Abandoned Magnificence of
Agathon Faberge's Residence

The former residence of Agathon Faberge at Levashovo, in the Vyborg District of St. Petersburg. Photograph © Private Collection

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Photograph © Private Collection

Today the Fabergé mansion is steeped in legend. Just finding it is difficult, and even if you do, entering the grounds is nigh on impossible. The estate now officially belongs to the Mountain Institute, and is guarded around the clock.

The story begins more than a century ago. In 1900, Agathon, the second son of eminent jeweler Carl Fabergé built a permanent residence outside Saint-Petersburg, in Levashovo.

At that time, the residence was nicknamed the "Little Hermitage," because it contained a unique collection of precious stones. The house was decorated with antique furniture, paintings, engravings, and sculptures by famous masters.

Evenings were spent entertaining friends: the table was laid and the fire lit. The tiled stove with hand-painted details has been preserved to this day. But not in one piece: in search of untold riches, treasure hunters smashed up all the stoves and fireplaces in the house.

The left wing of the house was converted into an orangery. According to eyewitnesses, Agathon Fabergé's winter garden was a thing of wondrous beauty. Today, the left wing of the building is a sad spectacle: the ceiling has collapsed, and stucco debris crunches underfoot.

The story of the missing treasure begins, unsurprisingly, with the coming to power of the Bolsheviks in 1917. Its value is said to have been incalculable, and it is believed that even members of the royal family deposited their personal jewelry in the hands of Fabergé.

After the revolution, Carl Fabergé left St. Petersburg on the last diplomatic train for Riga. In mid-November, the Revolution having reached Latvia, he fled to Germany and first settled in Bad Homburg and then in Wiesbaden. he died on September 24, 1920 at Lausanne, Switzerland.

Three of his four sons settled elsewhere in Europe. Nicolas was the youngest son, who was sent from St. Petersburg to England to represent the family business in 1903.

Two of Peter Carl Fabergé’s sons, Eugčne and Alexander, settled in Paris in the early 1920s and established Fabergé & Cie which traded in and restored Fabergé objects, as well as general jewellery items.

After World War II, they learned that Sam Rubin of the United States had established Fabergé Inc. which was selling perfume under the Fabergé name and had registered Fabergé trademarks for jewellery items. In 1945, the brothers initiated legal action against Fabergé Inc. but, unable to afford the protracted and expensive litigation, were forced to settle out of court, ceding the rights to the Fabergé name in 1951 for a mere $25,000. In 1989, Fabergé Inc was sold to Unilever.

Agathon, the second son of Carl Fabergé, joined the firm after his namesake's death in 1895. He is the only one, who remained in Petrograd: Agathon did not escape with the rest of the family during the Bolshevik Revolution.

Agathon was eventually made to talk, and in one of the walls of the Fabergé residence, the Bolsheviks found a safe full of treasures. More jewelry was found in Fabergé's former apartment on Bolshaya Morskaya Street. Historians concur that this represents only a tiny fraction of Fabergé's worth. The remainder will only be discovered by chance, since we know that the family archive was almost completely destroyed.

Agathon was imprisoned until 1921 and finally escaped the Soviet Union and settled in Finland.

According to legend, there are three places that could be home to Fabergé's riches. The first of these is the territory of modern Latvia. The story goes that Fabergé's former accountant Otto Bauer hid his client's treasure there.

There are countless old wives' tales about the second possibility: somewhere on the Finnish border. It is said that there, under a certain "prominent tree," Agathon's wife buried her jewels. The border has been redrawn once or twice since then, and the area is not short of "prominent trees."

The third place, meanwhile, is none other than Fabergé's residence at Levashovo. Many researchers believe that the safe found in the wall was unlikely to be the only one. After all, the Fabergé family's favorite saying did happen to be: "Don't keep all your eggs in one basket."

Whatever the truth, even now, inside the house, one senses deep down the other worldliness and the slowness of time. The wooden banisters that once gleamed with fresh polish at Carl Fabergé's formal receptions are there to be clasped in the hand. The patterns of the ornamented tile stove can still be discerned with the naked eye.

And stroke the parquet floor once graced by elegant ladies' legs clad in satin slippers. The atmosphere of this architectural gem is what neither the Bolsheviks nor the treasure hunters could destroy. Only the merciless advance of time will ultimately consign the Farberge estate, piece by piece, to the pages of history.

Photograph © Private Collection

Photograph © Liliya Belaya

Photograph © Liliya Belaya

Photograph © Liliya Belaya

Photograph © Liliya Belaya

Photograph © Liliya Belaya

Photograph © Liliya Belaya

Photograph © Liliya Belaya

Photograph © Liliya Belaya

Photograph © Private Collection

Photograph © Liliya Belaya

Photograph © Liliya Belaya

Photograph © Liliya Belaya

Photograph © Liliya Belaya

Photograph © Liliya Belaya

Photograph © Liliya Belaya

Photograph © Private Collection

Photograph © Private Collection

Photograph © Liliya Belaya

Photograph © Liliya Belaya

Photograph © Liliya Belaya

Photograph © Liliya Belaya

Photograph © Private Collection

Photograph © Private Collection

Photograph © Private Collection

Source & Copyright: Russia Beyond the Headlines
Photographs © Liliya Belaya and Private Collection
16 November, 2012