The first mention about the little town or, rather, a village named Gatchina is dating back to 1499. Written records of the census held this year actually are the beginning of Gatchina town history. History of the name “Gatchina” is rather dubious: most historians agree on the word “gat’” (in Old Russian stands for “bridging”) as the provenance of such unusual-sounding name. In 1765 Catherine the Great granted Gatchina village with hunting grounds to her "blue-eyed boy" Gregory Orloff.
Antonio Rinaldi was the first architect to work in Gatchina and build the palace there. History of Palace in Gatchina started like a hunting castle, since Orloff was very fond of hunting. But when Rinaldi has finished the castle, Catherine had split up with Orloff and he died shortly after. Empress gave the estate to her son Paul, whom she barely tolerated at court and wanted him to be away as far as possible. In 1783 Gatchina became the residence of Grand Duke Paul. Despite such a strange Gatchina city history, Paul really loved it. He arranged the town of Gatchina according to his architectural ideas, remodeling into the ideal Prussian-style town.
In 1796, when Paul ascended the throne, he officially gave Gatchina the right to be called the town, turned it into official Imperial summer residence and further expanded and reconstructed this area. In the 19th century the palace was used as the summer royal residence. Two last Romanov Tsars: Alexander III and Nicholas II spent many years in Gatchina. During the Soviet times Gatchina was renamed many times and was given back its original name only after the victory over the Nazis. At the present moment Gatchina town is the capital of Leningrad region, its main attraction being the palace of Paul I. Gatchina is the largest town of Leningrad region, big administrative and industrial center of the North-West area. For those really interested in the brief history of Gatchina we would highly recommend visiting the Gatchina city museum.
Palaces and parks in Gatchina
The palace in Gatchina is best known in Russian history as the favorite place of Paul I. Paul’s favorite architect Vincenzo Brenna was given the task to expand and redecorate the palace. All the works were finally completed only when Paul became the Emperor in 1796. Interiors of the palace were inspired by the French fashions and designs. Paul travelled to France in the early 1780s and brought many building and decorating ideas from there.
There were several parks around the palace: Palace park, Sylvia Park, Zverinets (Menagerie) Park. There is another historical structure in Gatchina named Priory Palace. This is the highly interesting building, small but impressive, looking like the old French castle. It was built as the summer home of the Maltese Knights Prior during the brief period of time when Emperor Paul was elected the Grand Master of the Maltese Order.
History and Exhibitions of Gatchina Palace
Several generations of the Romanovs used this palace as the summer residence. During short reign of Paul I Gatchina Palace was extended and partly reconstructed by V. Brenna and A. Zakharov. Paul moved all summer court activities to Gatchina and needed more space there. After Paul’s perfidious murder the palace was deserted for a few years. The Empress Dowager Maria didn’t like Gatchina. Her younger son Nicholas inherited Gatchina Palace and when he became the Emperor, yet another reconstruction followed in 1840s. Nicholas I came here not very often. The next ruler, Alexander II, was a dedicated hunter and came every year for the hunting season. Forests around were the perfect hunting grounds.
The excellent collection of arms which is exhibited in the palace now is largely comprised from the Romanovs hunting firearms. Yet another murder of the emperor - and the new sovereign Alexander III takes a difficult decision - he moves to Gatchina permanently with the family. Gatchina Palace was the safest place in 1880s Russian empire. The future Tsar Nicholas II grew up in Gatchina, enjoying the country life.
Nowadays in Gatchina Palace you can see the state rooms of Paul I and his wife Maria, and also private quarters of the Tsars where little Nicholas lived. There is Russian Orthodox Church in the palace that is actively being restored, the Watchtower one can climb and see the surrounding beautiful lakes and gardens from the above, and the underground passage where the forgotten voices can be heard.
Palace Park in Gatchina
This garden is a good example of the English landscape design in gardening. There are several small-size regular French gardens, looking more like the flowerbeds. They were created especially for Her Majesty Maria, wife of Paul, and her horticultural hobby. The most impressive feature of the Palace garden today is the lovely lake. There is an island of Love where the small Venus Pavilion is standing. This architectural edifice is a copy of the French 18th century structure constructed for the Prince of Conde countryside estate. Paul visited Prince of Conde in France and was delighted with the architecture and landscape there.
Sil’viya Park and Zverinets Park
Sil’viya means the “forest” in ancient Greek. But the look was totally different from the forest – this was the garden modeled after Chantilly Park. Paul I wished to see this Sil’viya and recall his visit to the castle of Prince of Conde, the relative of the King of France Louis XVI.
Zverinets stands for menagerie in Russian. The purpose was obviously for the royal hunting. The animals were kept here for Count Orloff, the lover of Catherine the Great. Paul I ordered this area to be reconstructed into the formal garden.
Today both gardens are not in the best shape and restoration is taking a very long time.
Priory Palace: history of construction
This structure was built by architect Nicholas L’vov in 1799. This master was skilled in many sciences and arts, and local architecture historians brand him “The Russian Leonardo Da Vinchi”. Nicholas L’vov has put to work the ancient idea of the rammed earth constructions. Paul I demanded the Priory Palace to be constructed in a very short time. This home was intended for the Knights of the Maltese spiritual order and their Prior. It has taken just 1 year for L’vov to fulfill this task of the Emperor. The palace looks like the castle from the romantic story and up to now this is the only surviving rammed earth construction in Russia.