Gatchina Palace

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Gatchina Palace
- Library -
- Gatchina -

Gatchina Palace

Gatchina Palace, built in limestone, has the looks of the Tudor-era castle and the grandeur of the Russian Imperial house. The structure has three floors and two large semi-circular wings. Gatchina Palace inside is surprising visitors with its beauty, for outside it looks rather rigid.

History of Gatchina Palace

The year 1765 Empress Catherine the Great was in love with count Orloff and gave him the truly royal present. It was a very picturesque plot of land intended best for hunting. There was a little village named Gatchina, situated far to the south from St Petersburg. Both of them liked this royal sport. Architect Antonio Rinaldi had to surprise this high-positioned couple with something completely out of the ordinary. His choice was the building, resembling both the Tudor architecture and the Italian palazzos. Nothing like that was ever built in Russia before. The building materials were found in the village Pudost right near Gatchina. The stone mine was developed there and the walls of the entire palace are faced with this greyish-yellow porous limestone which is named Pudost stone. One can find it in the middle of St Petersburg: Kazan Cathedral is built from the same material as Gatchina Palace.

Antonio Rinaldi was working during 15 years. The structure was encircled by the natural forests and lakes, making it the perfect place for retreat. By the 1781, when palace in Gatchina was completed, Catherine and Orloff were no longer the couple. The count never lived in Gatchina. Catherine has bought the estate from his heirs and decided to give it to her son. Catherine and Paul, her only legitimate child, were on the very bad terms. Catherine wanted to put the hated prince far away from her splendid palaces into the oblivion. Absolutely unexpected thing happened: instead of hating Gatchina Paul loved it. Here finally he could become the master of his own estate, even this little town and lonely palace would do. Paul loved architecture, had clear vision of the perfect kind of town and perfect royal residence. He plunged into the reconstruction and renovation of Gatchina. Another hobby of the Grand Duke was drilling his soldiers: he had his own regiment in Gatchina and in front of the palace the wide parade ground was made. Paul was doing these martial exercises with his soldiers and officers almost daily in any weather from dawn till dusk.

Gatchina Palace, built in limestone, has the looks of the Tudor-era castle and the grandeur of the Russian Imperial house. The structure has three floors and two large semi-circular wings. Gatchina Palace inside is surprising visitors with its beauty, for outside it looks rather rigid.

History of the construction and restoration of the palace

Vincenco Brenna, the favorite Italian architect of Paul, was responsible for the further reconstructions of the palace. In 1796, when Catherine died and Paul got his long desired throne of Russian Empire, Brenna had to turn Gatchina Palace into the splendid official summer residence of the new emperor. The gallery of the gala halls with the main throne room was decorated in noble classical style. Inside it was lavishly decorated, but outside reminded of an unassailable fortress with moats, guard posts and gate bars. All of this was no help: Paul was assassinated in 1801. His widow Maria never lived in Gatchina and according to her will, the estate went down to her son Nicholas.

When Nicholas became the Emperor Nicholas I, he employed architect Kuzmin to reconstruct the palace once again, the works lasted from 1844 to 1856. All architects of the Gatchina Palace had great reverence to their predecessors and overall look remained in harmony.

Nicholas I and Alexander II came to Gatchina occasionally, mostly to take part in the Imperial Hunt. Gatchina was still perfect for hunting.

Emperor Alexander III lived in Gatchina during his entire reign. His father, Alexander II, was killed by suicide bomber in 1881. Imperial family was horrified. Alexander III decided to move into Gatchina Palace immediately, for it was the farthest from the capital. Here all of his kids were growing up, including the future last Tsar of Russia Nicholas II. His sister Grand Dutchess Olga, being the old lady living in Canada, left very interesting memoirs about their life in Gatchina. The rooms of the royal family were very simple and plain; children wore plain clothes, spent a lot of time outside, their diet was very strict.

After 1917 revolution Gatchina Palace was turned into the museum. In 1941 Gatchina town was occupied by the Nazis. Palace was plundered and burnt down. After the war the Soviet government decided to make this badly damaged building into the engineering office. Only by the end of 1970s the art historians convinced the government that museum had to return into Gatchina palace and scientific restoration had to be done. So the renovation is going on during 4 decades and still there is a lot of work to do. For instance, church of the Gatchina Palace still lacks its splendid décor, but already consecrated and divine services are held there daily.

Gatchina Palace Interiors

Upon entrance the visitors see the grand staircase going up to the second floor. The state rooms which were designed by Brenna for Emperor Paul and Empress Maria stretch out into the suite of gala halls. The rooms are decorated in classical style, and, like in many other palaces, the designs were inspired by Versailles. They are very elegant and regal. The palace boasts with the good collection of fine arts. Fifteen rooms were arranged for the court receptions and balls. The enfilade of gala halls leads one into the Armory where one of the Gatchina highlights is on display. The palace which started its history as the hunting lodge has one of the best collections of antique hunting weapons in Russia.

Among the top attractions in the palace there is the watchtower. One can climb up there and observe the surrounding area in the summertime.

After many years of hard work the exhibition devoted to the last Romanovs has finally opened its doors. The rooms on the third floor are small in size and very simple in décor. You won’t believe these were the family quarters of the ruling monarch. They look like the middle-class family apartment. Most of the furniture and applied arts objects belonged to the royals and miraculously survived all revolutions and wars. Alexander III was a modest man in his private life and he brought up all of his children in the same way. His favorite hobbies were fishing and hiking, he also liked hunting occasionally. Nicholas II spent his teenage years in Gatchina and was fond of this palace during his entire life.

Gatchina Palace tour can be arranged privately for you. Gatchina Palace inside is surprising visitors with its beauty, for outside it looks rather rigid.

Location of the palace

Gatchina Palace is standing on the Shore of Silver Lake. It is more than 40 kilometers away from St Petersburg, making it far to reach. Proximity to the lake has made it possible to dug out the underground passage which is most popular with the visitors. One can go down and see this fortified underground tunnel, built by the first estate owner Count Orloff and further fortified by Paul I. Initially the place was being developed for hunting, and location was good. Gatchina was surrounded by the thick forests. It is to the south from St Petersburg, so quite often it is a little bit warmer here than in the city.

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