The Imperial carriage collection was open to the public in the Imperial Stables. There were three sets of carriages. The first was the historic collection which included carriages, sleds, and sledges dating back to the first Romanov Tsars of Russia in the 17th century. There were many interesting things to be seen here - including huge sledges that served as mobile palaces, furnished in velvet and gilt, with cooking utensils and beds, and diminutive children's fairy-tale carriages. A second part of the collection were ceremonial carriages and other conveyances that were used for public events. This collection had recently been expanded at the time of the accession of the last Tsar, Nicholas II, in 1896. At that time all of the livery was spruced up or replaced and the initials of the new Tsar, N II, were added. The last part of the collection were the everyday carriages used by the court, to convey ambassadors to see the Tsar, ferry members of the Imperial family about town, and carriages to conduct the ceremonial day-to-day business of the court - such as delivering the court invitations to balls and special events - which was always done by private messenger in court livery.

Above: Carriages in front of the Mikhailovskii Palace.

The great coronation carriages were the most popular items in the collection. They were really quite wonderful to see and splendid example's of the European carriage art that reached it zenith in France in the late 18th century. The coronation coach was considered so fine that a miniature model of it in gold and enamel was fashioned as a surprise in one of the famous Fabergé easter eggs presented by the Tsar to his wife and mother every year in springtime. The model was so well done that all of its' parts functioned exactly like the real one.

Hidden away in farthest room of the collection were the blood-stained carriage in which Alexander II was blown up in 1881 - and the sled that later carried his wounded body back to the Winter Palace where he died. The curators of the collection were very superstitious about these, and in 1900 would not allow them to be photographed.

Being trained to operate an Imperial carriage was a long process. There were many things to be considered as a driver or as an attendant. Drivers had special police training to know what to do if a terrorist made an attempt on a member of the court or Imperial family - including evasive action, Many of the drivers were huge cossacks, and intimidating former soldiers. Worrying about terrorists wasn't the only thing a driver or attendant had to worry about; accidents - including the overturning of carriages - had happened even to the Tsarina herself on several occasions. The most frequent mishaps had to do with doors shut on Imperial hands or fingers, dresses torn on protrusions or stepping into puddles or mud when alighting from the carriage. The well-trained carriage attendant had, of course, to watch for all of these possibilities, without actually showing the least effort or conscious concern.

Next photograph: A Troitka

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