A panorama view of the Katalnaya Gorka pavilion and sliding hill at Oranienbaum
The estate of Oranienbaum consists of a series of beautiful palaces and pleasure pavilions. Visitors to St. Petersburg today often overlook this magnificent palace complex opting instead for its more grand and opulent neighbour at Peterhof.
One particular folly which has captured the imaginations of historians and visitors is the switchback or roller coaster of Emperor Catherine II at Katalnaya Gorka (Sliding Hill).
Created soley for the purpose as a setting for a day's amusement, the pleasure pavilion and adjoining sliding hill was a highly sophisticated version of the most popular of Russian sports, the 'Russian mountains', as they were called throughout Europe, with the name of 'ice hills' for the winter version.
The beautiful pavilion built by Rinaldi which resembles a wedding cake has survived
Archdeacon Coxe, writing in 1784, brings us right to Katalnaya Gorka:
"In the gardens of Oranienbaum is a very extraordinary building, denominated the Mountain for Sledges . . . It stands in the middle of an olbong area, enclosed by an open colonnade with a flat roof, which is railed for the convenience of holding spectators. The circumference of this colonnade is at least half a mile. In the middle of the area stands the flying mountain, stretching nearly from one end to the other. It is a wooden building, supported upon high brick walls, representing . . . a mountain composed of three principal ascents, gradually diminishing its height, with an intermediate space to resemble vallies: from top to bottom is a floored way, in which three parallel grooves are formed. It is thus used: a small carriage containing one person, being placed in the center groove upon the highest point, goes with great rapidity down one hill; the velocity which it acquires in its descent carries it up a second; and it continues to move in a similar manner until it arrives at the bottom of the area, where it rolls for a considerable way . . . It is then placed in one of the side grooves, and drawn up by means of a cord fixed to a windass . . . At the top of the mountain are several handsome apartments for the accommodation of the court and principal nobility; and there is also room for many thousand spectators within the colonnade and upon its roof."
So, summer and winter, the court of the Empress Catherine II would amuse themselves for a few hours, return to the pavilion, take their refreshment and rest in its lovely rooms, and watch their friends from the terraces and balconies. But when the court no longer went to Oranienbaum, the 'flying mountain' fell into disrepair, was pronounced dangerous, and dismantled in the mid-19th century. The meadows that once housed the toboggan runs were cleared and planted with fir trees.
The only reminder of the sliding hill or switchback is this scale model, now housed in the Katalnaya Gorka Pavilion
Today, visitors to Oranienbaum can still see the field where the empress's immense folly II once stood. The pavilion at the end of the meadow has survived and undergone a splendid restoration. Inside, a scale model of the sliding hill is the only reminder of Catherine the Great's roller coaster.
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 07 October, 2012
Video: highlights of the exhibition, plus magnificent footage of the interiors of the Chinese Palace and the ongoing restorations.
Oranienbaum is hosting a new exhibition marking the events surrounding the ascension of Catherine the Great to the Russian throne in 1762.
It was at Oranienbaum that her husband, the Emperor Peter III reported a palace coup in which he was overthrown by his ambitious wife who went on to rule Russia until her death in 1796.
The exhibition is housed in the former kitchen building of the nearby Chinese Palace at Oranienbaum. The focus of the exhibit begins with Catherine's tumultuous relationship with her husband, and the events that unfolded which eventually opened the path to the Russian throne for her.
The exhibit also reflects on the August couple's love and interest in all things Chinese, perhaps one of the few things they actually shared. Peter sent envoys across Europe and to China in search of priceless 17th-century Chinese porcelain to add to his growing collection. The couple's passion for Chinese art eventually led to the construction of the Chinese Palace in 1757.
It was not until 1768 that the palace was completed, but was to become a favourite of the widowed Empress.
The Chinese Palace is unique among the Imperial palaces as it remained unscathed by Revolution and war. An extensive restoration of the palace began some seven years ago and continues to this day. Last year, four of its seventeen rooms were reopened to the public. Work on the remaining thirteen rooms will continue, making it one of the most ambitious restoration projects in Russian history.
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 7 August, 2012
Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna
The Grand Palace at Oranienbaum opened four newly restored rooms to the public today. This brings the total number of rooms open to visitors to fourteen.
Elena Kalnitskaya, CEO of the Peterhof Palace Museum Complex greeted visitors this morning with a brief welcome speech.
"Restoration at Oranienbaum can not be stopped, and I have no doubt that it will continue at a rapid pace," she said.
Video: shows the opening day ceremonies, and the newly restored interiors
Five years ago the palace was in a terrible state of disrepair. The experts sounded the alarms and it was at this time that the palace administration decided to bring the palace back to life.
Reparing cracks in the walls, installing a new heating system, and re-planting the Lower Park were just a few of the problems that had to be addressed. The palace opened its doors last year to coincide with the 300th anniversary of Oranienbaum. Ten rooms had been restored and decorated with many original items from the Oranienbaum storage and archive facilities.
The four newly restored rooms focus on the private life of the Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna (wife of Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich), nicknamed "the Freedom Princess" due to her support of the abolition of serfdom in Russia.
She lived at the Grand Palace for more than ten years. It was here that the former Princess of Wurttemberg, discussed such topics as Peasant Reform, her exhaustive charitable work, and the arts. Her palace was "cozy" and reflected the trends of the time. Visitors to the palace can now see her bedroom, decorated in pink, her favourite colour.
There are now plans for the restoration of the rooms of Princess Elizabeth Vorontsova, the mistress of Emperor Peter III.
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 4 August, 2012
Four newly restored rooms of the Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich (1798-1849) and his wife, the Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna (1807-1873) are scheduled to open this week in the Grand Menshikov Palace at Oranienbaum. This follows an extensive restoration of ten rooms in the central part of the palace which were opened to the public in 2011.
The unique historical interiors of the grand ducal couple will offer visitors examples of the rich aristocratic lifestyle enjoyed by members of the Russian Imperial family in the early to mid-18th century.
The palace has a rich history. Peter the Great presented the land to Prince Alexander Menshikov around 1710. Three years later, Menshikov began construction of his palace. After his arrest and exile in 1727 the Oranienbaum estate was passed to the State, and became a naval hospital. In 1743, the estate was presented by the Empress Elizabeth to her nephew, the future Emperor Peter III. Peter commissioned the architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli to renovate the palace, who left the exteriors untouched, but created sumptuous interiors. Numerous other architects made further alterations and the palace continued to change owners within the Romanov family.
Video: shows the final preparations for the opening of the four new rooms of the Grand Palace
Between 1857-1873, the Grand Duchess Elena (nee Princess Charlotte of Wurttemberg) commissioned her architects, L. Bosse and H. Preuss Bonshtedt to redesign many of the interiors to reflect her own personal tastes.
The four newly restored rooms are decorated with items from the vast Oranienbaum storage collection (some 7,000 items!), including furniture, mirrors, portraits and other personal items of the grand duchess .
It has been many years since I was at Oranienbaum. I recall the Grand Menshikov Palace which was very impressive, though its interiors were in a perilous state, some parts on the verge of collapse. In the past decade, major restoration work has been carried out on the palace's facade and interiors which has saved this beautiful palace. I look forward to seeing the palace and its newly restored historical interiors on my next visit to St. Petersburg.
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 01 August, 2012
The palace and park ensemble at Oranienbaum celebrates its 300th anniversary this month.
The Menshikov Palace opens its doors to visitors who for the first time can view the newly restored State Rooms.
The Chinese Palace of Catherine the Great will also welcome visitors after restorations which include the Glass Bead Salon.
© Royal Russia. 10 September, 2011
This year marks 300th anniversary of Oranienbaum and preparations are already underway for the main celebrations to be held in September.
Restoration in the Chinese Palace includes the Glass Bead Salon, the walls of which consist of 12 panels dating from 1762-64, depicting fanciful scenes of birds, flowers and exotic landscapes. These scenes, surrounded by pink scrolls, leaves and other Rococo motifs, have been intricately embroidered and are set against a backdrop of shimmering white glass beads.
Their creators were Russian masters, headed by Frenchwoman Marie de Chelles. Over the centuries, some of the panels had deteriorated and demanded a number of repairs and restoration.
The responsibility for implementing the necessary restoration work fell to the Department of Scientific Restoration and Conservation of the State Hermitage. The laboratory staff coped with the task, and in December of last year restored the panels, which were later put on display at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. The panels have recently been returned to Oranienbaum.
In addition to the restored Glass Beaded Salon, the anniversary of Oranienbaum will open the Hall of the Muses, and the Big Blue room antechambers of the Chinese Palace. Visitors will also have the opportunity to visit 10 rooms of the central building of the Grand Menshikov Palace.
Oranienbaum is currently under the administration of the Peterhof State Museum.
© Royal Russia. Updated 19 August, 2011. Originally posted on 3 August, 2011
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