables, sweets, fruit… To drink, there were madeira, white and red wines for breakfast (or beer as an option) and different wines served at lunch, as is the custom everywhere else in the civilised world. And liqueurs with coffee…"
All this was cooked by the emperor's favourite chef, Frenchman Pierre Cubat. Alas, after the 1917 revolution, French influences on imperial cuisine became a thing of the past. As did imperial cuisine itself, to be replaced by a Soviet culinary era.
More than 230 rare and storied treasures created by the House of Fabergé will be celebrated in a new exhibition at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. “Fabergé: Jeweller to the Tsars” will be on view from June 20 through September 27, 2015. The exhibition, drawn from the Collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, will showcase Carl Fabergé’s fine craftsmanship in pieces of jewellery and adornments once belonging to the Russian Imperial family.
From dazzling Imperial Easter eggs to delicate flower ornaments and from enchanting animal sculptures to cigarette cases, photograph frames and desk clocks, Fabergé often turned the most mundane objects into miniature works of art. The vast majority of his designs were never repeated, and most pieces were made entirely by hand. The success of his business was inextricably linked to the patronage of the Romanov dynasty and the close ties among the British, Danish and Russian royal families, who often exchanged works by Fabergé as personal gifts.
The “Imperial Tsesarevich Easter Egg” of 1912, which will be on view at OKCMOA, was a gift to Empress Alexandra from her husband, Emperor Nicholas II. The egg commemorates their son, Alexsei, who nearly died the previous year of haemophilia. For the shell, craftsmen joined six wedges of highly prized lapis lazuli and hid the seams with an elaborate gold filigree encasement. Inside the egg, a diamond encrusted Romanov family crest frames a two-sided portrait of the young child.
These objects were associated with refinement and luxury because the House of Fabergé was known for accepting nothing less than perfection as well as for being business savvy. Beyond the elegant showrooms in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, hundreds of the country’s finest goldsmiths, enamellers, stone carvers, gem cutters and jewellers were at work creating innovative and complex designs that could not be readily imitated.
Giving Back to Russia - Tsarskoye Selo and Peterhof - 2014 Topic: Royal Russia
For the second year in a row, Royal Russia has made a donation of 10,000 Rubles ($300 USD) to the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve, and a further 10,000 Rubles ($300 USD) to the Peterhof State Museum Preserves. These gifts were made possible thanks to the sales of our 2014 calendar, Romanov Legacy: The Palaces and Residences of the Russian Imperial Family.
Since 1994, I have worked as an independent publisher and bookseller specializing in books and periodicals on the Romanov dynasty and Imperial Russia. In the past few years I have branched out into rare and second-hand books, and currently work through dealers in Moscow and St. Petersburg to offer collectors unique titles published in Russian and English.
Bookselling and publishing are my sole means of income, I do not earn an income from Royal Russia. Therefore, I am very, very grateful to each and every one of you who support my online bookshop, because without your patronage there would be no Royal Russia.
Earning a living from my book business allows me to devote my free time to my web site and blog, even if that requires working extra hours 7 days a week. I love my work, and I trust that is reflected through my web site, blog and the publications that I produce. I am privileged and honoured to share Royal Russia with other Romanovphiles and Russophiles around the world.
Royal Russia is supported through the generous donations of people who share an interest in the Romanov dynasty and the history of Imperial Russia.
It is also supported by the sale of a calendar, created annually with a unique theme and richly illustrated with rare and beautiful photographs and illustrations. The net proceeds from the sale of this calendar help Royal Russia in 2 unique ways: first, to help offset the costs of maintaining a growing web site and blog which welcomed nearly 2 million visitors in 2013, a huge achievement and a new record! Secondly - sales from the calendar now allow Royal Russia to give something back to Russia, by making a small annual donation to two major palace-museum complexes near St. Petersburg.
I have been very blessed all these years to work at something that I truly enjoy. As a result, I am now in a position to give something back to Russia. In 2013 and 2014, a total of 40,000 Rubles ($1,200 USD) has been donated to the Tsarskoye Selo and Peterhof State Museum Preserves.
These donations go towards restoration work and the acquisition of items for the palace-museum collections. I am very proud that I have been given the opportunity to make at least a small contribution to each museum. I am committed to helping to preserve the Romanov legacy when and where I can, and will continue to make ongoing donations in the years ahead.
Further, I have also made a personal donation in the amount of $250.00 CAD to the Children's Village at Pushkin. This wonderful organization helps orphaned Russian children, providing them with a safe place to live and grow. Helping children is a cause which is near and dear to my heart.
In May 2013, I also made a donation of books published by Royal Russia in the amount of $250.00 CAD to the Holy Trinity Monastery Library at Jordanville, New York. The library includes a large repository of books and other documents on the Romanov dynasty. This is further complimented by the recent opening of the Russian Nobility Association Reading Room located in the seminary at the Holy Trinity Monastery.
Once again, thank you to each and every one you who support my publishing efforts and bookshop, as well as those who purchased calendars and/or made donations to Royal Russia. Together, we are making a difference in helping to keep the memories of old Russia alive!
Next Stage of Restoration of the Alexander Palace Allocated 200 Million Rubles Topic: Alexander Palace
The Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation have announced that it has allocated a further 200 million rubles for the continued restoration and reconstruction of the Alexander Palace - the former residence of Russian emperors, where Nicholas II was born in 1868. According to the tender documentation issued on Monday, funds will be used to carry out the second stage of work at the palace, with the work to be completed within five months.
The press service of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve told ITAR-TASS that it is committed to a full completion of the restoration of the ground floor of the building which begun in 2011.
The restoration of the West wing of the palace is also currently underway (see photos below). This section of the palace is in extremely poor condition, including broken plaster, wall decorations and ceilings, dilapidated attic floor and all engineering systems. The last restoration of this section of the palace was carried out by the Soviets in the 1970s. Contractors must perform the repair, restoration, conservation and reconstruction of the original form of the building, which includes most of the elements of the Alexander Palace. Restoration work will be carried out by the Petersburg Committee on Monuments (KGIOP).
Work has begun on the west wing of the Alexander Palace. These photos were taken during my visit to Tsarskoye Selo on June 7th, 2014.
Once complete, the newly renovated rooms of the west wing will be used for temporary exhibitions, offices and a conference room. The basement will be renovated and equipped with facilities for receiving groups. The main exhibition will be located in the eastern wing and central parts of the palace. In the next few years, the private quarters of Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra will be recreated in the eastern wing, including the Maple, Pallisander and Mauve rooms. Restoration of the Alexander Palace is now scheduled to be completed by 2018. Funds allocated for its restoration by the federal program Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation.
The first restoration works were carried out in the palace in 1996 with a grant of the World Monuments Fund (WMF). The following year the exhibition Reminiscences in the Alexander Palace opened in the east wing, which include many personal items of the last emperor and his family from the collections of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum. Royal Russia was one of the first groups from the West to visit the Alexander Palace, only days after its opening to the public in August 1997. In 2010, three ceremonial halls in the central part of the palace - Portrait, Semi-circular and Marble - were opened.
For more information the Alexander Palace, its history and restoration, please refer to our directory situated on the left of this page. Click on the Alexander Palace, where you will find more than 30 articles, plus 7 videos and dozens of historic and contemporary photographs. Note: each page of our blog holds 10 articles. Click on the Older link located in the bottom left hand side of each page to review more articles and videos on the Alexander Palace.
For the most comprehensive and up-to-date information on the restoration of the Alexander Palace, please refer to my article published in Royal Russia Annual No 3:
The Great Eastern Journey of Tsar Nicholas II Topic: Nicholas II
Tsesarevich Nicholas (standing to the right of the sphinx) in Egypt
Copyright Notice: The following article was originally published in the July 5th, 2014 edition of Russia Beyond the Headlines. The author Joe Crescente, owns the copyright of the version presented below.
Nicholas II, the future Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias was the first and only Tsar to visit Siberia and the Far East. Taking the journey several years before ascending the throne, Nicholas II covered approximately 51,000 km, including about 15,000 km of railway and 22,000 km by sea over about 290 days. After Peter the Great’s incognito fact-finding Grand Embassy tour of Europe in 1697-1698, a long educational trip became an important part of training Tsars-to-be for the challenges that lay ahead.
One major impetus for this trip was Alexander III’s (Nicholas’s father) decision to establish the Trans-Siberian Railway. He wanted a member of the royal family to be present for the opening ceremony in Vladivostok. This, of course, conflicts with some sources that suggest that Nicholas was considering traveling East to China and then through America and other claims that Nicholas’s father wanted to separate him from his lover, a ballerina at the Mariinsky Theater. What is indisputable is that the Romanovs wanted to use this trip as a spiritual mission to spread the Orthodox faith among new peoples and territories around the world.
The trip was planned by the general staff and the Holy Synod, the supreme governing body of the Russian Orthodox Church. The heir apparent embarked with an entourage on October 23, 1890 (old calendar) from Gatchina. His main companion was Prince Esper Ukhtomsky, a friend of the heir to the throne and official historian of the journey, but was also joined by his sickly younger brother, Grand Duke George. It was hoped that George’s health would benefit from the sun and sea air.
The delegation went first by train to Vienna and then Trieste where they boarded the warship, The Memory of Azov. The next stop was the Greek port city of Piraeus where Nicholas met his uncle, King George I of Greece. The King’s son, Prince George of Greece and Denmark, joined the delegation here. They went next to Egypt, with Nicholas and much of the crew touring the Nile and the pyramids, while the ship passed through the Suez Canal.
From there they sailed to India arriving in Bombay on December 11. It was here that Nicholas’s younger brother turned back as he had become ill. While in India Nicholas visited many of India’s main sites including the Taj Mahal and the Golden Temple. He met with rajas, went hunting, but was largely unsuccessful (whereas two princes that accompanied him bagged a tiger each), and bought numerous artworks, many of which can be found today in Russian museums. It was said that the future Tsar did not enjoy India as the heat was intense and he couldn’t stand the sight of British redcoats, reminders of Russia’s strained relations with Britain. The Indian portion of the journey culminated with a visit to the island of Ceylon, where one of the highlights was a show featuring 30 to 40 elephants and “devil dancers”.
Tsesarevich Nicholas (standing lower right) hunting in India
From there, the journey continued on to Singapore, where according to local accounts Nicholas’s visit created quite a stir. Then it was on to today’s Indonesia and Thailand, where Nicholas spent a week as a guest of King Rama V. Afterwards he made a port of call in China.
It was in Japan that perhaps the most notable event of the journey took place. Nicholas greatly enjoyed his first days on the island, buying handicrafts and even getting a large tattoo of a dragon on his right arm.
He was warmly received, as the Japanese were interested in bettering relations with Russia. However, on April 29, in Otsu, he was attacked by Tsuda Sanzo, a policeman assigned to protect him. Sanzo took a stab at Nicholas’s face, leaving him with a 9 cm scar on the right side of his forehead. The second thrust was blocked by his cousin’s cane. His life was never in danger.
Prince George of Greece and Tsesarevich Nicholas in Japan
Theories vary although xenophobia is largely considered Sanzo’s motivation. The Emperor rushed to meet the future Tsar. Japan was no match militarily for Russia at the time and feared provoking the government into war. Three Japanese princes accompanied Nicholas as escorts as he left.
The entourage arrived at Vladivostok on May 11 and after commencing with the official ceremony, they left the Memory of Azov behind and traveled overland and by riverboat through all of Russia. They first went north stopping at Khabarovsk and then on to Blagoveshchensk, where an enormous arc dedicated to the visit still remains (commemoration arcs still stand in many of these cities). Next on the itinerary were the Eastern Siberian cities of Nerchinsk, Chita and Irkutsk.
Tsesarevich Nicholas visiting the Trans-Baikal region of the Russian Empire on his return home to St. Petersburg
He next arrived in Tomsk. This visit is clouded in secrecy, as even Ukhtomsky, the chronicler, is uncharacteristically silent on what Nicholas did in the evening. Rumor has it that he secretly visited the cell of Theodore the Elder, a mystic that mysteriously arrived in Tomsk in 1837. Some believe that Tsar Aleksandr I faked his own death in 1825 to escape his fate, before reappearing years later as Theodore.
From Tomsk, the journey continued to Surgut, Tobolsk, Tara, Omsk and Orenburg, before returning to St. Petersburg by train.
In many ways this trip was more important for what it brought the Russian interior. For example, the future Tsar spent one night in Tomsk and yet it received funds for Tomsk Polytechnic University and the opening of a spiritual academy in the coming years. A monastic workshop there received orders from the Imperial Court for the next 20 years. It seemed that whatever the Tsar touched was gold, at least on this trip.
A Russian Moment No 39 - New Jerusalem Monastery near Moscow Topic: A Russian Moment
Restoration work on the New Jerusalem Monastery near Moscow is scheduled to be completed by 2016
The New Jerusalem Monastery is located on the banks of the Istra River, 64 km to the northwest of Moscow. It was founded in 1656 by Patriarch Nikon whose vision was to recreate the holy sites of Palestine near Moscow. The monastery was built by Belorussian masters. New Jerusalem’s first architect was Peter Zaborsky. Thirty-one masters took part in the construction.
At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, the monastery became one of the places for Russian pilgrimages. In 1903, Emperor Nicholas II visited the monastery, where Patriarch Nikon is buried. Once the Moscow-Vindava railroad line was constructed, the number of visitors grew. By 1913, approximately 35,000 people visited the monastery every year.
After the October Revolution of 1918, the monastery was closed. In 1921, museums opened up on its premises.
In 1994, New Jerusalem Monastery ceased to function as a museum and returned to its status as a monastery. In 2002, the World Monuments Fund put the New Jerusalem Monastery on the World Monuments Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites.
In 2008, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and then Patriarch Alexy II visited the monastery and later that year organized a Charity Fund for the Reconstruction of the New Jerusalem Monastery, with Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov appointed its head.
The following year, in March 2009, President Medvedev signed a presidential decree for the restoration and renovation of the New Jerusalem Monastery. The federal government was instructed to subsidize the monastery restoration fund from the federal budget starting in 2009, estimating it will cost about 13–20 billion Russian roubles.
In an attempt to raise funds for the monastery restoration, a museum was opened. The storage funds of the museum are overflowing with more than 170,000 historical artifacts, with only one per cent on display at any given time. In 2010, the New Jerusalem Museum welcomed 300,000 visitors. By the summer of 2011, more than 350,000 tickets had been sold. The cost of visiting the museum is approximately $2. If you’d like to take photos, that’ll cost another $5.
Restoration work on the New Jerusalem Monastery is scheduled to be completed by 2016.