When I was a young boy, I would spend hours leafing through picture books of exotic lands, and dream of visiting such architectural marvels as St. Basil’s Cathedral, Neuschwanstein Castle, the Taj Mahal and the Swallow’s Nest, pictured above.
With the exception of the Taj Mahal I have visited all the others, including the Swallow’s Nest during my visit to the Crimea some 15 years ago. The visit was part of a days itinerary during a special Romanov tour which I had organized to the region. The group enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Swallow’s Nest, while taking in the magnificent views of the Black Sea and the Cape of Ai-Todor through the large windows which encircled the dining room.
The Swallow’s Nest is a decorative castle, a curious remnant of Imperial Russia, located at Gaspra, a small spa town between Yalta and Alupka. It has become one of the most popular visitor attractions in Crimea, having become the symbol of regions outhern coastline.
The original structure on the property was a small wooden cottage that was constructed at the behest of a Russian General around 1895. However, several years later the cottage was placed in the ownership of A.K. Tobin, a physician at the Imperial Court and doctor to the Tsar. The cottage again changed hands, this time being purchased by the Baltic German oil millionaire Baron von Stiengel who demolished the original cottage.
The stone Swallows Nest which we see to this day. was built between 1911 and 1912, on top of the 40-metre (130 ft) high Aurora Cliff, in a Neo-Gothic design by the Russian architect Leonid Sherwood. Sadly, the baron did not enjoy his stone fairytale castle for very long: in 1914, the building was bought by Moscow businessman P. Shelaputin, who opened a restaurant on the premises.
The building is compact in size, measuring only 20 m (66 ft) long by 10 m (33 ft) wide. Its original design envisioned a foyer, guest room, stairway to the tower, and two bedrooms on two different levels within the tower. The interior of the guest room is decorated with wooden panels; the walls of the rest of the rooms are stuccoed and painted. An observation deck rings the building, providing a view of the sea, and Yalta's distant shoreline.
In 1927, a powerful earthquake shook the region, and although the surrounding garden was lost to the sea, the Swallow's Nest was suffered minor damage. In the 1930s, the main room was used as a reading room for one of the many sanatoriums created by the Soviets, however it was closed shortly thereafter as a safety precaution due to the damage it had suffered in the quake, remaining closed for the next 40 years.
Over the next 70 years, restoration of the Swallow’s Nest was carried out twice. In the late 1960s, a major restoration of the building included reinforcing the foundation and repairs which had resulted from the earthquake some 40 years earlier.
Since 1975, an Italian restaurant has operated within the building. Because of its inspiring location the castle was used in the exterior shots of multiple Soviet films, including a screen version of Agatha Christie’s famous thriller And Then There Were None.
A Russian Moment No. 70 - State Russian Historical Museum, Moscow Topic: A Russian Moment
The State Russian Historical Museum in Moscow
The imposing building that stands to your right if you enter Red Square through the Resurrection Gate is the State Russian Historical Museum. The museum was opened in 1883 to mark the coronation of Emperor Alexander III. Public inauguration of the museum and its 11 exposition rooms took place in June of that year. During the first decade, numerous gifts were made to the museums’ collections by the emperor, his wife Empress Maria Feodorovna, and their son Tsesarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich (the future Emperor Nicholas II), and other priceless artworks acquired by members of the Romanov dynasty.
In 1894, the museum became the Emperor Alexander III Imperial Russian Historical Museum in honour of the late emperor who had died at Livadia 1 November [O.S. 20 October] of that year. The museum was visited by Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna during their visit to Moscow in August 1898. After the assassination of Grand Duke Serge Alexandrovich in 1905, the Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich - the tsar’s younger brother - was appointed the museum’s chairman. After the 1917 Revolution, the museum was renamed the State Russian Historical Museum.
The building, which prompts mixed aesthetic reactions, is undeniably impressive. A mass of jagged towers and cornices, it is a typical example of Russian Revivalism, the Eastern equivalent of the Neo-Gothic movement. It was built by architect Vladimir Sherwood (whose father was an English engineer) on the site of the old Pharmacy Building, which was the original home of the Moscow University. Its interiors were intricately decorated in the Russian Revival style by such artists as Viktor Vasnetsov, Henrik Semiradsky, and Ivan Aivazovsky. During the Soviet period the murals were proclaimed gaudy and were plastered over. The museum went through a painstaking restoration of its original appearance between 1986 and 1997.
The museum holds a supremely rich collection of artifacts that tell the history of the Russian lands from the Paleolithic period to the present day. Each hall of the museum is designed to correspond to the era from which the exhibits are taken. The wide variety of the ancient cultures that developed on the territory of modern Russia is well represented, with highlights including Scythian gold figures, funerary masks from the Altai and the Turmanskiy Sarcophagus, a unique mixture of Hellenic architecture and Chinese decoration.
Later displays focus on the history of Russia's rulers, with a number of historical paintings, court costumes, thrones, and Carlo Rastrelli's silver death mask of Peter the Great. More recent displays explore the private lives of Russia’s aristocratic and noble families. Today, the total number of objects in the museum's collection numbers in the millions. Despite, this, however, many of the museum's halls are still closed for restoration work, but the museum is still well worth visiting, and makes for an excellent introduction to the history of Russia.
The State Historical Museum is one of my favourite museums in Moscow, and I never pass up an opportunity to spend a morning or afternoon exploring the current 39 halls of this growing museum. Each visit yields new discoveries, as the museum expands with the opening of new halls, and temporary exhibitions. During my most recent visit to the museum in March 2015, I was delighted to discover one of the museum’s most unique exhibits with a Romanov provenance: a beautiful miniature carriage built for the children of Emperor Alexander II, which had been painstakingly restored between 2010-2014.
A Russian Moment No. 69 - English Palace, Peterhof Topic: A Russian Moment
A simple memorial stone was placed on the site of the ruins of the English Palace in 2008.
The photo in the upper right corner shows this "masterpiece of Russian Classicism" as it looked before 1917.
Giacomo Quarenghi's first important commission in Russia was the New Palace, later known as the English Palace at Peterhof. Empress Catherine II commissioned the Italian architect to build her a “place of seclusion on her visits to Peterhof.” Simple, austere and elegant in design, the three-story palace was constructed between 1781-89. Quarenghi created a magnificent rectangular edifice in the Classical style on the banks of a small pond in the English Park at Peterhof. The main entrance was dominated by a wide granite staircase leading to the first floor and eight Corinthian columns stretched across the portico.
The palace, which pleased Catherine II immensely was heralded as a masterpiece of Russian classicism, however, it was never occupied as an imperial residence by either her or her successors. When her son, Emperor Paul I ascended the throne in 1796, the palace was turned into a barracks. Later, during the reign of Emperor Alexander I, the palace was completely renovated under Quarenghi’s supervision between 1802-1805.
Up until the February Revolution of 1917, the palace served as a place where foreign diplomats and other guests stayed, while attending receptions at the nearby Great Palace. From time to time public events were arranged in the palace, such as exhibitions and public concerts, including the famed Russian pianist and composer Anton Rubinstein who performed here on July 14, 1885. After the Revolution the palace served as a sanatorium.
During the second world war, the frontline ran through the English Park. The palace and the surrounding park became an area for shelling by both German and Soviet forces during World War II and both park and palace were utterly destroyed. Despite plans for restoration, apparently approved in 1975, nothing was done and the palace’s shelled ruins were subsequently demolished by the Soviets.
The only evidence of Quarenghi’s masterpiece is a simple memorial stone established on the palace ruins in 2008. Bullet marks from the Second World War are still visible on the granite pedestal it rests on.
A Russian Moment No. 68 - Central Naval Museum, St. Petersburg Topic: A Russian Moment
Bust of Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich and a model of the Imperial yacht 'Standart' on display at the Central Naval Museum, St. Petersburg
Russia's main naval museum tells the fascinating story of the development, growth and achievements of the Russian navy. Among the museum’s vast collection of over 800 thousand exhibits, are some 2,000 quality models of historically significant vessels including the luxurious yachts of the Russian Imperial family.
The museum’s collection of imperial yachts - some of which are extraordinary in size and detail - rivals that of the Imperial Yacht Museum at Peterhof. The museum showcases models of some of the most famous of these floating palaces, including the Standart (1864), Livadia (1873), Tsarevna (1874), Slavyanka (1873), Livadia (1880), Derzhava (1871), Polar Star (1890) and the famous imperial yacht Standart (1895).
The models of the imperial yachts, including the Standart (pictured above) are on display in Hall Number 1 of the Central Naval Museum. Situated next to the model is a bust (1893) of Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich (1827-1892) by the sculptor Z.G. Abashvili. During the reign of his brother Emperor Alexander II, the grand duke served as an admiral of the Russian fleet and reformed the Imperial Russian Navy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: