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Wednesday, 1 March 2017
The Birch House at Gatchina
Topic: Gatchina

The Birch House and Mask Portal are located in Gatchina Park
This article was researched from Russian media sources and written by Paul Gilbert, Founder of Royal Russia © 2017

Situated in the park at Gatchina, the Birch House was built as a surprise present from the Empress Maria Feodorovna (1759-1828) to her husband the Emperor Paul I (1754-1801).

Designed by the Swiss court architect Francois Viollier, the Birch House was erected in the mid-1780s, and from the outside it resembled a pile of birch logs that were stored for a long winter.

The Birch House differs from the other “country-style” structures in the originality of its architectural conception: “this bagatelle should be executed in wood, faced with logs sawn lengthways, giving it the outward appearance of a pile of firewood, gathered to supply winter fuel. No doors, windows or roof should be noticeable; the illusion of a woodpile should be complete…”

From a distance the Birch House does indeed look like a pile of birch logs. It is no accident that the house has another name - “the Bonfire”. At the end of the 18th century a broad field stretched out before it, where golden rye grew, dotted with blue cornflowers.

The Birch House was conceived as a joke, an 18th century pastoral caprice, as its plain-looking facades disguised the magnificent and sumptuous interior. Wall painting, gilded plaster work, beautiful hardwood floors made from timber from around the world, and an abundance of mirrors gave this interior a particularly spectacular appearance. The contrast between the simple outer covering of the house and its exquisite interior never failed to astonish guest who encountered the "surprise-house" as they walked about the park.

The refined interiors of the Birch House. Photos © Gatchina State Museum Preserve 

In 1795-1797, a monumental gateway that screened the Birch House, was constructed. This portal of stone, that came to be known as the Mask Portal was erected under the supervision of Vincenzo Brenna in front of the Birch House, in order to hide its unremarkable appearance.

It was constructed of Pudost limestone. The monumental character of the Portal reminds one of a triumphal arch of Ionic order. The appearance of sixteen columns against the background of century-old trees is quite dramatic. The Portal is about 9 meters high and some 13 meters wide. In the late 1790s, a stone gateway was erected at the eastern end of the Palace Park. It was called the Birch Gate, named after the Birch House located nearby.

During the Great Patriotic War the Birch House was completely destroyed. After the war a dance floor was constructed on its site. On the field in front of it the people of Gatchina practised sports, and nearby was a playground for the children of the town.

The rebirth of the Birch House began in 1976. The house was recreated according to old documents under the guidance of the architect A. A. Kedrinsky, who received the Lenin Prize for his contribution to the restoration of Russia’s historical and cultural heritage. 

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 1 March, 2017 


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 8:22 AM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 1 March 2017 8:39 AM EST
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Monday, 9 March 2015
Gatchina Exhibition Features Photo Album of S. I. Kudryavtsev
Topic: Gatchina

The exhibition Gatchina: Holy Scribe of Two Emperors opened on March 6, 2015 in the Gatchina Palace-Museum. The opening of the exhibition marks the 170th anniversary of the birth of Emperor Alexander III.

The main exhibit is a rare photo album with views of Gatchina and Palace Park, made at the photo studio of Sergei Ivanovich Kudryavtsev. Thanks to him, we can see how the imperial residence looked in the 1870s - 1880s.  Kudryavtsev was a watercolorist and art teacher at the Imperial Gatchina Nicholas Orphan Institute, but his descendants know him as the first holy scribe of Gatchina. Many people may be familiar with Gatchina through his photographs, though they may not always be aware of the identity of the photographer.

Landscape photography at that time was quite complicated, so this type of photograph is rare. Kudryavtsev’s photographs are note worthy for their beautiful views of Gatchina Park. Kudryavtsev also photographed Emperor Alexander III and his family. Gatchina became the principal imperial residence from March 1881, where Alexander III and his family occupied rooms located on the mezzanine floor of the Arsenal Wing of the palace. 

The exhibition also features photographs of Gatchina by other photographers of the day at Kudryavtsev’s studio, complimented from the collections of private collectors in St. Petersburg and Gatchina.

The exhibition Gatchina: Holy Scribe of Two Emperors runs until June 7, 2015 at Gatchina Palace-Museum. 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 09 March, 2015


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 11:13 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 9 March 2015 11:19 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 21 October 2014
Gatchina Palace to Open Four New Halls in 2016
Topic: Gatchina

Gatchina Palace
In 2015, the Gatchina State Museum-Preserve will celebrate 30 years since the opening of the museum, and a year later in 2016 - it will mark the 250th anniversary of the Gatchina Palace. 

Gatchina occupies a special place in the necklace of palaces which surround the northern capital of St. Petersburg. The central building (palace) is often referred to as a castle, and differs greatly in appearance from the grand palaces at Peterhof, Tsarskoye Selo, and Oranienbaum. During the Second World War, Gatchina was very lucky: the palace suffered much less than the other palace complexes around Leningrad. But, oddly enough, that same luck turned into misfortune for the historic Romanov residence. The restoration of Gatchina did not commence until 1976, and it took almost a decade before the first exhibition opened, which consisted of just a few rooms.

According to experts, only 25-30 per cent of the palace has been restored and open to visitors. Funding for the restoration projects was carried out very poorly over the decades. The museum staff tired of answering questions about why restoration was so slow, and thus invented a very special tour. The "No access is allowed" tour allows visitors a first hand look at the halls and rooms of the palace which currently under restoration. This unique tour provides visitors with a unique opportunity to see for themselves the tremendous amount of work which remains to be done.

Today, the completion of each restoration project becomes a great holiday for the museum and their staff. The main event marking the anniversary season in 2016 will be the opening of four halls, that will include the Greek and Chesma Gallery’s.

The museum plans to fill the restored galleries with authentic objects. In addition, the restoration of the marble staircase, which connects the main building of the palace with the Arsenal Block will be completed. Its opening will allow visitors to access the suite of private rooms of the family of Emperor Alexander III located on the mezzanine floor of the Arsenal Block.

THE CHESME GALLERY ranks among V. Brenna's finest creations, its interior glorifying the victory of the Russian Navy off Chesme in 1770. The reserved rhythm of the pilasters adorned with moulded medallions of Roman warriors and fasces, the decorative trophies of arms, the oak leaf garlands, the huge canvases by P. Hackert representing scenes of the naval battle, the standards in stucco-work, and the figure of a victorious eagle above the overmantel mirror - all joined to lend the hall an air of solemn dignity. At the side end of the gallery was the balustered choir section for the orchestra. The gallery overlooks the broad span of the White Lake. The mirrors set between the windows reflected the festive decor of the opposite wall and created an impression of great spaciousness. The semicircular layout of the interior served to enhance its decorative effect. Source: Gatchina State Museum-Preserve 

THE GREEK GALLERY looked lit with the radiant sun due to the light-orange hues of the walls and the orange-coloured curtains of the semicircular windows. As a kind of reminder of sunny Hellas, golden air hovered in the apartment which intrinsically combined the furnishings and decor details associated with the art of ancient Greece. The walls were adorned with reliefs of dancing bacchantes and medallions showing profiles of antique heroes, moulded bracket carried marble busts of Roman emperors and philosophers and marble statues of antique gods and goddesses were standing opposite the windows. Four large canvases by Hubert Robert depicted architectural sights of ancient Rome. The Greek Gallery completed by Vincenzo Brenna in the 1790s terminated the ceremonial palatial apartments retaining the 18th-century decorations. Source: Gatchina State Museum-Preserve 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 21 October, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 4:01 PM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 22 October 2014 3:13 AM EDT
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Monday, 21 July 2014
Gatchina: From the Imperial Age to Today
Topic: Gatchina

Gatchina Palace served as a favorite residence of Emperors Paul I and Alexander III
Copyright Notice: The following article was originally published in the July 20th, 2014 edition of Russia Beyond the Headlines. The author Veronika Prokhorova, owns the copyright presented below.

Gatchina is one of the most beautiful and enigmatic suburbs of St. Petersburg. It was the favorite residence of Emperors Paul I and Alexander III. Gatchina is also considered the birthplace of the Russian military air force, and it is here that the Maltese Order met

Gatchina’s history dates back to the start of the eighteenth century, when Tsar Peter I decreed the construction of an estate that he gifted to his favorite sister, Natalia Alekseevna. After the death of the Tsar, the estate was repeatedly passed from one owner to another until it was acquired by Empress Catherine II -- she complained about the estate to her favorite count Grigory Orlov, who then commenced active construction at Gatchina. After the death of Count Orlov, Gatchina became the residence of Paul I, who lived there for 18 years and granted Gatchina city status and its own coat of arms. Later the city came under the ownership of Maria Feodorovna, then Nicholas I, Alexander I, Alexander II and Nicholas II.

Gatchina is known for its palace and park. The royal palace is like a secluded castle, rising over the peaceful waters. One of the oldest buildings of the park, established under the first owner of Gatchina, Grigory Orlov, is the Eagle Pavilion, allegedly sponsored by V. Brenna. The pavilion is a circular temple -- the rotunda is 9.5 meters tall. It features a semicircular colonnade of ten Tuscan columns with a semi-dome roof decorated with coffers and seashells. Its stairs consist of three steps leading to a stylobate made of pure ashlar stone. The colonnade is crowned with an eagle, carved out of white marble, holding a shield with Paul I’s monogram.

One of the most romantic spots in the Palace Park is the Humped Bridge, which spans the Long Island across the channel that links the Silver and White lakes. The Humped Bridge consists of three main parts -- two strong abutments and a steep arch span.

The main building of the ensemble is the Palace of Paul (or Gatchina Palace). It was originally built by the architect Rinaldi for Catherine’s favorite, Count Orlov. Rinaldi designed a magnificent castle on the hill in front of Silver Lake. The three-story main building is decorated at the sides with high pentahedral towers, while two galleries withdraw to auxiliary wings their own closed courtyards -- the Arsenal and Kitchen wings. A collection of Italian paintings, assembled by the estate’s owners, is located on the top floor of the palace. Later Gatchina was passed on to Paul I, who invited the architect Vincenzo Brenna to reconstruct the palace.

The Menagerie occupies a large territory in the northern region of the Park and was intended for the court’s hunting. Part of the Menagerie is called Miracle Glade. It is now a specially protected nature territory, where rare plants grow.

The main road of Gatchina is 25th of October Prospect, which begins immediately upon entrance of Gatchina, behind a circular square, which is followed by district buildings. A planned development district, Hohlovo Fields, stretched from this area to the Orlov groves. Until the October Revolution, ladies-in-waiting and other palace folk lived in this area. After World War II a sanatorium kindergarten was located here. There is also a cemetery of German soldiers and not far from the kindergarten were concentration camps, in which many Soviet prisoners of war were killed during the war. At the turn of the fifties and sixties construction began on a residential town for employees of the Leningrad Institute of Nuclear Physics. Later the streets of Hoholovo were taken over, the fragile houses with sheds were removed and brick houses were built in their place.

The Priory Palace, situated in the park at Gatchina was built during the reign of Emperor Paul I
Next go to Sobornaya Street, and if you walk towards the center, the majestic Cathedral of St. Paul, with its sky blue domes, will rise in front of you. A few years before World War II the congregation was dissolved and the church building was reconstructed under the Culture House with a cinema. During the war, church services were reinstated and were used to hide wounded officers of the Soviet army from the Germans.

The Gatchina “Arbat” begins behind the church. Previously a market was located in this area, but now there are stores, cafes, and restaurants, as well as a small shopping center nearby. A “Cloth Factory” building is also located in front of the former market square. It has had that name since Paul I situated skilled seamstresses, who made Prussian-model uniforms out of red and green cloth for his soldiers.

An old, stone, two-story building in an eclectic style is located on Krasnaya Street. Long corridors and identical doors can be found inside the building. Before and during the war, this was a prison. It is said that in Gatchina there were many prisons with solitary confinement, in which it was only possible to sit on one’s haunches, which was thus called “glass.” Old residents say that the Germans were equipped with this “convenience.”

The grand, dark-red brick St. Basil’s Cathedral can be found to the right of the market. The cathedral was consecrated in 1914, and soon after World War I began. The cathedral was left at such and not plastered. During Soviet times the cathedral housed a warehouse and only resumed service at the end of the eighties.

The Warsaw Station is also notable in Gatchina. In 2013 the 160th anniversary of the arrival of the first railroad in Gatchina was celebrated. The modern Warsaw Station is a post-war building built in the strict and sparse style in pale-yellow. Before the war, the building was adorned with colored bricks and consisted of a long hall with arched windows and doors; the covered platform adjoined the building via stalls.

Another attraction of Gatchina, built at the very end of the eighteenth century under the orders of Paul I, is the Priory Palace and its landscaped park, built on a swamp on the shore of the Black Lake. The palace is surprising because, with the exception of its tall tower and socle, it is made of pure sifted earth, moistened with solution, and closely packed into form. This unique technique was used by the architect N.A. Lvov.

The palace was intended to serve for only 20 years, but it has stood for three centuries, a feat that could well be listed in the Guinness Book of Records. It owes its name to the Maltese Order, of which Paul I was a patron. The palace was constructed as a residence for the Prior -- one of the chief dignitaries of the Order, a French émigré, Prince de Conde. Conde never came to Gatchina, and the castle was instead used by the Russian Maltese Order for meetings.

Many streets in Gatchina are named for Russian and Soviet pilots, which is not surprising, since Gatchina is renowned for housing the first Russian aviation school. In 1909, a region near Gatchina was designated for testing airplanes, and the first military airfield was established there. In autumn of the following year, training began in the Officer Aeronautical School, which at the start of World War I was reorganized as the Gatchina Higher Aviation School. Graduates of the school included the famous pilot Pyotr Nesterov, author of the “death loop” and the first air ram in battle, which resulted in his death. The first Russian female pilot, L.V Zvereva, also graduated from the Gatchina Higher Aviation School. In 2002, Gatchina opened the only museum of aviation engine history in Russia. 
© Veronika Prokhorova / Russia Beyond the Headlines. 21 July, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 4:26 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 21 July 2014 4:35 AM EDT
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Sunday, 29 June 2014
Stolen Romanov Photos Return to Russia
Topic: Gatchina

Yuri Gloukhov – Consul Géneral of the Russian Federation in Geneva hands over 33 photographs
of the Russian Imperial family to representatives of the Gatchina State Museum
On June 24th a collection of 33 photographs which originated from the family archive of the Romanov family were handed over to representatives of the Gatchina State Museum at the Consulate General of Russia in Geneva. The photographs had been stolen by a German soldier during the Nazi retreat from the Soviet Union in 1944.

Thus ended the long history of the return of unique photographs taken by members of the imperial family in the late 19th - early 20th centuries. "For us this is a very important moment that has symbolic significance in that these Romanov photos return home to their beloved Gatchina" - said Svetlana Astahovskaya, scientific secretary of the Gatchina State Museum.

For a long time these materials were considered irretrievably lost, but in December 2013 they were suddenly put on the block at the Geneva auction house of Hôtel des Ventes. 

Among the 246 lots from various private collections in the catalogue prepared by the Hôtel des Ventes, was a collection of photographs, which attracted the attention of Russian diplomats. Soon it became clear that the photographs were those which have been taken from the USSR by the German army soldier, Otto Hofmann. During World War II he was drafted into military service and by chance found himself in Gatchina. It is interesting to note that Hoffman was an artist and had earned recognition even before the war. 

Exactly how he came to find the photographs is not known, but it is obvious that he actually saved them from destruction. Upon his return to Germany in 1947 Hofmann kept the photographs in his personal collection. After his death, his widow Marian Hofmann decided to put the photographs up for sale.

Thanks to the timely energetic intervention of the Russian Embassy in Switzerland and the Consulate General of Russia in Geneva a Swiss Court ordered that the photographs be withdrawn from the auction on 9 December 2013. According to the Russians the photographs fell under the category of cultural objects unlawfully removed from the USSR during the Second World War.

The photographs caught the eye of Russian diplomats last year after they were put on the block by the Geneva auction house Hôtel des Ventes 
After five months of painstaking work with the support of Geneva lawyer, Dmitri Yafaev, the Russian Consulate General was able to negotiate with the widow Hofmann on how to complete the judicial settlement proceedings. In accordance with the agreement, Marian Hofmann donated the photographs to the Gatchina State Museum, where they had been taken more than a century ago.

"We are grateful to Madame Hofmann for this gesture of goodwill. The photos will be returned to their rightful place, where they should be, "- said Yuri Gloukhov – Consul Géneral of the Russian Federation. The director of the auction house Hôtel des Ventes, Bernard Piguet also took an active part in the negotiation process.

Today we can say with confidence that these materials represent a valuable source of information for historians and restorers at Gatchina. "Here we see, for example, a terrace, a marina, which today is now in very poor condition. Soon we will begin restoration work on them, and these photographs are invaluable in addressing the more precise details of the restorations" - explains Svetlana Astahovskaya.

As for the photos, there is still a number of studies to be done, including the identification of the persons in the photographs, many of whom are members of the Russian Imperial family and other members of the Court. Further, who was the photographer of these images? "We have no answer to this question at this point. Many members of the Imperial family were interested in photography as a hobby: the palace contained countless cameras. I must say that this family shared a keen interest for this technical innovation of the time, so the photographer of the images is clearly a member of the Imperial family" - says Svetlana Astahovskaya. 

Of course, these photos will be made available to the general public at a future exhibition. But at the moment it is too early to call a specific timeframe and format of the exhibition possible. 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 29 June, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 10:24 PM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 2 July 2014 2:57 PM EDT
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Thursday, 13 March 2014
Rare Books from the Library of Emperor Paul I on Display at Gatchina
Topic: Gatchina

Bibliophiles will delight in a new exhibit that opened at Gatchina Palace today. A rare collection of more than 200 books from the library of Emperor Paul I, now stored at the Gatchina State Museum, include the emperor’s personal Bible, published in 1778.

This particular Bible is the seventh of only ten copies printed of an extremely rate 18th century Elizabethan Bible in Church Slavonic. The scriptures of the Old and New Testament are printed on octavo sized pages (from 5 by 8 inches, composed of printer's sheets folded into eight leaves), the cover is dressed in a dark red velvet, and interwoven with gold crosses. The book includes nine tasselled bookmarks, an engraved title page with images from the Old and New Testament and views of the Kremlin and Peter and Paul Fortress, a double-headed eagle above each. At the bottom of the inside page are the signatures: Semen Vtorov 1759 and Vasily Ikonnikov 1763.

The Bible was kept in the Tower Study, one of the private rooms of Emperor Paul, located on the first floor of Gatchina Palace. The Study included a small library, and included books that the emperor used on a regular basis. The 200-volume collection now on display is diverse in subjects: world history, the history of France, Prussia, and Russia, books on geography, military and maritime affairs, Masonic literature, calendars, reference books, medicine, geography, biology, art, and the history of the Maltese Order. On the covers of some books is the Emperor’s monogram of two interlaced letters "P" or a letter "P". During the Great Patriotic War, many of the books were evacuated, thus saving these rarities from certain plunder or destruction.

Emperor Paul I was a very religious man, which was one of the reasons why his personal Bible and other books on religion were put on display at this particular exhibit. Even as a child he systematically studied the Scriptures. Metropolitan of Moscow Father Plato (Levshin) noted that Paul was considered one of the most educated men of his time. N.A. Sablukov, who served at the Russian Imperial court recalled that, while living at Gatchina Palace, he observed that, "Paul used to kneel, immersed in prayer and often in tears. The parquet floor rubbed in the places where he kneeled. "

The exhibition books from Emperor Paul's personal library are now on display in the Tower Study at Gatchina Palace until June 8th, 2014. 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 14 March, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:59 AM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 13 March 2014 8:19 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 17 December 2013
Gatchina Palace in Watercolours
Topic: Gatchina

A new exhibition at the Museum of AS Pushkin in Moscow offers a unique opportunity to see the unique treasures from the Gatchina State Museum-Reserve. Beautiful watercolours of the interiors of Gatchina Palace by Eduard Hau (1807-1888) and Luigi Premazzi (1814-1891), include nearly 60 watercolours. This priceless collection from Gatchina Palace allow us to see historic interiors of the palace when it was an Imperial residence. The watercolours are on exhibit in Moscow for the very first time.

The exhibition is dominated by the watercolours of Eduard Hau, depicting the historical interiors of Gatchina Palace from the second half of the 19th century. Between 1874 - 1880, Hau painted 56 watercolours of the interiors of the Gatchina Palace. Today, they are part of a unique collection which include watercolours of the private apartments of Emperors Nicholas I and Alexander II, painted in 1862. In the 1870s, two watercolours of the Gatchina Palace interiors were painted another famous artist - Luigi Premazzi. The watercolours by Premazzi draw attention to detail of the rooms, including the architecture, furniture, and decorative items. All of these watercolours played a crucial role in the restoration projects of Gatchina Palace, which was badly damaged during World War II.

The exhibition runs at the the Museum of AS Pushkin located at Ul. Prechistenka, 12/2 in Moscow, from December 16, 2013 to March 31, 2014.
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 17 December, 2013


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 3:15 PM EST
Updated: Tuesday, 17 December 2013 4:01 PM EST
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Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Imperial Interiors at Gatchina
Topic: Gatchina


The dressing rooms of the Romanov dynasty and the chambers of their maids of honor became part of the permanent exhibition at Gatchina Palace last week.

The rooms have become part of an exhibition called “The Family Members of the Emperor Alexander III in Gatchina,” which forms part of the museum collection of the former royal estate at Gatchina.

Wardrobes, trunks and other everyday belongings can be seen in the imperial dressing rooms, as well as a unique object called a wardrobe-suitcase, in which one part serves as a wardrobe with coat hangers, while the other is meant for smaller items. Such suitcases were convenient for long journeys, and reflect the new approach to the packing and transport of luggage following the appearance of trains, cruise ships and automobiles.

The interiors of the rooms designated for maids of honor were designed in a simple, formal manner that emphasized the service function of the chambers. There were no decorative elements, only essential belongings, and the furniture was often old.

© St. Petersburg Times. 28 November, 2012


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 11:45 PM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 28 November 2012 8:19 AM EST
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Wednesday, 4 April 2012
Restoration of the Greek Gallery at Gatchina
Topic: Gatchina


The restoration of the Greek Gallery at Gatchina is now underway. Modern-day masters will recreate the elegant 18th-century gallery based on drawings, photographs and watercolours which have survived.

In its heyday before the Revolution, the Greek Gallery was illuminated thanks to the light-orange hues of the walls and the orange-coloured curtains of the semicircular windows. This was intensified by the rays of sunshine coming in through the large windows that ran the entire length of the gallery.

The gallery included the furnishings and decor details associated with the art of ancient Greece. The walls were adorned with reliefs of dancing bacchantes and medallions showing profiles of ancient heroes, moulded bracket carried marble busts of Roman emperors and philosophers and marble statues of antique gods and goddesses stood opposite the windows.

Four large canvases by Hubert Robert depicted architectural sights of ancient Rome. The Greek Gallery completed by Vincenzo Brenna in the 1790s terminated the ceremonial palatial apartments retaining the 18th-century decorations.

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 04 April, 2012

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 8:40 AM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 5 April 2012 11:49 AM EDT
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Monday, 25 July 2011
Gatchina Allocated 140 Million Rubles for Restorations
Topic: Gatchina

The Gatchina State Museum-Preserve has been allocated 140 million rubles (double the amount allocated for 2011)  from the St. Petersburg District Budget for 2012.

According to Vasily Pankratov, General Director of the Gatchina State Museum, "the increased funding will allow us to begin work on waterproofing and restoration of the internal facade of the palace, which is in dire need of repair."

© Royal Russia. 25 July, 2011


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 8:41 PM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 26 July 2011 5:44 AM EDT
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