We are leaving our ship this morning after two weeks of river cruising and sight seeing. We are glad that we had so much time in Moscow & St Petersburg as these cities are very interesting. Now we are heading to Vilnius in Lithuania for a few days.
Our time in St Petersburg continued with some city tours and a visit to Catherine’s Palace in the town of Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin), 25 km southeast of St. Petersburg. It was the summer residence of the Russian tsars. The Palace is named after Catherine I, the wife of Peter the Great, who ruled Russia for two years after her husband’s death. Originally a modest two-storey building commissioned by Peter for Catherine in 1717, the Palace owes its awesome grandeur to their daughter, Empress Elizabeth, who chose the town of Tsarskoe Selo as her chief summer residence. Starting in 1743, the building was reconstructed by four different architects, before Bartholomeo Rastrelli, Chief Architect of the Imperial Court, was instructed to completely redesign the building on a scale to rival Versailles.
The resultant complex of buildings, completed in 1756, is nearly 1km in circumference, with elaborately decorated blue-and-white facades. In Elizabeth’s reign it took over 100kg of gold to decorate the palace exteriors, an excess that was deplored by Catherine the Great when she discovered the state and private funds that had been lavished on the building. She employed a Scottish architect, Charles Cameron, who not only refurbished the interior of one wing in the a more modest style, but also constructed the personal apartments of the Empress.
The interiors are quite spectacular. The so-called Golden Enfilade of state rooms, designed by Rastrelli, is particularly renowned and forms the focus of one’s visit tot the palace. Entry is via the State Staircase. With its ornate banisters and reclining marble cupids, it gives a taste of what is to come when you get to the Great Hall, also known as the Hall of Light. It measures nearly 1,000 square meters, and occupies the full width of the palace so that there are superb views on either side.
One room was lined with amber. although it was removed when the Nazis occupied this area during WW2 and has never been found. In 1982, the order was given to begin its recreation, a process that took over 20 years and cost more than $12 million. In fact, the whole palace is a recreation. It was ritually destroyed by the Germans who, amongst other things, used the sceptres and paintings for target practice.
The large ‘park-like’ grounds include nicely laid out gardens and many remarkable structures that were erected for royal amusement. These include the Dutch Admiralty, the Creaking Pagoda, Chesme Column, Rumyantsev Obelisk, and Marble Bridge.
Lunch after our palace visit was at the nearby Restaurant Podvorye. This is owned by the same man who established Mandrogi Island that we visited a few days ago. It is a very Russian version of those knee slapping Austrian Restaurants that were so popular in Melbourne when we were newly married. There was good food, good company, plenty of wine and vodka and some hearty folk singing. This YouTube clip shows something of the restaurant and its style.
We took a boat cries around the various canals ands rivers that flow through the city and this gave us a chance to see a different perspective. There are many streetscapes of palatial buildings that show that this city is certainly one that is worth visiting.