St. Petersburg Palace Goes Up in Smoke

Prince Konstantin Esperovitch Belosselsky-Belozersky inherited the palace in the late 19th-century. However, the vast
Belosselsky-Belozersky Palace was a huge drain on the family resources, and was subsequently put up for sale.

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The Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace caught fire early Tuesday afternoon, but firefighters had it under control by 2 p.m.

St. Petersburg firefighters worked to save priceless historical architecture when a fire broke out at the Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace in the city center Tuesday.

Efforts by emergency services were praised by City Governor Georgy Poltavchenko, who said they had worked hard to prevent a dangerous situation getting out of control. “Their work today has saved one of the most unique buildings in the city,” he said.

The fire is believed to have started at about midday in a ventilation shaft and quickly spread to the palace’s attic and roof. The work of firefighters was significantly complicated by heavy smoke as well as the complex layout of the attic and old structure of the building, Interfax reported.

A towering plume of smoke above the Fontanka River quickly drew large crowds, eager to film the unfolding spectacle on their cell phones. As the number of onlookers grew, police were forced to hold up traffic along the embankment and parts of Nevsky Prospekt, and traffic jams rapidly formed.

By 2 p.m. the fire was under control. A preliminary assessment determined that no lasting damage had been done to the 18th-century landmark, officials said.

The pink rococo palace is located on the corner of Nevsky Prospekt and the Fontanka River. Built in 1747, it was originally designed to mirror the Stroganoff Palace on the corner of the Moika River and Nevsky Prospekt, and was used as a city retreat by members of the Imperial family for a number of years.

In the late 19th-century, Prince Konstantin Esperovitch Belosselsky-Belozersky gained his majority and he inherited the palace and lived there with his wife (née Nadezhda Dimitrievna Skobeleva) and their many children. However, the vast Belosselsky-Belozersky Palace was a huge drain on the family resources, and was subsequently put up for sale.

Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich purchased the house around the time of his engagement to Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and the Rhine in 1883. The couple made the palace their principal residence in St. Petersburg.

Under the ownership of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, the palace had yet another extensive remodelling and the interior was redone. The redecorating included adding a vast library and a slavic revival chapel. The couple never had children of their own, but they eventually became the foster parents of Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich and Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, Sergei’s niece and nephew through his younger brother, Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich.

Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich served as Governor of Moscow from 1892. He was assassinated by a terrorist bomb at the Kremlin on February 17, 1905. The palace then became the property of his widow who became a nun in 1909. She went to live at the Marfo-Mariinsky Convent and willed the palace to her ward Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich.

It was here that Grand Duke Dmitri was placed under house arrest for his involvement in the murder of Grigorii Rasputin in 1917. The grand duke sold the palace on the eve of the Russian Revolution.

After the Revolution, the historic building also went on to serve as a military hospital and district base for the Central Bolshevik Party before being officially presented to City Hall’s Culture Committee in 1991.

Its current occupants include the regional headquarters of Russian broadcaster Channel One and the Sobchak Museum of the Introduction of Democracy to Contemporary Russia.

Source & Copyright: St. Petersburg Times and Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia
29 February, 2012