Workers Stumble Upon
Treasure Stash in Mansion

The treasure, hidden in a small secret room in an old mansion, comprised more than 1,000 precious items .

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Construction workers in St. Petersburg hit it big last week, stumbling upon an impressive collection of treasure believed to be the property of one of Russia’s most famous noble dynasties, the Naryshkins.

The treasure, hidden in a small secret room in an old mansion, comprised more than 1,000 precious items including Russian and European silver dinner sets, jewelry and military awards, the Intarsia construction company press service said. It was the company’s workers who found the treasure while restoring the Trubetskoi-Naryshkin mansion on Ulitsa Chaikovskogo in the city center.

Silver travel sets, mirrors and brushes in silver frames, French knives with pearl and porcelain handles and other porcelain objects were among the pieces found.

All of the objects were wrapped carefully in newspapers dated from March, June and September of 1917 — the eve of the Bolshevik revolution that took place in October. All of the pieces were in excellent condition as they had been wrapped in cloths soaked in vinegar, whose scent still remained, in order to better preserve the collection, the press service reported.

The treasure tale touches on two of Russia’s most renowned and romantic figures: Peter the Great and Alexander Pushkin.

Almost all of the large dinner set objects bear the crest of the Naryshkins, a noble Russian dynasty to which the mother of Tsar Peter the Great belonged.

In the 1750s, two separate buildings stood where the present-day mansion is located. One of the buildings belonged to Abram Gannibal, the African grandfather of poet Alexander Pushkin. In 1832 the two buildings were joined into one, with Duke Vasily Naryshkin buying the house in 1875.

In the revolution-scarred year of 1917, the owners of the mansion left Russia. The valuables left in the building were moved to the State Hermitage Museum in 1920, with some pictures being given to the State Russian Museum, Fontanka reported.

It is still too early, however, to tell if the findings were definitely the property of the Naryshkin family, as documents belonging to army officer Sergei Somov were also found with the collection. The documents included Somov’s 1908 student card from the imperial college and a certificate of the White Eagle Order in his name from 1915, RIA Novosti reported.

After the Bolshevik revolution, Somov emigrated to France. He died in 1976 and was buried in Paris.

Experts from the city’s Committee for the State Control, Use and Protection of Historical and Cultural Monuments or KGIOP are currently taking an inventory and examining the objects. After this process, the collection will be placed in one of the city’s museums. However, when the restoration of the mansion is completed, Intarsia is prepared to place the collection in the Trubetskoi mansion for public viewing, the press service reported.

After a short investigation, local police, who were informed of the discovery more than 24 hours after it was made, found out that the workers had attempted to hide some of the treasure from the authorities. They smuggled out at least three gilded trays with the Naryashkin crest on them in sacks with garbage from their reconstruction work. They then placed the sacks with the garbage. Police also found a box containing 72 spoons and forks hidden in another area. They are conducting a further investigation of the mansion in order to ensure nothing else has been stashed away, Fontanka reported.

By Russian law, the construction workers who discovered the treasure are entitled to half of it. According to the law, the treasure should be divided into equal parts between the owner of the property on which it was found on and the person or people who found it. However, if the objects discovered are identified as having cultural or historical value, they will be given to the state and the owner and those who found them will have to split half of the cost of what the treasure is worth.

Ivan Artsishevsky, chairman of the House of Romanov, said the discovery of the treasure could cause self-proclaimed Naryshkin descendants to step forward, demanding the treasure be returned to them.

“In my experience of working with the Romanovs, I can say that ‘secret’ descendants from the Emperor’s dynasty regularly appeal to me with all kinds of claims and demands. In this case many such ‘relatives’ may appear,” Artsishevsky was quoted as saying by Interfax.

Artsishevsky said all of the precious objects found should be donated to a museum, adding that he was sure that no real Naryshkin descendents would come forward in hopes of claiming the treasure.

“All this should be given to a museum. All of these objects actually belong not to the Naryshkins, but to all Russian people. I doubt any of the duke’s descendants would believe otherwise,” he said.

Experts say that during the past 200 years, more than 55 treasure troves have been unexpectedly discovered in St. Petersburg properties. Most treasures included coins and various other pieces.

One such stash was found in the city’s historical department store, Gostiny Dvor, in 1985. There, more than 114 kilograms of gold bars were discovered in an area that had once served as a jewelry store.

In 1981, children playing in a courtyard on Pereulok Baskov found a piece of furniture they wanted to use to build a den. Inside the piece of furniture, however, one of the boys found a package containing 94 gold coins from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Fontanka reported.

Intarsia has been restoring buildings for 20 years, and unexpectedly finding old things in historic buildings is not a rare phenomenon. While restoring the arch of the city’s General Staff Building, company workers found 5,000 cigarette holders. A fresco, panel paintings and other antiques have also been uncovered in other places, the company’s press service said.

After the Trubetskoi-Naryshkin mansion has been restored it will serve both cultural and business functions. On the first floor a restaurant will be opened where, during Soviet times, a cafeteria was located. Rooms to be used for cultural events such as exhibitions, conferences, seminars and excursions will be on the second floor.

Source & Copyright: St. Petersburg Times
4 April, 2012

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