Located in 30km south of St. Petersburg in the village of Pushkin (Tsarskoye Selo), Catherine I, wife of Peter the Great, decided to build a small summer home as a rural retreat. Over the next 200 years Russian Tsars and their families would use the palace as a summer home, each adding something to eventually build one of the finest palaces in Europe.
In 1717, Catherine I hired a German architect Johann-Friedrich Braunstein to design a palace to escape the city of St. Petersburg, the newly formed capital of Russia. Catherine’s daughter, Elizabeth eventually found the palace outdated and too small so she commissioned her architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli to create a much larger palace in the more contemporary Rococo style. Rastelli’s design was unveiled on 30 July 1756 and left courtiers, nobles and the Empress awestruck. The main façade alone measured over 325m (1073ft) with a roof top decorated with numerous statues, figures and motifs. To highlight the Empress’s power and wealth, more than 100kg of gold were used to decorate Rastelli’s creation. In the subsequent years, gardens were laid out, canals were added and fountains were built.
When Catherine the Great ascended to the throne, she gave the palace a more classical look by adding several more conservative wings, a hanging garden and cold baths. With Catherine’s death in 1796, the palace was abandon in favour of Pavlovsk Palace. Future Tsars made very few additions to the building or the grounds, preferring to leave it as a reminder of Elizabeth’s wealth and Catherine’s power.
When the Germans laid siege to St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) they purposely destroyed the residence leaving only a hollow shell of the palace behind.
The Russian government decided it should be rebuilt and by 2003, the 300thanniversary of the founding of St. Petersburg, much of the palace had been completed. Today, although more work needs to be down, the palace is an incredible reminder to the wealth and power of the Russian Tsars.
Designed by Rastrelli between 1752-56, the Great Hall was intended to be used for balls, formal dinners and masquerades. Covering more than 1000m² (10000ft²) it occupies the entire width of the palace with its eastern windows look out into a park, and its western into the palace courtyard. The room is illuminated with 15 chandeliers which collectively hold 669 lamps to highlight the gilding that covers every wall.
Covering 100m² (1000ft²), the rooms walls are covered in formal portraits of Catherine I, Empress Elizabeth, Catherine II (the Great) as well as Natalya Alexeyevna, Peter the Great’s sister. The inlaid floors are made of the hall are made precious woods from Russia and the Balkans.
The drawing room stood out from the other formal rooms as its walls were covered in Chinese silk, several of which were gifts from the Chinese Emperor.
The Amber room today is a reconstruction as the original was taken by the Nazis during WWII. When the war finished its whereabouts was a mystery and continues to be so today. More than 30 years of work have seen the 55m² (590ft²) room reconstructed. More than 6 tonnes (13000lb) of amber was used to decorate the room by placing the amber on panels with gold leaf and mirrors. Before it’s disappearance, it was considered the ‘8thwonder of the world’