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Saturday, 16 May 2015
A Russian Moment No. 67 - Stock Exchange Building, St. Petersburg
Topic: A Russian Moment

The 19th century Stock Exchange Building in St. Petersburg will house the new the Russian Imperial Guard and Heraldry Museum
In the early 19th century one of the most elegant architectural ensembles of St Petersburg emerged on the eastern edge (Strelka ) of Vasilievsky Island in St. Petersburg. The imposing white colonnaded building of the Stock Exchange became its focal point, and was flanked by two Rostral Columns. The Stock Exchange, designed by the French architect Thomas de Tomon and built between 1805 and 1810, was inspired by the best examples of Ancient Greek and Roman architecture.

The building was completed in 1810, although the official opening of the Exchange was not until 1816. De Thomon's facades feature 44 Doric columns on a high red granite stylobate, and above the main portico is a statue of "Neptune with two rivers - the Neva and the Volkhov". De Thomon went on to design the surroundings of the building, including the Rostral Columns (gas-fired navigational beacons), the square in front of the Stock Exchange, and the embankment. Thus the building became the focal point of the edge of Vasilevskiy Island - a vital location because it faced the Winter Palace on the opposite side of the Neva River.

When the Bolsheviks seized power, the Stock Exchange Building became a sailor's club, then the Chamber of Commerce of the North-West Region, a labour exchange, the Soviet for the Study of Manufacturing Capability in the USSR and several other institutions before being transferred to the Central Naval Museum in 1939. The museum closed in 2011, reopening in 2013 in the renovated Kryukov Barracks situated on the Moika Canal.

In December 2013, St. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko announced that building would be transferred to the State Hermitage Museum. The city handed the keys to the historic Old Stock Exchange Building were turned over to Mikhail Piotrovsky, Director of the Hermitage on April 18, 2014. The event coincided with the 250th anniversary of the State Hemitage Museum.

Earlier this week, the government announced that it is prepared to allocate 1.12 billion rubles from the Federal budget for the repair and restoration of the building. The State Hermitage Museum claim that the building is in a terrible state of disrepair, noting that 1.6 billion rubles are necessary carry out the repairs. The funds are to be allocated from five ministries, including the Ministry of Culture.

Restoration of the building is expected to last until 2017, once complete, it will house the new the Russian Imperial Guard and Heraldry Museum. 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 16 May, 2015


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 10:33 AM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 16 May 2015 10:46 AM EDT
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Sunday, 3 May 2015
A Russian Moment No. 66 - Maltese Chapel, St. Petersburg
Topic: A Russian Moment

The interior of the Maltese Chapel, Vorontsov Palace, St. Petersburg

The Maltese Chapel of St. John the Baptist is a former Catholic chapel built for the Order of Malta Knights by Giacomo Quarenghi in 1800 on the orders of Emperor Paul I. After the opening of the chapel on April 29th, the Emperor became Grand Master of the Order of Malta. The chapel is located in the Vorontsov Palace in St. Petersburg which today houses the Suvorov Military Academy.

Built in 1797-1800 in the Classicist style, the chapel served exiled French aristocrats (Catholic knights of the Maltese Order) who resided in the Russian capital at the turn of the 19th century. The chapel was added to the south wing of the palace, and could accommodate up to 1,000 people. The austere facade is decorated with a Corinthian portico; the interior boasts lavish stucco moulding and decorative paintings. In 1810, it was given to the Page Corps, the Maltese Chapel was used as the house church for Catholic pages and foreign diplomats. In 1853, a side-chapel with a marble sepulchre of Duke Maximilian of Leuchtenberg (sculptor A. I. Terebenev) and stained-glass windows was attached to the Maltese Chapel. In 1909, an organ of the German Walker company was installed. In 1918, the church was closed, the building was altered to accommodate a club. In the 1990s, restoration works were carried out under the supervision of architect S. V. Samusenko.

The Maltese Chapel was restored in 2003 for the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg. Today, the building serves as an assembly hall of the Suvorov Military School. Tours and concerts are held in the chapel on Saturdays throughout the year.

Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 03 May, 2015


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 5:06 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 3 May 2015 5:15 AM EDT
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Sunday, 26 April 2015
A Russian Moment No. 65 - State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Topic: A Russian Moment

State Russian Museum - formerly the Emperor Alexander III Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
120 years ago, on April 3 (25), 1895, Emperor Nicholas II decreed the foundation of the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. Today, the museum has become the city’s greatest repository of Russian fine art, its collection now numbering more than 400,000 works of art.

Moscow was always a merchant's city, Petersburg – an imperial one. This distinction can be seen even in the cities’ museums. While Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery was established in 1856 by merchant Pavel Tretyakov as his private collection, the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg was established by decree in 1895 by Tsar Nicholas II in fulfilment of his father's wishes and was called the Emperor Alexander III Russian Museum.

On April 25, the museum, officially opened in 1898 in the specially purchased Mikhailovsky Palace, marks the 120th anniversary of its foundation. In the 12 decades of its existence, the State Russian Museum has established itself as one of the country’s greatest storehouses of Russian art, with a pedigree to rival that of its more illustrious Petersburg counterpart, the Hermitage, and one of the world’s finest collections of art by members of the various movements that made up the Russian avant-garde of the early 20th century.

To celebrate its 120th birthday, the museum is preparing a special commemorative exhibition titled "Gifts and Acquisitions," which will feature 19th-century works acquired by the museum since 1998. Visitors will be able to admire paintings by Russian masters such as Borovikovsky, Aivazovsky, Repin, Shishkin, Goncharov, Kustodiev, Serebryakov and others.
In February of this year, after a complete restoration which lasted several years, rooms No. 18-29 (from the Parade Staircase to the Garden Vestibule) are once again open to the public. The permanent exhibition created in these rooms include some of the finest works by Russian artists, including Fyodor Vasiliev, Vasily Vereshchagin, Nikolai Ge, Konstantin Makovsky, Vasily Perov, Alexei Savrasov, Henryk Semiradski, Pavel Chistyakov, Konstantin Flavitsky, Ivan Shishkin and other masters of Russian art, as well as examples of sculpture of the second half of the 19th century.
The museum is currently home to two monuments to Emperor Alexander III: a bust of the Emperor by the sculptor R.R. Bach (1898), sits on a pedestal at the top of the main staircase under a large banner marking the founding and opening of the museum; the second is a large portrait statue by the sculptor M.M. Antokolsky (1899). It is situated in a passageway on the lower ground floor between the main museum and the Benois Wing.
© RBTH and Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 26 April, 2015


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 5:26 AM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 30 April 2015 3:27 PM EDT
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Saturday, 18 April 2015
A Russian Moment No. 64 - Smolny Convent and Cathedral, St. Petersburg
Topic: A Russian Moment

A stunning aerial view of the Smolny Convent and Cathedral reflect this gem of St. Petersburg Baroque
This is the third time the Smolny Cathedral has been featured in A Russian Moment. It is without question one of the most beautiful architectural ensembles reflecting the Baroque period of St. Petersburg.

Smolny Cathedral, one of the symbols of the city of the Tsars currently owned by the state, will be returned to the Russian Orthodox Church. This was announced April 14 by Nikolai Burov, director of the museum of the four cathedrals which also includes that of Smolny. "The decision has been made: the Smolny Cathedral will be restored to the diocese," Burov told the Interfax News Agency.

Concerts are regularly hosted in the cathedral. The cathedral choir was already offered another site and an agreement was easily found: the new concert hall should be ready in three years, according to Burov.

Designed by Italian Bartolomeo Rastrelli on the banks of the Neva River, the Smolny is one of the most important churches of St. Petersburg. Designed in 1746 in the reign of Empress Elizaveta Petrovna, the work for its construction was completed only in 1835 in the reign of Emperor Nicholas I, by the architect Vasily Stasov . In 1922, the cathedral was confiscated by the Bolsheviks, like many churches in Russia, it was turned into a warehouse, until its closure in 1931. Since 1990 it has been used as a concert hall and exhibition space, while in 2010 it was again opened to worship.

In 2010 a law was passed for the restitution of religious property nationalized by the state. Since then, many historic Russian Orthodox churches, cathedrals, monasteries and convents from the tsarist period have been returned to the ROC, and painstakingly restored to their original. 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 18 April, 2015


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 7:57 AM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 18 April 2015 8:13 AM EDT
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Sunday, 12 April 2015
A Russian Moment No. 63 - Nicholas II's 17th Costume from the 1903 Ball in the Winter Palace
Topic: A Russian Moment

During my recent visit to Moscow in March, I took the opportunity to revisit the Armoury Museum located within the walls of the Kremlin. It is without question one of Russia’s finest museums, filled with treasures that will certainly appeal to any one with an interest in the Romanov dynasty.

Among the treasures is the 17th-century costume worn by Emperor Nicholas II at the  famous luxurious ball held in the Winter Palace, St. Petersburg on February 11 and 13, 1903. All the visitors wore fancy dress of the 17th century, from the time of Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich (1629-1676), the second tsar from Romanov dynasty. 

Nicholas II’s costume is on display in Room 6 of the museum, which houses a rich collection of secular and ceremonial costume. The tsar’s 1903 costume can be seen in Showcase 45, which also includes the dresses and uniforms worn by the empresses and emperors during their respective coronations. Among them are the uniform worn by Emperor Nicholas II, the dress and mantle worn by Empress Alexandra Feodorovna during their coronation held in May 1896.

His 17th-century costume and shashka (hat) are made from the finest materials and design: “velvet, brocade, silk, satin, leather, sable, gilded thread braid, gold, precious stones, pearls, weaving, braiding, casting, chasing, engravings, carving and enamel.”

During my visit to St. Petersburg in June 2014, I attended the exhibition, At the Russian Imperial Court, held in the State Hermitage Museum. Among the hundreds of costumes dating from the 18th to early 20th centuries were 10 original costumes worn by members of the Russian Imperial family and the aristocracy from the 1903 Costume Ball. These include Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, Prince Dimitry Golitsyn, Princess Zinaida Yusupova, among others. On the reverse side of the display case hang 18 black and white portraits of others in attendance at the historic ball. To date it is one of the finest Romanov themed exhibitions which I have ever had the privilege to view. 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 12 April, 2015


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:29 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 12 April 2015 6:37 AM EDT
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Saturday, 4 April 2015
A Russian Moment No. 62 - Red Square, Moscow
Topic: A Russian Moment

Photo © Amos Chapple
This stunning aerial view of Red Square in Moscow was taken from a series of pictures of Moscow taken with a drone by photographer Amos Chapple. 

Amos notes in The Telegraph: "I had been commissioned by a Russian book company to photograph various landmarks of Moscow. The view of Red Square and St. Basil's Cathedral had been discussed but permission to fly the drone above the Kremlin was ruled out because I was a foreign citizen. 

"The area around the Kremlin is crawling with police and undercover FSB agents who walk around with beanies and tracksuits and introduce themselves as "KGB" if they don't like what you're doing. 

"I desperately wanted to attempt the picture so over the course of two days I scoped out the area and eventually settled on a spot which was tucked just out of sight of the nearby police. 

"I waited for a burst of traffic to block the noise of the drone on the way up, but it was far slower on the way down and I ended up snatching the drone out of the air and running through the alleyways to get away. 

"It was risky, but so much history has walked through that space I just couldn't resist".

The photograph shows some of the most famous buildings in and around Red Square: St. Basil’s Cathedral, GUM Department Store, the Resurrection Gate and Iberian Chapel, the State Historical Museum and Lenin’s Mausoleum. Also visible is the Spasskaya (Saviour) Tower, which can be seen to the left of St. Basil's Cathedral. The tower is currently under restoration. President Vladimir Putin has proposed that once complete that it be open to visitors offering alternative access to the Kremlin.
It is the large yellow and white building in the left hand side of the photograph which I would like to draw to your attention. This is the Kremlin Presidium or "Building 14" which was constructed on the site of the former Chudov Monastery, the Small Nicholas Palace and the Ascension Convent. These beautiful historic buildings, rich in Russian and Orthodox history were demolished in 1929-1930 to make room for the new Kremlin Presidium. 

The enormous structure is a relatively recent addition to the Kremlin ensemble. It was built by the architect Ivan Rerberg in 1934. In the 1930s it housed a Military College; however, it soon moved to a more spacious location and the Secretariat of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet was located there in the 1930s.

In 1958, part of the building was even rebuilt as part of the Kremlin Theater, but the building was not equipped for large events from the very beginning; moreover it was located in the Kremlin’s administrative zone, which made receiving large numbers of spectators more difficult. So in 1961 the idea was rejected. At the end of the Soviet period in 1991, then-president Mikhail Gorbachev allocated part of the building to Boris Yeltsin, who shortly thereafter was elected president of the Russian Federation (then within the framework of the Soviet Union). After the collapse of the USSR, Building 14 returned to the spotlight – Russian presidents’ press conferences were held there periodically through 2008.

In August 2014, President Vladimir Putin, in a conversation with Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, suggested demolishing Building 14 altogether, and reconstructing the Chudov Monastery and Ascension Convent in its place. 

For the past few years, Building 14 has been draped with a large yellow linen poster depicting the Soviet structure hidden behind it. During my recent visit to Moscow in March 2015, I can confirm that construction had come to a grinding halt. The final decision on the buildings fate remains in limbo as the Russian government and UNESCO review plans for the reconstruction of the lost monastery and convent. On a personal note, I believe it is the moral responsibility of the current Russian administration to resurrect these historic monuments which were wantonly destroyed by their Soviet predecessors.
For more information on the proposed reconstruction of the Chudov Monastery and the Ascension Convent, please refer to the following articles in the Royal Russia web site and blog:
A Russian Moment No. 61 - Iconostasis of the Ascension Convent, Moscow Kremlin
Putin's Wish to Rebuild Kremlin Monasteries Is Left Unfulfilled
Kremlin Awaits UNESCO Decision Before Restoration of Historic Monasteries 
Reconstruction in the Kremlin to Surpass all the Project's Ever Coordinated With UNESCO 

Restore Destroyed Orthodox Monasteries in Kremlin, says Putin

Archaeologists Believe Excavation of Kremlin Monasteries to Yield Great Discoveries

Putin Wants Monasteries, Church Rebuilt in Kremlin  
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 04 April, 2015


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 7:06 AM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 4 April 2015 9:26 AM EDT
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Saturday, 28 March 2015
A Russian Moment No. 61 - Iconostasis of the Ascension Convent, Moscow Kremlin
Topic: A Russian Moment

The grand six-tier iconostasis of the Ascension (Voznesensky) Convent has been preserved to the present day
in the Cathedral of Twelve Apostles in the former Patriarch’s Palace of the Moscow Kremlin
The Ascension (Voznesensky) Convent was founded at the beginning of the 15th century very near the Spassky (Saviour's) Gate of the Moscow Kremlin. Over the centuries, many of the wives and sisters of the Moscow grand princes found peace in the Ascension Convent, which was one of the most famous and respected convents in Russia. 

In Soviet times religious buildings in Russia were ruthlessly destroyed or reconfigured as warehouses, museums or archives. In 1929, this destiny also befell the Ascension Convent in the Kremlin to make way for a military training facility. Its demolition caused unprecedented opposition within society and well-known figures from around the world wrote letters to Stalin. However, despite the outcry, the monastery was demolished. Today its previous location in the Kremlin is recalled as an empty rectangle next to Spasskaya Tower.

However, few know that the historic iconostasis of the Ascension Convent has been preserved to the present day. Despite having little time to save the church’s cultural valuables, the employees of the Armoury Museum managed to save the grand six-tier iconostasis, created around 1679. It was moved to the Cathedral of Twelve Apostles in the former Patriarch’s Palace of the Moscow Kremlin, where it can be seen during a visit to the Kremlin.

In August 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed the reconstruction of the Ascension Convent and the nearby Chudov Monastery. As of January 2015, the decision remains unresolved, and during my recent visit to Moscow in March, I can confirm that work on the Kremlin Presidium or "Building 14" which was constructed on the site of the Chudov and Ascension monasteries had come to a grinding halt. The fate of the reconstruction of these historic buildings now rests with UNESCO and the Russian government. 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 28 March, 2015


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 7:57 AM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 28 March 2015 8:13 AM EDT
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Sunday, 8 March 2015
A Russian Moment No. 60 - Ostrovsky (Alexandrinskaya) Square, St. Petersburg
Topic: A Russian Moment

Alexandrinskaya Square was renamed Ostrovsky Square in 1923
Ostrovsky Square is one of 13 squares designed by Carlo Rossi (1775-1849), the major architect in St Petersburg of the early 19th century. The square faces Nevsky Prospekt, and is surrounded by numerous historical buildings, including the Alexandrinsky Theatre. Both the square and the magnificent Empire style theatre were named after the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, wife of Emperor Nicholas I. To the east is the garden and pavilions of the Anichkov Palace. To the west is the multicolumn Russian National Library. In 1923, the square was renamed in honour of the Russian playwright Alexander Ostrovsky (1823-1886).

Situated in the center of Ostrovsky Square is Catherine’s Garden and St. Petersburg’s only monument to Empress Catherine II. Built in 1873, the monument is endowed with the symbols of power (sceptre and laurel crown) and surrounded by Catherine’s favourites: Alexander Suvorov, perhaps the most famous general in Russian history, Prince Potemkin, the general and politician, Ekaterina Dashkova, the first woman to chair the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the celebrated poet Gavrila Derzhavin.. This statue escaped the fury of the Soviet government, which toppled all the other ones of the empress after the 1917 Revolution. 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 08 March, 2015


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 12:10 AM EST
Updated: Saturday, 7 March 2015 12:27 PM EST
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Saturday, 28 February 2015
A Russian Moment No. 59 - Bip Castle (Marienthal), Pavlovsk
Topic: A Russian Moment

A bridge leads to the beautifully restored Bip Castle (Marienthal) in Pavlovsk Park
Bip Castle, also known as Paul’s Fortress or Bastion of Emperor Paul I, was built during the years 1795 to 1797 by order of Emperor Paul I, on the site of the former Marienthal Palace. This architectural whim of the son of Empress Catherine II is situated at the fork of the Slav and Tyzva rivers in the southern section of Pavlovsk park. 

Soon after his ascension to the throne, Emperor Paul I issued a decree allocating 6,100 rubles for the construction of Paul’s Fortress, by the architect Vincenzo Brenna in 1795, construction lasted two years.

Theatrical in concept, the castle consisted of a two-storey pentagonal building with courtyard. It was surrounded by a wide moat, across which a single drawbridge provided access. Three towers, each more flamboyant than the last, lent it a bellicose air, which was reinforced by the daily—and grandiose—ceremony of the changing of the guard. The building was surrounded by fortifications constructed under the supervision of a military engineer Caus, including bastions, ravelins, lunettes and flushes. The castle was also equipped with 28 guns.

On April 19, 1798, Bip Castle was ranked by the St. Petersburg Engineering Department and, thus, was included in the military registry of fortresses of the Russian Empire. There was a military garrison stationed here, regular service was established, the cannon fired at noon and the drawbridge was raised at sunset. In the basement, the castle had its own guardhouse for military personnel who committed an offence.

On June 15, 1811, the castle was removed from the Engineering Department list and used for civilian purposes - as the country's first school for the deaf (1807-1810), a military hospital (1833-1834), the Alexander school (1835-1851) , parish and city school (early 20th century). 

After the October revolution, the castle was occupied by the Board of Deputies. In October 1919, it served as the headquarters of General Yudenich. From the mid-1920s to 1941, the castle served as an orphanage, then a bank, a recruitment office and other warehouses.

During World War II, the castle burned to the ground during the Soviet offensive of 1944. For the next six decades, it was completely neglected as a romantic ruin on the outskirts of the once glorious Pavlovsk.

In the mid-2000s, the castle underwent a complete reconstruction and restoration, and today is used as a private hotel and restaurant. 
© Paul Gilbert. 28 February, 2015


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 9:00 AM EST
Updated: Saturday, 28 February 2015 10:30 AM EST
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Sunday, 8 February 2015
A Russian Moment No. 58 - Faberge's Trans-Siberian Railway Egg
Topic: A Russian Moment

Fabergé's Trans-Siberian Railway Egg on display in the exhibition hall of the Assumption Belfry, Moscow Kremlin
Photo © Moscow State Kremlin Museum
Two Easter eggs, currently on display at the Moscow Kremlin exposition, Map of Russia. Milestones in History, were produced by the famous Fabergé firm. The one with a model of Trans-Siberian express inside is engraved with a map of the Russian state showing the Trans-Siberian Railway. The other one, commissioned to a renowned craftsman Henrik Wigström (1862-1923) to commemorate the tercentenary of the Romanov House, contains a rotating globe with silhouettes of Russia of 1613 and 1913, demonstrating the extension of its boundaries throughout several centuries.

The Easter egg seen in the photo above, depicts a model of the Trans-Siberian express. It was created in St. Petersburg in 1900 by the Fabergé craftsman Michael Evlampievitch Perchin (1860-1903). It is made of gold, platinum, silver, precious stones, silk, onyx, crystal, velvet, wood; casting, enamel, engraving, filigree, granulation, guilloche, embossing. This magnificent Imperial Easter egg was presented by Emperor Nicholas II to Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna for Easter 1900.

The Moscow Kremlin Armoury currently has ten Fabergé Imperial Easter eggs in it’s collection. They form the largest number of Imperial eggs, and the second-largest overall Fabergé eggs, owned by a single owner. 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 08 February, 2015


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 9:18 AM EST
Updated: Sunday, 8 February 2015 10:19 AM EST
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