World Monuments Fund Alexander Palace Time Machine
World Monuments Fund Alexander Palace Time Machine

Contents

Acknowledgments

From the Mayor of St. Petersburg

Foreward

History of the Alexander Palace

The Restoration Project

The Museum Project

Some Next Steps

Project Participants

The Romanov Dynasty

Chronology

Sources

Zoom Views

Palace Floorplan

Garden Facade

Front Entrance

History of the Alexander Palace

 
 
 
 
The Romanovs and Tsarkoe Selo

The first Romanov Tsar, Mikhail Fyodorovich, ascended the throne of Muscovy in 1613 upon his selection by a representative council called the Zemsky Sobor. The beginning of his reign marked the end of the fifteen-year period of upheaval known as the Time of Troubles. Under his descendants, the Russian Empire became the largest unified state in the history of the world.

The sixth Tsar of the Romanov line, Pyatr Alexeevich, was the first Russian ruler to declare himself Emperor. History conferred upon him the name "Peter the Great" in recognition of his consuming struggle to wrench Russia away from its feudal past and thrust it into the commerce and culture of modem Europe. In 1703 Peter established the city of St. Petersburg at the mouth of the Neva River on the Baltic Sea and, soon afterward, moved the Russian capital from Moscow to his new "window to the West."

In 1708 Peter gave to his wife, the future Empress Catherine I, the estate outside of Sf. Petersburg that was to become known as Tsarskoe Selo. The settlement began with a series of small farms which were amalgamated by Peter as he set about building his estate in the area. The model for this estate was the royal palace complex of Versailles outside Paris with its palace, park, trianons, associated structures and town - once the center of French government and court life. Tsarskoe Selo, though significantly smaller, is nonetheless comparable to Versailles in scale, grandeur, and importance in the history of the Russian state.

During the remaining two centuries of Romanov rule, a number of Imperial palaces and other buildings were constructed on the property, and a town developed around the site. Today the Tsarskoe Selo Historic Preserve includes about one hundred old buildings, of which two are large palaces: the Alexander Palace and the earlier and larger Catherine Palace, begun in 1717 during the reign of Peter the Great.

In an early Soviet effort to remove memories of tsardom from the Russian map, the town of Tsarskoe Selo was renamed Destskoe Selo (Children's Village) and then Pushkin, in honor of Russia's great poet Alexander Pushkin, who spent his youth at Tsarskoe Selo. The town, today a suburb of S1. Petersburg, claims around 80,000 inhabitants in an area of about fifteen hundred acres. During the twentieth century it has gained a varied assortment of modem buildings ranging from five-story apartment blocks to numerous dachas, which have robbed it of the idyllic country setting that surrounded it a century ago. Despite this development, however, the area still incorporates the park land and gardens of the Romanov era.

During the 900-day siege of Leningrad in the Second World War, Pushkin was occupied by German and Spanish troops, who looted and burned palaces and other buildings on their retreat. The great Catherine Palace, which was almost completely destroyed during the war, has since been rebuilt. The majority of restoration and reconstruction work is finished, with the notable exception of its famous Amber Room, whose lavish interior amber decoration was removed by the German army during the occupation and subsequently disappeared. That room is currently being reconstructed, and other lesser rooms outside the state apartments have not yet been restored.

Tsarskoe Selo today is one of Russia's most popular tourist destinations for Russians and foreigners alike. The Catherine Palace is the centerpiece of the extensive park complex, surrounded by ponds, canals, follies, and shaded paths which are open to the public. Not far from the Catherine Palace, separated from it by a ninety-degree turn along the park's central axis, stands the Alexander Palace, the "second center" of the Tsar's Village, now nearly hidden from the center of the park by an overgrowth of grass and trees and separated from the main park by a fence under military guard.


The Palace

The Alexander Palace was built between 1792 and 1796, commissioned by Catherine the Great as a gift for the future Alexander I, her eldest grandson. The palace's design was conceived by Italian architect Giacomo Antonio Domenico Quarenghi, one of several foreign architects working in Russia under Catherine's patronage. The palace, with its broad entrance colonnade and flanking temple-fronted wings, is considered by many scholars to be Quarenghi's masterpiece. He designed the building in the stately and fashionable neoclassical style and sited it at the end of one axis of the Tsarskoe Selo park - with its lakes and Romantic garden buildings patterned on the English landscape tradition - near Bartholomeo Rastrelli's earlier rococo-style Catherine Palace. The siting of the palace and its relationship to the surrounding park reveal Quarenghi's skill at manipulating scale and form. By their juxtaposition, the Alexander and Catherine Palaces complement each other, displaying an intriguing counterpoint of older and newer artistic styles.

The confluence of neoclassical architecture and English landscape design resulted from a deliberate plan to which a number of leading architects and designers contributed over the course of two productive centuries. Among the most prominent were Quarenghi and British architect Charles Cameron. Already acknowledged masters in their fields, both traveled to Russia at Catherine's invitation in 1779. Each created several fine works of architecture and landscape design which survive to the present day in St. Petersburg and surrounding locales. Tsarskoe Selo bears the indelible stamp of both men's distinctive styles.

After its initial construction, the Palace remained unchanged until 1826. At that time, soon after the beginning of the reign of Nicholas I, neoclassicist architect Vasily Stasov undertook renovations to the interior of the southwest wing, which contained the Tsar's private apartments. In 1837, Nicholas commissioned renovations to the Crimson Drawing Room, in the palace's central enfilade, from architect Konstantin Ton, a leading exponent of the Russian national style, who drew his inspiration from medieval Russian architecture.

Innovation in design and decoration came to the Alexander Palace in the 1890s when Nicholas n and Empress Alexandra renovated the southeast (left) wing to serve as their private apartments. The designer of these renovations was court architect Roman Meltser, whose taste was rooted in the Finnish and Russian vernacular, as well as contemporary British style. His contributions to the Alexander Palace interiors - a set of striking and original designs in the Art Nouveau style - are without comparison in other royal residences. The high-style furnishings and decorations were created in Russia and imported from Paris, London, and Darmstadt. Alexandra's brother, Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Germany, was an admirer of the modem styles, particularly Germany's Jugendstil, and advised his sister on the purchasing of furniture and art for their rooms in the palace. These period rooms represent the best of art and architechtual design of this creative period.

The Imperial Family spent several years at the Alexander Palace until early 1917, when Nicholas was forced to abdicate the throne. The family was kept under house arrest at the palace until their evacuation in August 1917 to the western Siberian town of Tobolsk. After the seizure of power by the Bolshevik government, Nicholas and his family were taken to the town of Ekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains and brutally executed in July of 1918. At that time, most of the family's belongings that they had taken to Tobolsk were returned to the Alexander Palace.

Between the World Wars, with the Imperial wing still furnished as it had been at the time of Nicholas and Alexandra, the palace was used alternately as a museum and as a resort for officers of the secret police. At the end of the 1930s, as the German military threat grew, the palace interiors were stripped and removed to storage facilities in the East.

The palace survived World War II with minor struchural damage, according to military records - unlike the Catherine Palace, the Palace of Pavlovsk, and the Great Palace at Peterhof, which were almost completely destroyed during the German occupation. Although the exterior was damaged, the majority of the Alexander Palace's interiors were reported as unharmed, with the exception of some rooms which received moderate to serious shell damage. Many of the paintings, furnishings, and personal artifacts - including a considerable collection of clothes and military uniforms once belonging to the Imperial Family - were saved and have been conserved and stored in several state museums and historic sites.

After the war, the Soviet Ministry of Culture and the Leningrad Commission for the Preservation of Historic Monuments made detailed plans to restore and present the Alexander Palace as a museum devoted to Alexander Pushkin and other Russian literary figures. Restoration was still incomplete when Joseph Stalin signed an order in 1951 handing control of the building to the Soviet Navy for use as a military research institute. Although the building was altered somewhat to accommodate a variety of administrative uses, electrical and mechanical upgrading on most floors appears to have been minimal, and general repairs and maintenance have been largely limited to the interior over the intervening years. It is not yet known how many of the pre-revolutionary architectural interiors remain intact in the Imperial Suite. However, the few rooms visited to date suggest that some of the important Art Nouveau rooms survive largely intact. While extensive research has not yet been conducted into architectural modifications that took place at the palace after the Second World War, it is expected that the increasing availability of military records will allow this research to begin in the near future.

Alexander Palace Discussion Forum

Worl Monuments Fund
 
A report issued in october 1996 by the world monuments fund an international preservation organization
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