Petrovsky Travelling Palace
Reopens in Moscow

Moscow's Petrovsky "Travelling" Palace as it looks today after a ten year restoration

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Opening day at the Petrovsky Palace. The video includes some wonderful views of the newly restored interiors.
Source: Vesti.ru. Language: Russian. Duration: 2 minutes, 22 seconds.

NOTE: Video added 20 April, 2010

After more than ten years of extensive restorations, the Petrovsky Palace and park complex has reopened in Moscow. With a unique history that dates back to the late 18th century, it is regarded as one of the city’s most beautiful architectural jewels. For years, you could consider yourself lucky if you caught more than a fleeting glimpse of it on a car ride to or from Sheremetyevo Airport. Located across from the Aerostar Hotel near the Dynamo metro station, and not far from Leningradsky Prospekt, the Petrovsky Travelling Palace, as it was called almost from the start, was built for Catherine the Great and designed by the famous Russian architect Matvei Kazakov in 1775-82.

It was intended as a stopover palace for the empress on her way to Moscow from St. Petersburg, so that she could have a chance to rest before entering Moscow. Catherine visited once, in 1785; her son, Paul I abandoned it, and after that, until 1917, it was the palace from where all the tsars began their journeys to the Kremlin for their coronation.

During the fall of 1812, the Petrovsky Palace was where Napoleon sat waiting, in vain, for the keys of Moscow and where he later hid from the terrible fires that engulfed the occupied city. "From here, lost in thought, he gazed at the terrible fire," the poet Alexander Pushkin wrote. "Napoleon's room" in the palace was preserved intact, until recently. Restoration work was carried out on the palace in the 1830s and again in 1874 with minor alterations.

An historic photograph of the Petrovsky "Travelling" Palace as it looked before the revolution

After the Russian Revolution, the Petrovsky Palace was exceptionally lucky. Of the seven imperial palaces in Moscow, it was the only one not reconstructed by the Bolsheviks. Allocated to the secret Zhukovsky Military-Engineering Academy of Aviation in 1923, it was declared out of bounds to the general public.

Only with Perestroika could the public visit the palace once more, and then only in groups of organized guided tours. "We even had a timid hope that the palace would be made into a museum," historian Artyom Zadikian said. But what happened? Instead of a museum, commercial interests appear to have taken precedence.

Several years ago, the Moscow government decreed that the palace and its surrounding land of 3.2 hectares be taken away from the Aviation Academy. Then it was said that the Moscow government was launching a program of restoration and reconstruction of the palace with the aim of making it into a deluxe hotel equipped with facilities for official events.

At the same time, a number of people specializing in protecting the country's architectural heritage have argued that the word "reconstruction" is inapplicable. They point out that, thanks to the Academy, which was meticulous in carrying out minor repairs and maintenance whenever necessary, the interior has remained in excellent condition.

Emperor Alexander III receiving rural district elders in the yard of Petrovsky Palace
Painting by Ilya Efimovich Efimovich Repin

Nevertheless, reconstruction was carried out. All of the unique fittings and movable decorations were, for the large part, secretly moved to unknown destinations, the furniture was stored at the Tretyakov Art Gallery.

The Petrovsky Palace is unusually beautiful. Built in red brick in an eclectic style that still manages to look unmistakably Russian, if somewhat Gothic, it is topped with a huge dome. The palace originally had two royal apartments on the first floor and plenty of service space on the ground floor. Its central facade is decorated in old Russian style with stucco moldings, arches and gates, while its windows look out onto a sweeping panorama of the park. The towers, resembling Genoa fortresses, are especially impressive. Similarly, the "Turkish" tower, which is located in the park, has a striking appearance. Hexahedral, it resembles a Muslim minaret from Istanbul or ancient Damascus. The oriental architecture is no coincidence. During Catherine the Great's rule, Russia waged a series of victorious wars against Turkey with the aim of liberating southern and southeastern Europe from Ottoman rule.

One of the alleys in the park leads to the Church of the Annunciation (1844-47) which, until recently, was a miserable pile of ruins. However, a restoration project that started in the 1980s was completed in the late 1990s. There is a beautiful modern mosaic in the church depicting the Consecrator and Confessor of Moscow, Patriarch Tikhon, who, after the 1917 Revolution, was one of the few who dared to openly resist the Communists.

Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna receiving rural district elders in the yard of Petrovsky Palace, 18 May, 1896
Painting by Ilya Efimovich Efimovich Repin

The mosaic represents the first publicly displayed image of the priest, who was recently canonized as a saint. Next to the church is the Sunday school building, which was recently restored by public activists. It is now a spiritual and cultural center where theologians, priests, historians, writers and doctors read lectures for adults and teach children.

The Aviation Academy – known as "the Palace of Red Aviation" – has unsurprisingly left memorials of its tenure to posterity. Since a number of eminent aviation designers were associated with the palace, including the world's first spaceman, Yury Gagarin, one of the academy's graduates, there are two monuments in the park to Russian space-exploration prowess.

One of them is a statue of the brilliant engineer, specialist in aero-hydro-dynamics and the father of Russian aviation, Nikolai Zhukovsky. Nearby is a statue of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, who was considered a groundbreaking theorist in the area of space navigation. Partially deaf, a modest and shy teacher, he is credited with having made Russia's early space flights possible.

The Petrovsky Palace and park complex today consists of 13 buildings. The large white building behind
the palace and across the road is the Aerostar Hotel. Beyond that is the former Khodynka Field

The palace was officially reopened on the 8th of March 2009 by Moscow Mayor Yuri Lushkov as the House of Receptions of the Government of Moscow and will be used as a hotel for visiting dignitaries to Moscow and will host official receptions and exhibitions.

Today the palace complex consists of thirteen buildings. The first is the central building with reception hall, the other eleven buildings house the administrative, technical and auxiliary facilities, as well as the hotel with 60 rooms. A subterranean restaurant, conference halls, swimming pool, gym, parking for 36 cars and engineering service area. The first floor of the palace building is open to the public and houses a small museum showcasing the palaces’ history.