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.
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.
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.
A Russian Moment No. 57 - Portrait of Empress Catherine I, Ekaterinburg Topic: A Russian Moment
The image of the Empress Catherine I (1684-1727) can now be seen on the sidewall of a five-story building in the Ural city of Ekaterinburg. The mural was painted by the Russian artist Maxim Revansh.
Ekaterinburg was founded in 1723 by Vasily Tatishchev and Georg Wilhelm de Gennin, today it is the capital of the Central Urals. Contrary to popular opinion, the city's name (which translates as "Catherine's City") is not due to Empress Catherine II ("the Great"), but an earlier Catherine. Empress Catherine I was the second wife of Tsar Peter the Great, and it was her practical good sense which helped establish this important industrial and mining center - so Peter named the city in her honour.
Empress Catherine I, was born Marfa Samuilovna Skavronskaya; 15 April [O.S. 5 April] 1684. Catherine and Peter married secretly in 1707. They had twelve children, two of whom survived into adulthood. In 1724 Catherine was officially crowned and named co-ruler.
Peter died (28 January 1725 Old Style) without naming a successor. In a meeting of a council to decide on a successor, a coup was arranged by Aleksandr Danilovich Menshikov and others in which the guards regiments with whom Catherine was very popular proclaimed her the ruler of Russia, giving her the title of Empress
Catherine was the first woman to rule Imperial Russia, opening the legal path for a century almost entirely dominated by women, including her daughter Elizabeth and Catherine the Great, all of whom continued Peter the Great's policies in modernizing Russia. For most of her reign, Catherine I was controlled by her advisers, however, the peasantry led to the reputation of Catherine I as a just and fair ruler. In general, Catherine's policies were reasonable and cautious. The story of her humble origins was considered by later generations of tsars to be a state secret.
Empress Catherine I was also the first royal owner of the Tsarskoye Selo estate, where the Catherine Palace still bears her name.
She died on 17 May [O.S. 6 May] 1727), just two years after Peter, at age 43, in St. Petersburg, where she was buried at St. Peter and St. Paul Fortress.
A Russian Moment No. 56 - Monument to His Majesty's Life-Guards Hussar Regiment, Tsarskoye Selo Topic: A Russian Moment
In 2003, a granite monument to His Majesty's Life-Guards Hussar Regiment was installed on the south side of the park which surrounds St. Sophia Cathedral in Tsarskoye Selo. A plaque commemorating the His Majesty's Life-Guards Hussar Regiment was consecrated on June 10th of the same year by the Metropolitan of St Petersburg and Ladoga Vladimir. The monument was installed in accordance with the program of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation with the support of the administration of St. Petersburg. Funding for the monument was made possible thanks to the Baltic Construction Company.
The monument is a three-level composition. The first level - three-step pedestal. The second level - the middle part of the mark on which the information elements. On the central front faces of the pyramid is the regimental badge, made of porcelain, and includes the monogram of Emperor Nicholas II. On the side faces - bronze plaque with a description of the regiment and its militant form. On the back side - bronze plaque with sculptural reliefs depicting a ceremonial regiment in Paris in 1814. In the final, the third level of the monument, the central rectangular facade is the emblem of the Russian Army, made of gilded porcelain.
The history of the Hussar Life Guards Regiment (from 1855 His Majesty’s Regiment), dates back to the Life Hussar Squadron, formed in 1775, which in 1796 was incorporated into the Cossack Life Hussar Regiment, in 1798 was formed into its own regiment; enjoyed privileges of the Old Guards, consisted of 2 to 5 squadron battalions, in 1802 was re-formed into a 5-squadron unit. Participated in the wars with France of 1799, 1805, 1806-07, 1812-14, in the Russo-Turkish Wars of 1828-29 and 1877-78, in suppressing of the Polish Uprising of 1830-31. From 1802 the regiment was stationed in Pavlovsk and Krasnoe Selo, from 1814 – in Tsarskoe Selo, (hence the informal name “hussars of Tsarskoe Selo – tsarskoselsky hussars”).
The barracks were situated in the neighbourhood bordered by Volkonskaya (now Parkovaya), Sofiyskaya, Furazhnaya, Gussarskaya, Stesselevskaya (now Krasnoy Zvezdy Street) and Gospitalnaya Streets.
From 1817, Emperor Alexander I decreed St. Sophia Cathedral (the traditional name of the Holy Ascension Cathedral) the regimental church of the Hussar Life Guard Regiment and the regiment trophies and treasures were kept there. From 1855 reigning emperors were the regiment’s patrons, future Emperors Alexander II and Nicholas II commenced their service in its ranks. During WW I 1914-18 the regiment within the 2d Guards Cavalry Division was dispatched to the North-Western front. His Majesty's Life-Guards Hussar Regiment was disbanded in early 1918.
A Russian Moment No. 55 - Chinese Palace, Oranienbaum Topic: A Russian Moment
Situated at Oranienbaum, the Chinese Palace erected in 1762-1768 by Antonio Rinaldi for Empress Catherine II. It is considered one of the finest monuments of 18th century architecture. From the outside, the palace is a relatively simple building, single-storey except for the small central pavilion.
The seventeen rooms inside, each of them is original in character were decorated by Rinaldi and other leading artists and craftsmen of the day. They feature pink, blue and green scagliola, painted silks, and intricate stucco work. Rinaldi's parquet floors are wonderfully ornate and of immense value, using fifteen types of rare Russian and imported wood.
Among the highlights of the Chinese Palace interiors are the recently restored Glass Beaded Salon, the walls of which are hung with 12 panels of richly coloured tapestries depicting exotic birds and fauna. The fine white glass beads that form the backdrop of the tapestries give the whole room a diaphanous, shimmering quality that was designed to be particularly effective in the glowing twilight of the White Nights.
The full influence of Chinoiserie is in evidence in the Large Chinese Salon, where the walls are covered with marquetry paneling of wood and walrus ivory depicting oriental landscapes, and large Chinese lanterns hanging in the corners. The room also contains an English-made billiard table with superb wood carving.
After the October Revolution the palace and park ensembles of Oranienbaum were nationalized. In the Chinese Palace there was opened a museum housing a collection of eighteenth century applied art. During World War II, from September 1941 to January 19, 1944 Oranienbaum was cut from Nazi troops, becoming an isolated stronghold. Defenders of Oranienbaum saved both the palaces and their works of art.
In recent years, the palace has undergone some extensive restorations giving the palace a new life. The Chinese Palace is the only Romanov palace outside of St. Petersburg spared the destruction that many of the other Romanov palaces suffered during Second World War, making it of immense artistic and historic value.
A Russian Moment No. 54 - Hanging Garden, Small Hermitage Topic: A Russian Moment
The Hanging Garden of the Small Hermitage was laid out by the order of Empress Catherine II on the first floor over the imperial stables. It's intricate irrigation system provided water for growing trees and shrubs on the stables' roof. Placed amidst its luxuriant vegetation were white marble statues and a fountain.
In May of 1942 the lilac bushes no longer flourished in the Hanging Garden. After the previous winter when many citizens of Leningrad had suffered terribly from starvation, the Hermitage staff dug vegetable beds in place of flower beds, lilac and honeysuckle shrubs.
In recent years the Hanging Garden has been beautifully restored and now offers an oasis of colour and fragrance amidst the hustle and bustle of the busy museum.
A Russian Moment No. 53 - The Konstantin Palace, Strelna Topic: A Russian Moment
The Konstantin Palace at Strelna
The magnificent Konstantin Palace is located in the Petrodvorets district of St. Petersburg in the village of Strelna overlooking the Gulf of Finland. Built during the 18th century, the palace was intended for Peter the Great as his summer residence and construction was started in 1720. However in 1721 work was suspended as Peter the Great decided to build a residence at Peterhof because of its more favourable location. On ascending the throne in 1741, Peter's daughter Elizabeth intended to complete her father's project. Her favourite architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli's attention, however, was soon diverted to other palaces, in Peterhof and Tsarskoye Selo, so the Strelna palace stood unfinished until the end of the century.
The palace became a residence of the Konstantinovichi branch of the Romanov dynasty up until the Revolution. In 1797, Strelna was granted to Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich (second son of Paul I) and his wife Grand Duchess Anna Feodorovna. After Konstantin's death in 1831, the palace passed to his nephew, Grand Duke Konstantin Nicholayevich (second son of Emperor Nicholas I). The Konstantinovichi branch retained ownership of the Konstantin Palace up until 1917, the last owner being Grand Duke Dmitri Konstantinovich (1860-1919).
After the 1917 revolution the Konstantin Palace fell into neglect and disrepair. Valuable books, documents, a rich collection of paintings and ceramics, and personal belongings of the royal family were scattered in various museums or irretrievably lost. During the Soviet years the palace hosted a school, a sanatorium, and finally a training center for the Navy.
During World War II the Konstantin Palace was equipped with a German observation post. As a result of massive shelling and a fire the building was badly damaged, and reduced to a “stone skeleton.” Eventually Russia took back the Palace from the Germans but the damage had already been done.
After the war, the building continued to decline due to lack of interest in its preservation. In 1990, the palace and park complex were placed under the protection of UNESCO. Only 11 years later by declaration of then president of Russia Vladimir Putin, the Konstantin Palace and Park were assigned to the presidential administration.
The restoration of the palace was completed in 2003 at a cost of $230 million. Considered one of the greatest reconstructions in the country’s history, the project became a symbol of the revival of a great Russia and its national cultural heritage. Today, the Konstantin Palace serves as the Palace of Congresses, and the official Presidential Residence in the St. Petersburg region.
I have had the pleasure of visiting the Konstantin Palace on two separate occasions over the years. The first was in the 1990s, during one of my popular Romanov tours that I used to host annually. The palace was in a terrible state of disrepair. A recent fire had left its mark on the walls and ceilings of the grand halls. I returned in 2005 to see a spectacular transformation. The Konstantin Palace is now open to the public, offering tours which include grand halls and rooms dedicated to the Konstantinovichi branch of the Romanov dynasty.
The Arabesque Hall in the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo is one of the most exquisite gala rooms created by Charles Cameron for Empress Catherine II.
The staterooms and private quarters of Catherine II were situated in place of Rastrelli’s Formal Staircase, Forth and Fifth Antechambers in the south wing of the palace, and in the new wing built at the Empress’s behest in 1779–1780s and later named the Zubov Wing. The new rooms’ finishing to the design of Charles Cameron (1743–1812), a Scottish as passionate about antiquity as the empress was, took several years. Cameron supervised the decoration of the Arabesque, Lyons and Chinese Halls and Domed Dining-Room (staterooms), as well as the Bedchamber, Blue Study or Snuffbox, Silver and Mirror Studies, and Raphael Room (personal apartments). In those interiors Cameron realized his most original architectural ideas that enraptured the mistress of Tsarskoye Selo and amazed her contemporaries.
The rooms suffered severely during the Second World War. Rebuilt for a Navy school in the early 1950s, they later accommodated a resthouse and an art school, and then re-gained the historical layout after their reconstruction ended in 2005.
The re-creation of the Arabesque Hall was started by Resstroy Company in 2006 to Alexander Kedrinsky’s restoration plan of 1979 based on Cameron’s drafts from the State Hermitage Museum, pre- and post-war photographs, and Eduard Hau’s watercolour which reflected most truly the interior and the architect’s original design.
The Arabesque Hall became the first room re-created in Catherine II’s part of the place. Cameron built it in place of Rastrelli’s Forth Antechamber, a statehall building-wide and sun-lit from east and west, which was divided in two in the late 1700s. Like all the gala rooms in the palace, the Arabesque Hall faces the Main Courtyard.
Cameron worked on the design since his arrival at Tsarskoye Selo and until 1784, while the Empress started having receptions there a year earlier. On 1 May 1743, “noble persons of both genders of Russia and ministers of other countries” were invited to see the “Arabesque”, as Catherine called the interior. The first ball, with chess and card games, was held there on May 20th.
Charles Cameron embellished the hall with pilasters, oval framed mirrors, and rectangular vertical panels with painted arabesques (hence the name). Since it had two tiers of windows, Cameron created a two-tier composition, with painted medallions depicting allegoric figures in antique clothes in the upper tier separated from the lower one by the wide band of gilt frieze. The centerpiece of the east wall is a white Italian marble fireplace.
The ceiling paintings are based on the theme of praise to human virtues. The plafond’s circle-placed medallions depict allegories of peace, fortune, friendship, affability, generosity, confidence, clemency and inspiration. The central medallion resembles the well-known myth about the Judgment of Paris, with the three goddesses, from whom he had to select the most beautiful one, painted as allegories of beauty, modesty and patience. Re-viewed in the spirit of the Age of Enlightenment, the ancient subject is seen as the triumph of virtue, with Beauty, Modesty and Patience surrounded by Peace, Fortune, Friendship, Affability, Generosity, Confidence, Clemency and Inspiration.
The Arabesque Hall’s re-creation became possible thanks to its surviving fragments, such as four painted inserts of the plafond, seven bronze three-candle sconces, the white marble fireplace, two oval mirror frames, an under-mirror console-table, and fragments of modelled and carved ornaments.
A Russian Moment No. 51 - Monument to the Children of the Last Tsar, Ganina Yama Topic: A Russian Moment
This beautiful photograph shows the only monument to the children of Tsar Nicholas II in Russia. It is situated on the grounds of the Ganina Yama monastery complex, near the village of Koptyaki, 15 km north from Ekaterinburg. In the early morning hours of 17 July 1918, after the shooting of the Romanov family, the bodies of Tsar Nicholas II, his family, and four faithful retainers (who had all been murdered at the Ipatiev House) were secretly transported to Ganina Yama and thrown into the pit.
The consecration of the monument took place on 16 November, 2011, the birthday of the Grand Duchess Olga Nicholayevna, who was born this day in 1895 [3 November Old Style).
The monument was consecrated by the Metropolitan Vincent of Tashkent and the Uzbek, who previously served as the Metropolitan of Ekaterinburg. He noted that the idea of creating a memorial to the children of Nicholas II came to him just weeks before he was transferred to a new place of ministry.
The statue created by sculptor, Igor Akimov, said that his work was created based on photographs and portraits of the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and the Tsarevich Alexei.
The height of the monument, "Royal Children" - stands nearly 3 meters, its weight - 2 tons. According to the sculptor of the monument, the children of Nicholas II descend from heaven on the inclined stone plinth, with crosses in their hands. They are huddled together and looking cautiously around. The expression on their innocent faces relates the fear they must have endured at the hands of their murderers.
In June 2012, I had the great honour of visiting Ganina Yama where I spent an afternoon in solitude. I prayed in each of the 7 churches (one for each member of the Imperial family), reflecting on their murders and rejoicing in their martyrdom. I plan on making the journey to Ekaterinburg once again, in the summer of 2015, returning to Ganina Yama and other places associated with the final days of the last tsar and his family.