About fifteen minutes walk away from the Catherine Palace there is fancifully adorned 2-storey pavilion in Catherine Park can be seen. The name of the structure is “the Hermitage”. Hermitage is initially the French word that stands for “place of solitude”. Idea of the Hermitages appeared in Europe in the late 17th century. Usually the “Hermitages” were the small huts in the woods, resembling the hunting lodges, but quite nicely decorated inside. They were being built for the crowned heads of Europe as the places, where kings could be alone and finally enjoy the true privacy far away from the court etiquette. When Peter the Great came to Europe, he could see the pictures of the various “Hermitages”, and definitely he was eager to follow this fashion. His Hermitage is standing on the shore of the Gulf of Finland in Peterhof. The daughter of Peter the Great Empress Elisabeth outdid her father many years later: her Hermitage Pavilion in Tsarskoye
Selo is the most luxurious in Russia.
Brief history of the construction of the Hermitage pavilion
The area of the garden where it was chosen to start construction was named The Wild Grove. It was still reminiscent of the hunting grounds. Construction of the pavilion was commenced in 1744-46 by Mikhail Zemtsov. This architect was one of the best from the group of young adults, who were sent to study abroad by Peter the Great. Zemtsov actually started many projects in Tsarskoye Selo, but his early death did not allow then to be implemented. Hermitage was completed in 1756 by the court architect F. B. Rastrelli. This artist was actually the one who developed baroque style in Russia. The edifice resembles Catherine Palace in miniature. Elisabeth wanted her place of solitude to be as dazzling as any other palace she owned. To intensify the feeling of privacy the structure was built on the artificial island. There is a moat around the Hermitage, under Elisabeth there was a functioning raising bridge, banning any possible eavesdropper from reaching the entrance doors.
The architectural features of the Hermitage Pavilion
External decoration of the Hermitage was superb. The Pavilion was raised on a pad paved with black and white marble squares, as the pattern of the chessboard. Structure was encircled with the balustrade filled with marble statues and vases. The bridge was decorated with gilded sculptures. Hermitage is built of stone and finished with stucco. The building has two floors; the walls are colored in azure just like the main palace in Tsarskoye Selo. The façade is decorated with the statues of Atlases holding the walls on their shoulders. There are also lion’s masks, symbolizing power. There are several balconies with fancy cast iron grilles with some ornaments gilded. The whole edifice looks like the smaller version of Catherine Palace.
The structure has the shape of the cross. There is one large hall on the second floor, and four small rooms around it. The interior decoration is as lavish as Elisabeth could afford: the walls are decorated with gilded carvings, paintings and many mirrors. The plafonds were painted with the participation of the Italian artists G. Valeriani and A. Peresinotti. These masters worked in Catherine Palace and Grand Palace in Peterhof as well.
The key surprise in the building was the mechanism that set in motion lifting tables. These pulleys made it possible to arrange dinners without waiters. Empress and here guests were alone on the second floor. The servants were laying tables with food on the ground floor. The food was cooked at the Hermitage Kitchen which was nearby at the entrance to the park. How could they know what dishes ladies and gentlemen upstairs wanted? Upstairs each guest and the Empress herself had the blackboard and the piece of chalk by which they scribbled the name of the dish desired. They rang the bell and their section of the table flew down, the servants read the request and went to the kitchen. When the food was ready they lifted tables laden with food up. After the dinner tables flew down with the dirty dishes, and the room was ready for dancing party. The expensive parquetry drew up turning the room into the ballroom.
Elisabeth I and her successor Catherine the Great often entertained foreign ambassadors in the Hermitage. Catherine had parties for her grandkids here.
The Hermitage Pavilion in modern times
During the Second World War the pavilion was not as badly devastated as the palace. Restoration was needed but on a lesser scale. Now the carefully renovated edifice is one of the most beautiful features of Catherine Park. There is the carefully manicured formal garden around the Hermitage. The moat is no longer filled up with water. The baroque interiors of the Hermitage have never been changed since the mid-eighteenth century and come practically unchanged down to the present time. The mechanisms have been restored and now in full order. During the tour to the pavilion one can see the tables being raised up and lifted down.