Tag Archives: architecture

Seeing Tsars – Catherine’s Palace, Russia

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.


Filed under Art, internet, musings, photographs, Travel

Ancient Onion Domes Galore

Today, I’ll be taking you to Kizhi Island (pronounced KEE – ZHEE), a stop on my recent Russian river cruise. Kizhi Island, in Russia’s republic of Karelia, is located on Onega Lake, (one of Europe’s largest), near the Finnish border in the northwestern part of Russia and 250 miles northeast of St. Petersburg. Since the lake freezes in winter, most travelers only see this UNESCO World Heritage Site in warmer months, after icebreakers have cleared the way. Many examples of ancient wooden Russian structures are here and some date from the 14th century.

First glimpse of Kizhi

First glimpse of Kizhi

As our river ship approached the island, a breathtaking view of the Church of the Transformation greeted us. Twenty-two spectacular onion domes pierced the sky with scaly shingles shining silver in the sunlight. We were told it was built by Karelian carpenters in 1714, but most remarkably, not a single nail was used! How was that possible? The aspen dome pieces were notched together, as was the main structure of pine. Absolutely amazing!

Next to the Church of the Transfiguration stands the Church of the Intersession with ten onion domes, thought to have been built in 1764. The builders succeeded in blending both churches and later, the belfry, into a single complex.

Churches & Bell Tower

Churches & Bell Tower

"Silver" Onion Domes

“Silver” Onion Domes

After touring the church complex our group enjoyed strolling in the summer sun along a path that led us to other structures. One in particular stood out to me, because of its likeness to some homes I’ve seen in the mountains of Switzerland. This home housed the family, harvested crops and animals during the harsh Russian winter, the animals and crops below and family above, keeping all relatively warm. Here practicality and necessity worked together nicely. In the upper family living quarters, often there were enclosed sleeping areas situated adjacent to the central fireplace used for cooking.

Traditional Home

Traditional Home



It sounds toasty, but I have the feeling even with these features, it still must have been difficult to keep warm in the frigid winters. My poor little Florida body wouldn’t have fared well at all, me thinks. Although it was wonderful seeing and learning about how other peoples managed their lives in the harshest of circumstances, I’m glad I live in a warmer climate with all the amenities that are available to me. How do you think you would fare?

Did you know that scenes from the 2012 movie, Anna Karenina were shot at Kizhi, specifically, the home above and the church complex? If you have the chance, visit Russia and see for yourself the wonders of a spectacular and romantic country.


Filed under life, musings, Travel, writing

Romantic Transylvania by Coco Ihle

I’ve traveled to many countries, but my favorite is Romania, in particular, the republic of Transylvania. Many people who go to Transylvania want, especially, to see Bran Castle, associated with the stories of Vlad the Impaler and the novel Dracula, created by the Irish writer, Bram Stoker, over a century ago.

Bran Castle, Transylvania

Although Bran was fascinating, I felt my imagination soar in Sinaia (pronounced “Sin-EYE-ah); a village nestled deep in the Carpathian pine forests. It seemed to me a timeless place right out of a fairytale with its unique cross-timbered buildings tucked against lush steep mountain slopes.

I remember, one clear night as darkness settled, I unlatched my window and leaned out. It was so quiet I could hear the sighing of the trees in the forest. I don’t know how long I lingered there listening, but after a
while, I became aware of the howling of wolves echoing in the mountains. Before long, dogs in the village joined in the eerie chorus. I’ll never forget that stillness and those haunting sounds. They were both beautiful and frightening; conjuring up images and memories of the tales I’d heard or read of this exotic land of vampires and nocturnal creatures.

The next day, I visited Peles Castle at the edge of the village. It is truly the most exquisite building I’ve ever seen. Both inside and out. While not a new castle as castles go, its building was begun in 1883 by Romania’s longest serving monarch, King Carol I, as a summer residence. I was amazed to learn this magnificent royal palace, with its fairytale turrets and pointed towers rising above acres of green meadows, was the first castle in Europe to have central heating and electricity.

Peles Castle, Sinaia, Transylvania

The characteristic features of the external architecture are specific to the German neo-Renaissance style. The interior is dominated by the same elements, but have combined various styles: Italian and Gothic Renaissance, German Baroque, the rococo, Hispanic, Moorish and Turkish styles. The architects used an abundance of wooden decoration both inside and out, which gives the building that fairytale quality.

Quite outstanding are the big Armory Room, the small Armory Room, the Florentine Room, the Reception Room, the Moresque Room, the French Room, the Turkish Room, the Council Room, the Concert Room and the Imperial Suite, 160 rooms in all.

Interior of Peles Castle, Sinaia, Transylvania

The library conceals a secret passage leading to the second floor of the castle. There is a gallery of mirrors and the dining room has a leather clad ceiling. Scenes from age old Romanian fairytales adorn the stained glass windows in the Poetry Room. Paintings, sculptures, silver, gold and marble are everywhere.

During Ceausescu’s era, the castle was used as a private retreat for leading communists and statesmen from around the globe. U.S. presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, Libyan leader Moamar Gaddafi and Yasser Arafat were all entertained by the Romanian dictator in Pele’s fanciful rooms, each furnished to reflect a different European country.

Peles Castle truly took my breath away. If you ever travel to Romania, I cannot recommend highly enough, a visit to Peles Castle and Sinaia.

Have you visited a place whose very essence made your imagination soar?


Filed under fiction, musings, photographs