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.
A Russian Moment No. 50 - Palace Square, St. Petersburg Topic: A Russian Moment
Palace Square, one of St. Petersburg's most beautiful and historic landmarks
This magnificent aerial view of Palace Square (Dvortsovaya Ploshchad), showcases the central city square of St Petersburg and of the former Russian Empire in all its Imperial glory. It was the setting of many events of worldwide significance, including the Bloody Sunday (1905) and the October Revolution of 1917.
The earliest and most celebrated building on the square is the baroque Winter Palace (1754–62 - right), which gave the square its name. At various times in its history, the Winter Palace was painted different colours. From 1837 to 1946, it was painted a dull red. Following the restoration work after World War II, it was painted green with the ornaments depicted in white-and-azure.
Although the adjacent buildings are designed in the Neoclassical style, they perfectly match the palace in their scale, rhythm, and monumentality. The opposite, southern side of the square was designed in the shape of an arc by George von Velten in the late 18th century. These plans were executed half a century later, when Alexander I of Russia envisaged the square as a vast monument to the Russian victory over Napoleon and commissioned Carlo Rossi to design the bow-shaped Empire-style Building of the General Staff (1819–29 - left), which centers on a double triumphal arch crowned with a Roman quadriga.
The centre of the square is marked with the Alexander Column (1830–34), designed by Auguste de Montferrand. This red granite column (the tallest of its kind in the world) is 47.5 metres high and weighs some 500 tons. It is set so well that no attachment to the base is needed.
The eastern side of the square is occupied by Alessandro Brullo's building of the Guards Corps Headquarters (1837–43 - lower right), the organisational authority of the guards.
The western side, is occupied by the Admiralty (1806-1823 - center), the former headquarters of the Admiralty Board and the Imperial Russian Navy in St. Petersburg, and the current headquarters of the Russian Navy. The central building, the Admiralty Tower is dominated by a golden spire. During the Second World War, the spire of the Admiralty was camouflaged along with many other gilded domes and spires of the city being reference points for the enemy’s airforces: it was painted grey or green depending on the season.
A Russian Moment No. 49 - Yusupov Palace at Koreiz, Crimea Topic: A Russian Moment
The Yusupov Palace at Koreiz, overlooks the Black Sea in the Crimea
The Yusupov Palace is located in the town of Koreiz, near Yalta in the Crimea. It was built for Prince Felix Yusupov-Soumorokov-Elston, father of Prince Felix Yusupov (1856-1928), the former Governor-General of Moscow in 1909. The architect Nikolai Krasnov, also constructed the Livadia Palace for Emperor Nicholas II in nearby Yalta.
The palace’s style may be best described as Neo-Romanesque with elements of the Renaissance. Sculptures of lions, marble mythological characters of ancient Greece brought from Venice, decorate the arches and the staircases. The interior is dominated by the Art Nouveau style. The palace boasts a romantic park with exotic plants and a wine cellar founded by Prince Lev Galitzine in the 19th century.
Prince Felix Yusupov (1887-1967) describes Koreiz in his memoirs, Lost Splendour, published in 1952. He was unhappy with the estate’s view, he spoke of it as of an ugly building with grey walls, not appropriate for the seashore.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the palace was nationalized and served as a holiday spot for members of the notorious Cheka, including Felix Dzerzhinsky, who stayed here in 1925-1926. In February 1945, the palace served as the residence of the Soviet delegation, headed by Joseph Stalin. In later years, the palace served as a sanatorium for members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and even a hotel in the 1990s. From 1991 to March 2014 the Yusupov Palace served as a residence of the Office of the President of Ukraine.
Now that the Crimea is once again part of the Russian Federation, the administration of the palace-museums which dot the Crimean coast are under the watchful eye of the Ministry of Culture. The Russian media announced last week that the Yusupov palace at Koreiz is to be restored and open as a museum, with plans to host the first exhibition in the summer of 2015.
The surrounding park consists of 16.5 hectares, containing more than 200 species of trees and shrubs. It is interesting to note that 155 trees in the park are between 100 to 500 years old.
A Russian Moment No. 48 - The Portrait Hall, Alexander Palace Topic: A Russian Moment
Portraits of Grand Duke Nicholas Nicholayevich (left) and Grand Duke Alexander Nicholayevich - the future Emperor Alexander II (right)
by the German artist Franz Krüger
The Portrait Hall was created in place of the Second State Hall of the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo. The Portrait Hall was classically decorated with artificial marble encrusted walls, and vaulted ceilings. The furnishings included gilded furniture sets and other exquisite objects. Large windows afforded grand views of the Alexander Park.
Nicholas I was one of the first emperors who placed his and family members’ portraits in the palace. The Portrait Hall boasted one of the best portrait series by the German artist Franz Krüger, commissioned by the Emperor. The portrait of Nicholas I with a group of horsemen, his retinue, was restored to the hall several years back and today hangs in its original location, in the centre of the hall. The enormous portrait is flanked by the portraits of the Emperor’s sons, including the two pictured above: Grand Duke Nicholas Nicholayevich (left) and Grand Duke Alexander Nicholayevich - the future Emperor Alexander II (right).
The Portrait Hall is symmetrical to the Semi-Circular Hall and the Marble Hall (also known as the Mountain Hall - currently under restoration). In June 2010, the Portrait Hall was one of three former ceremonial State Rooms opened to the public after an extensive restoration. The event coincided with the 300th anniversary of Tsarskoe Selo and was marked with great pomp and pageantry.
My first visit to St. Petersburg was back in 1986, when it was still known as Leningrad. Since that time I have returned year after year, witnessing the transformation of a once gray and dreary Soviet metropolis into an elegant imperial city. Today, St. Petersburg ranks as one of the world’s most beautiful cities. It’s rich history and architecture make it a photographer’s dream! The photograph in this week’s A Russian Moment is a perfect example of how easily a person can fall in love with this city.
The full moon is seen rising in the sky above the domes of the Smolny Cathedral on Monday, Sept. 8, 2014. Monday night's full moon, also known as a Harvest Moon, was the third and final "supermoon" of 2014. The phenomenon, which scientists call a "perigee moon," occurs when the moon is near the horizon and appears larger and brighter than other full moons. One of St. Petersburg landmarks, the Smolny Convent's main church was built between 1748 and 1764 by Italian architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli. In 2004, the Smolny Cathedral became part of the State Museum St Isaac’s Cathedral. In April 2013, an announcement was made that the Smolny Cathedral would be returned to the Russian Orthodox Church.
A Russian Moment No. 46 - Saint Sergius of Radonezh's 700th Anniversary Topic: A Russian Moment
The beautiful crystal icon (above) in honor of the 700th anniversary of the birth of Saint Sergius of Radonezh was ordered by the Holy Trinity St. Sergius Lavra and made by masters of the MOISEIKIN jewellery house in Yekaterinburg. Photo Credit: Pavel Lisitsyn / RIA Novosti
2014 marks the 700th anniversary from the birth of St. Sergius of Radonezh who is one of the most highly venerated saints in Russia. St Sergius was a spiritual leader, the monastic reformer of mediaeval Russia, and the founder of the Holy Trinity St Sergius Lavra, the most important Russian monastery and the spiritual centre of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The monastery is situated in the town of Sergiyev Posad, about 70 km to the north-east from Moscow by the road leading to Yaroslavl, and currently is home to over 300 monks.
On July 16-18, over 100 000 pilgrims attended the Holy Trinity Monastery, where the Russian Orthodox Church celebrated the discovery of St Sergius incorrupt relics ( St Sergius died 1392, his relics were found 30 years later untouched by decay).
A Russian Moment No. 45 - Bust of Emperor Nicholas I, Vitebsky Railway Station Topic: A Russian Moment
A bust of Emperor Nicholas I sits at the top of the main staircase of the art nouveau hall of the Vitebsky Railway Station, St. Petersburg
During tsarist times, a total of 15 monuments of Emperor Nicholas I had been established in Russia. During the Soviet era they were all destroyed, except one: the equestrian statue located at St. Isaac’s Square in St. Petersburg. In recent years, a second monument to the "Iron Tsar" has been unveiled in Russia.
A bust of Nicholas I was unveiled on May 19, 2003 on the grand staircase of the elaborate art nouveau hall of the Vitebsky Railway Station (formerly known as the Tsarskoye Selo Station) in St. Petersburg. The bust is made of tinted plaster, the pedestal is made of granite, height 350 cm. The creators are sculptors V.S. and S.V. Ivanov, and the architect T.L. Toricha.
This particular railway station is a fitting location for such a monument to Emperor Nicholas I, during whose reign Russia's first railway was opened in 1837. Two plaques have been placed to the left and right of the bust. The inscription on the left reads: "The first Russian railway - Tsarskoye Selo - opened in the reign of Emperor Nicholas I, October 30, 1837." On the right: "St. Petersburg - Vitebsky Railway Station opened in the reign of Emperor Nicholas II, August 1, 1904."