TSARITSYNO - MOSCOW
Grand Palace Interiors

The Grand Palace is one of numerous buildings that make up the Tsaritsino Palace-Park complex in Moscow.

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A portrait of the Empress Catherine II greets visitors to the Grand Palace

In 1775, Catherine the Great purchased Tsaritsyno, Irina Godunova's former estate situated near Moscow, and commissioned architect Vasily Bazhenov to build her a summer palace. He created an English park with pleasure buildings, bridges, grottos, and artificial ruins. The park was to serve as the site for two identical rectangular palaces with tall pavilions.

The architectural style, a complete departure from Bazhenov's earlier work, was a curious mixture of Moorish, Gothic, and Old-Russian styles. The red used in the palaces and the white stone details represented an effort to recapture Russian building traditions. The palaces were ready for Catherine's inspection in 1785. The empress praised the gates of the entrance and the graceful opera house but frowned on the sight of the neighbouring palaces and ordered them to be torn down and replaced. She chose Matvei Kazakov to resume her work at Tsaritsino, but he redesigned the ill-fated palace as a central block with towerlike corner pavilions using Bazhenov's pattern of brick with white ornaments.

The half-ruined palace was never finished because of subsequent financial difficulties during Catherine's reign; work was stopped on her death in 1796.

In February 2004, the Russian government transferred Tsaritsyno to the jurisdication of Moscow. In 2005, Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov showed an interest in Tsaritsyno and decided to restore all of the buildings. However, Russian historians and architects objected fiercely. They claimed he couldn't restore something that was never finished, and that the government should only maintain what's left from the original buildings in a decent state.

Luzhkov didn't listen, and later on there were lots of indications that the old buildings were being practically demolished and replaced with modern copies, ruining the historic atmosphere.

The opponents of the project went as far as the prosecutor's office, but in the end, the restoration of the Grand Palace went ahead. In 2007, the restored Tsaritsyno Park and Estate was officially opened for public, including the Grand Palace. The cost for the redevlopment of the Tsaritsyno palace-museum complex exceeeded 25 billion rubles.

Today, Tsaritsyno is the largest museum-reserve and historical and cultural monument of the federal level in Moscow, occupying over 700 hectares. The majority of the architectural monuments have undergone restoration, and the palatial grounds have been renovated. Tsaritsyno hosts both permanent and temporary exhibitions and expositions which demonstrate the various pages of its history, utilizing the rich collections of arts and crafts of the palace-museum's collections. Excursions, educational programs, concerts, festive events, the park and ponds, now welcome visitors on a truly grand scale.

The restoration of the Grand Palace, in particular its magnificent interiors, in some small way surely reflects the extravagent tastes of the Empress Catherine II. More than two centuries after Catherine's death, Tsaritsyno, a jewel of Russian culture, has a grand future.

Compiled by Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia



A life-sized statue of the Empress Catherine II presides over the main hall of the palace.
One has to wonder if the Empress would approve of her Grand Palace at Tsaritsyno?