Residence of the Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich

Situated on the banks of the Neva River, the palace of the Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich and his wife, the
Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna is one of the finest preserved residences of the Russian Imperial family in St. Petersburg.

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Language: Russian. Duration: 14 minutes, 10 seconds

The Vladimir Palace was the last imperial palace to be constructed in St. Petersburg before the Revolution. It was designed by a team of architects overseen by Alexander Rezanov for the Emperor Alexander II's son, Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich. Construction began in 1867, when Vladimir was 20 years of age. In August 1874, the Grand Duke married Duchess Maria of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (later the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna the Elder).The young couple settled into their new palace, and lived there with their family until the revolutionary events of 1917. (Note: Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich died on 17 February, 1909. Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna remained in the palace until 1917, she held the distinction of being the last of the Romanovs to escape Revolutionary Russia.).

Like the Winter Palace and the Marble Palace, the Vladimir Palace is situated on the Palace Embankment overlooking the Neva River and the Peter and Paul Fortress. The construction of residences along the banks of the Neva was extremely prized by both members of the Russian Imperial family and the Russian aristocracy.

The architecture and decor is dominated by eclecticism typical of the time. The monumental façade is richly ornamented with stucco rustication, and was patterned after Leon Battista Alberti's Palazzo Rucellai in Florence. It includes Venetian glass windows that emphasise the affinity of the building with Italian architecture. The main porch is built of Bremen sandstone and adorned with griffins, coats-of-arms, and cast-iron lanterns. Other details are cast in Portland cement.

The palace and its outbuildings contain some 360 rooms. Each room of the luxurious apartments of the palace are all decorated in disparate historic styles: Neo-Renaissance (reception room, parlour), Gothic Revival (dining room), Russian Revival (Oak Hall), Rococo (White Hall), Byzantine style (study), Louis XIV, various oriental styles, and so on. This interior ornamentation, further augmented by Maximilian Messmacher in 1880-1892, is considered a major monument to the 19th-century passion for historicism.

Until 1917 the palace was one of the main centres of social life in St Petersburg, the venue of countless musical and literary nights and balls. Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna was regarded as one of the most illustrious socialites and renowned for her musicality; her salon was frequented by the likes of Rachmaninov, Rimsky-Korsakov and Chaliapin.

After the October Revolution, the palace was handed over to scientists and renamed the Academics House. As a consequence its interior has been preserved to a greater extent than other Romanov family residences and is one of the few places in St. Petersburg where the historic decor of 19th century Russia has remained practically intact.

But most importantly - there is nothing of the stuffiness of a classical museum about the place, no red ropes to cordon things off, etc. As you wander across the slightly squeaky parquet floor and watch your guide open yet another heavy door with a huge key, it feels almost as if the owners of the place had only just left the building.

Also preserved has been much of Vladimir's collection of late 19th-century porcelain, most of it manufactured in the Imperial Porcelain Factory, and painted or decorated by its leading artists. The collection has been preserved in photographic detail in a handsome catalogue published in 2006.

For me personally, this palace brings back fond memories of past tours that I have organized to St. Petersburg, many of which always included a visit to this magnificent palace. The curator of the palace-museum would greet us in the foyer and lead us up the marble staircase into the Crimson Drawing Room. It was here that we would be invited to sit and drink champagne while our hostess would regale us with tales of its former illustrious owners. This would be followed by a tour of the palace rooms, which included the Grand Duke’s magnificent study and library, and the Moorish Drawing Room in which hung a portrait of the only daughter of the Grand Ducal couple, the Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna. The tour always ended with a delicious supper in the oak-panelled dining room.

Today, the Vladimir Palace is home to the Club of Scholars of the Russian Academy of Science. Sadly, it is one of those special places that normally remain undiscovered by the average tourist. The Vladimir Palace is open to the general public daily except Sundays; it is a good idea to book a guided tour (available in Russian) in advance; call + 315 88 14 (entrance fee is RUB 30).

Compiled by Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia
Updated: 1 September, 2012

The elegant staircase leads guests up to the first floor of the palace

The magnificent 19th-century porcelain collection of Grand Duke Vladimir, most of it manufactured in the Imperial Porcelain Factory,
and painted or decorated by its leading artists is the subject of a handsome catalogue published in 2006.