Winter Palace Fire of 1837
Fire in the Winter Palace, 1837, Watercolour by B. Green, 1838
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All the money and political clout in the world canít guarantee you quality construction if you insist on it being a rush job. Tsar Nicholas I learned this lesson the hard way when the newly renovated Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, went up in flames today (Dec. 17) in 1837. The massive structure burned for three days and the glow from the flames could be seen from 30 to 45 miles away.
In 1833, Tsar Nicholas I had charged French architect August de Montferrand with redesigning the palaceís eastern state rooms and constructing the Field Marshalís Hall and the Small Throne Room. The Tsar insisted that the work be completed as soon as possible, so de Montferrand was forced to cut corners, hiding fireplaces that no longer fit into the design behind hastily built wooden walls. Had the architect been afforded more time, the walls would have been built with stone, which is more durable and more fireproof.
Several years passed without any issues due to the shoddy construction. In December of 1837, however, smoke from a chimney that hadnít been properly cleaned found its way through an unblocked vent and behind one of the wooden walls in the Field Marshalís Hall. The wall caught fire from the inside and the flames slowly began to spread through the rest of the palace.
Once the fire was discovered, servants and guards worked to rescue as many of the palace treasures as possible. Unfortunately for them, these treasures consisted mostly of heavy furniture and easily-broken ornaments, which slowed their progress considerably. At least 30 individuals sacrificed their lives to save an astonishing number of items, including the imperial throne.
The Hermitageís priceless art collection was entirely preserved, the fire never reaching it thanks to the Tsarís orders to destroy the passages that connected the Hermitage to the Winter Palace.
Efforts to extinguish the fire were somewhat hampered by the Tsarinaís privy-councillor, who insisted that none of the Tsarinaís possessions (i.e., everything in the palace) were to be broken. As a result, the palaceís interior was almost completely consumed and the exterior badly damaged.
Undaunted by the Winter Palaceís destruction, the Tsar immediately ordered it rebuilt and commanded that it be finished within a year. He apparently had a very poor short-term memory, as he seems to have totally forgotten that the palace had just caught fire and burned for three days because he had given the previous architect an impossible timetable.
When you are the absolute monarch, however, subjects tend to obey your orders regardless of how rational you may be, and 6,000 workers were recruited to rebuild the palace. Numerous workers died daily due to the harsh Russian winter and were quickly replaced.
Rebuilding took longer than the Tsar had hoped, with the majority of the palaceís main halls being finished in 1839. The spectre of hurried construction, however, continued to haunt the premises. Less than a day after the Tsar had inspected one of the finished halls, part of the hallís ceiling fell in, taking an enormous chandelier with it.
Source: The Nashua Telegraph