Palaces & Residences of the Romanov Dynasty

New Life for an Imperial Residence
by Paul Gilbert

Ropsha Palace in the early 20th century

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The Office of the President of the Russian Federation, in cooperation with the International Charitable Foundation "Constantine" has announced plans to restore Ropsha Palace.

Despite the fact that the palace is considered an architectural monument of federal importance, and even included in the UNESCO-protected property has been in ruins for years. The crumbling architectural monument is situated about 20 km south of Peterhof, or 49 km south-west of St. Petersburg, and is considered “of immense historical value to the region and the country’s history,” said CEO Gennady Yavnik.

"Ropsha Palace is dying, crumbling before our eyes”, said Yavnik. Restoration of the palace was begun after the Second World War, but by the 1990s was in a terrible state of neglect and disrepair. Now we are collecting material: architectural drawings and photographs to assist us with a complete restoration of the palace."

According to Yavnik, an appeal was launched to save the palace asking donors in the Leningrad Oblast Region to help raise funds for the “Ropsha Project.” He said that at this stage, it is very difficult to say what purpose the newly restored palace will be used.

Ropsha was founded by Peter the Great, after wresting the region from the Swedes during the Great Northern War. Upon hearing about the curative properties of Ropsha's mineral springs, the tsar planned to make it his summer retreat. It was here that he built a wooden palace and church near the waters. He later abandoned his plans for Ropsha and presented it to Prince Peter Romodanovsky as a gift. In 1734 the estate passed to his son-in-law, Count Mikhail Golovkin.

In 1741, the Golovkin’s fell into disgrace with the Empress Elizabeth. She believed that Golovkin was an associate of Anna Ivanovna, and was thus exiled to Siberia, and the Ropsha estate was confiscated to the treasury.

The Empress requested that the Court architect, Bartolomeo Rastrelli, prepare plans for a new palace at Ropsha. As Rastrelli was busy with other projects, his designs for Ropsha were never executed.

Emperor Peter III was allegedly murdered at Ropsha in 1762

Towards the end of her reign, Empress granted the estate to her nephew and heir, the future Peter III of Russia. It was there that he was brought under guard after the coup d'état of 1762, and it was there that Peter III was allegedly murdered under shady circumstances.

It was only after the death of the Empress Catherine II that her son, the Emperor Paul I took over Ropsha. During his reign, Ropsha Palace was rebuilt in the Neo-Classical style to a design by Georg von Veldten. A large paper factory was built nearby and the English gardener Thomas Gray laid out an English park with a mosaic of ponds full of fish. The ponds were used to breed trout, and carp, for supply to the tables of the Imperial Court. Paul had planned to rename Ropsha, in memory of his father, and of the dramatic events of 1762, but was assassinated himself before this came to pass.

After Paul’s death in 1801, the palace was handed down to his son, Nicholas I. Although the ponds of Ropsha remained an imperial fishing ground, his sons and their family’s rarely visited the place. It was more popular with noble anglers who even named a special breed of scaly carp after Ropsha. When Alexandre Dumas visited the estate in 1858, the palace belonged to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. It had been presented to her as a Christmas gift from her husband, the Emperor Nicholas I in 1826. "I present to My Dearest Wife, My Alexandra Fedorovna the farmsteads of Ropsha and Kipen, with all of the settlements, buildings and institutions belonging to them." (citation from the Complete Laws of the Russian Empire).

In happier times, the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, with her daughters, the Grand Duchesses
Olga, Tatiana, and Maria, on the steps of the palace at Ropsha. (Photo: early 20th century)
The photograph on the left shows the same steps of the palace, as they look today.

In the ensuing decades, it was seldom inhabited until Nicholas II turned Ropsha Palace and parks into a hunting and fishing retreat. The Tsar was seen here surrounded by aristocratic milieu coming from all over Europe for hunting, fishing, and dining in the Russian style. It was also here that his sister, Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna spent her wedding night with her husband, Grand Duke Alexander “Sandro” Mikhailovich in August 1894. Ropsha also had a military garrison and an Imperial cavalry division stationed here until 1918.

During the Russian Civil War Ropsha saw some heavy fighting, as General Yudenich wrested it from the Bolsheviks on two occasions.

During the Second World War, the territory was invaded and occupied by Nazi troops. During that time, the Nazi Germans robbed and vandalized the imperial estate; a special unit looted the palace and moved its valuable art collection back to Germany. Then the palace was destroyed by the Nazis using explosive devices. The palace was left in a terrible state of ruin and disrepair due to the magnitude of damage inflicted by the retreating Nazis in World War II.

It was not until the 1950s that the palace was rebuilt and used to house two local military battalions of the Leningrad military district. The military vacated the palace in the late 1970s, leaving it in a terrible state. Floors and doors were removed, and the palace windows were covered with iron sheets. The palace was later temporarily used by a local poultry firm.

In 2008, the investment group Gruppo PASIT Italia planned to invest 200 million euros in turning the palace into a five star hotel. The palace, however, was declared a monument of historical importance, by both local and national government agencies. The Federal Property Management Agency denied the Italians the contract. Instead, efforts went ahead to restore the palace, but were cut short, when a fire nearly destroyed what was left of the structure in 1990. Sadly, the palace has continued to deteriorate ever since.

The International Charitable Fund "Constantine" was created in January 2001. They claim to have some 10 thousand private and corporate donors, including ordinary citizens of Russia, as well as the Bank Saint Petersburg , Central Bank, Sberbank, VTB, Gazprom among others. For the past ten years, the Constantine Fund has expanded its philanthropic activities, which have included the restoration of several churches, palaces (including the Konstantin Palace and park ensemble at Strelna, which cost an estimated $350 million USD), and allocated funds for cultural and educational programs. Now, the "Constantine" fund is going to give new life to the palace and estate at Ropsha.

The facade of Ropsha Palace as it looks today

Open ceilings and missing windows have exposed the existing interiors to the elements for decades

Rich in history, the palace has been neglected and left to ruin

What remains of the front of the palace is held up by scaffolding

The surrounding park is overgrown with weeds and brush