St. Petersburg is unlike any other city I’ve ever seen. The only commonality to some other beautiful and historic cities is that one could take a lifetime to discover and absorb it all. I had only four days, just enough to wish I could go back again and again.
Today, I’m concentrating on Catherine’s Palace, located 15 miles from St. Petersburg in the palace complex called Tsarskoe Selo, which means “Tsars Village” in Russian. The village consists of Catherine Palace and Park and Alexander Palace and Park. Catherine Palace was built in the early eighteenth century and was the summer residence of Peter the Great’s wife, Catherine (I) and was subsequently expanded and redecorated by their daughter Elizabeth and, later, Catherine the Great (II). Alexander Palace and Park were built later by Catherine II and were most famously used by the last Tsar, Nicholas II and his family, who were imprisoned there and later sent to Siberia and executed in 1918. World War II destroyed much of the palace complex, but, thankfully, it has been completely restored to its former magnificence.
(Note: Click on photos to enlarge)
Main Architects Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli and Charles Cameron exceeded their genius by using an abundance of Baroque gilded carvings, multi-wood parquetry and mirrors below spectacular ceiling murals by such artists as Antonio Peresinotti, Pietro and Francesco Gradizzi and Ivan Belsky, to create such masterpieces as the world has never known. Each room was more amazing than the last.
Within the shells of the rooms were gilded furnishings, statuary, paintings, hand painted silk wall coverings, priceless carpets, ivory chess sets, porcelain table decorations, etc. Even the stoves to heat the rooms in the frigid Russian winters were works of art with hand painted tiles composing the surface. Whole rooms had themes devoted to semi-precious stones like malichite, agate and rare marble.
One room in particular, famous the world over, is the Amber Room, dubbed the “eighth wonder of the world.” As a tourist, I was not allowed to take photos in this room, but it’s worth checking out the Internet sites’ accounts of the Amber Room with its fifty-five square meters and six tons of amber. Imagine an enormous wall of pieces of amber put together like a jigsaw puzzle and on top of that, wainscoting and mirror frames and cartouches, all composed of layers of Baltic Sea amber with carvings in different hues of amber embellishment. Mix this with gilded wood carvings and more carved and gilded mirrors and I’m certain you would say this room was absolutely breathtaking! If you are interested in seeing a video, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_YTD7N8LS0
Catherine Palace was the summer palace as stated at the beginning of this post. There was also a Winter Palace, the Yusupov Palace, once owned by one of the wealthiest families in Russia and where Rasputin was murdered, both located in St. Petersburg. Additionally, all four tour days were filled with museums, art galleries, gardens and churches within the city called the Venice of the North.
During this trip, I often found my mouth pretty-much stuck in the O position and my neck suffering from whiplash while I tried to take it all in; floors, ceilings, walls, even views through windows to parks, fountains and gardens beyond. To be able to witness this opulence and artistry was truly an experience of a lifetime.