Imperial Palaces discovery without crowds of tourists

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St Petersburg is all about Romanovs and Imperial Russia, and palaces and all that splendor. But the thing is that you are not the only one who knows it. About 7,5 million people came to see St Petersburg in 2017. We bet the majority of them headed straight to the famous Catherine Palace, The Hermitage and Peterhof. The good news is that St Petersburg is big and has plenty of attractions for everybody. When it comes to the Imperial heritage, it doesn’t end in Pushkin and Peterhof. There are so many more options that are less known though they don’t yield in sumptuousness and historical value. Here they are:

  1. Museum-Reserve Oranienbaum: Tsar’s Favourite’s favourite toy

Just a few kilometers further from the famous Peterhof Grand Palace and parks, you will find this jewel of Petrine Baroque architecture. The first owner of this land and the founder of the palaces was Tsar’s favourite Alexander Menshikov. The Magnificent palace out-dazzled the luxury and grandeur of the neighboring Peterhof palace. From the northern side of the palace three fountains and a garden were constructed, connected directly to the Gulf of Finland by a canal, so that the visitors could dock right next to the garden’s gate. Later the estate was passed to Tsar Peter III, although his own palace was much more modest than that of Menshikov.

You may get here by marshrutkas (routed taxicabs) from Avtovo, Prospect Veteranov or Baltiyskaya metro stations. Another option is to take a suburban train from the Baltiysky railway station (the stop is called Oranienbaum). The entrance to the park is free of charge from 9am to 8pm, so you can marvel at the pier, the facades and the garden. The palace can be visited with our professional guide, as a part of your custom made tour. Just drop us an e-mail at tours@goandpack.com with details about your travel, or leave us a request for custom tour, and we willingly create a unique itinerary for you.

  1. Saint Michael’s Castle: a monument of architecture and paranoia  

Squeezed between Sadovaya street and Fontanka river, a stone through away from cheeful Summer Garden, stands an unusual sombre structure. People say that Emperor’s ghost still haunts this castle.

Immediately after the death of Empress Catherine II, Paul I ordered to dismantle the existing palace, that had stood on the same spot since Elizabeth’s time, and made a draft project of the future castle himself. And yes, it was a castle, not a palace. The official documents of the 18th century mentioned that the Palace of St. Michael (former name of the Castle) was surrounded by canals from the west and the south and by rivers from the north and the east, becoming a true fortress, that was meant to save its founder from murder. The Emperor suspected everybody around were plotting against him.

The statue of Paul I himself in the courtyard: the founder of the castle & one of the most narrow minded Russian emperors

The castle was completed in 4 years time, but Paul I was doomed to spend little time in his fortress, as his paranoia was well founded. Indeed there was a plot prepared against him. On a March night in 1801, the Emperor was killed by his own guard in his own bedroom within his own castle. After bloody events, the castle lost its status and in 1823 it welcomed the students of Nikolayevskaya Engineering Academy, which basically gave the castle its second name.

Saint Michael’s Castle brings together non-typical of St Petersburg architectural traits, so that it stands out among other works of Russian classicism.  Today its halls hold permanent expositions of the Russian Museum of the Paul’s epoch.

  1. Stroganov Palace: a pearl of Russian Baroque

This palace may not be linked directly with the royal family, bt it is truly unique in many ways. The masterpiece of architecture and interior decor, this building on Moyka embankment is one of the oldest constructions by Italian architect Rastrelli (the very same one who worked both under Winter Palace, Peterhof Grand Palace and Catherine Palace). It’s hard to believe that construction works took only 2 years. The exterior fo the palace features austere symmetric composition, while the interior boasts sumptuous decor and a unique collection of art , including works by Botticelli, Bronzino, Rembrandt and many others. Over time, reconstructions added some details of classical style. Apart from its decorations and furniture, the palace has curious items such as an Alchemy Laboratory called “Study of Physics”,  an extensive collection of antique books in a wooden library, as well as two theme studies: “Art” and “Mineral” rooms.

  1. Marble Palace: the palace that speaks for itself

Almost all the interiors and decor objects here are made of marble. It is one of the first Neoclassical palaces in the new capital of the Empire. The highlight of the palace is a Marble Hall, the walls of which are covered with four sorts of marble and lapis lazuli from Baikal lake shores. The palace is a silent witness of many deaths and lives of famous noble people. The palace was originally built for Count Orlov, the notorious favorite of Catherine II.  In 1797–1798 the structure was leased to Stanisław II Augustus, the last king of Poland. Thereafter the palace belonged to Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich and his heirs.

During the Soviet era, the palace successively housed the Ministry of Labour, the Academy of Material Culture and the main local branch of the National Lenin Museum. Finally, in 1992, it became a part of the Russian Museum. Nowadays there are congresses and exhibitions of modern art are held here.

5. Yelagin Palace: classical hideaway among trees and lakes

It is one of the most picturesque palace, conveniently located close to downtown on green Yelagin Island. The palace is named after its first owner Count Elagin and was built in 1785-1790. In 1817 Emperor Alexander I had bought  the palace for his mother. Since then the palace became summer imperial residence, rebuilt by architect Carlo Rossi. The best sculptors, furniture makers and decorators were invited to design the palace. In the early 20th century the complex became popular among the ministers who came here on holidays.

The palace was significantly damaged by fire during the war, but it was swiftly restored immediately after the war. At the start of the restoration, they wanted to make a cultural center in the former Imperial palace,  but after going through historical documents a compromise decision was made. The main halls of the ground floor were to be restored to its original design, while the 1st and the 2d floors completely changed their look. The 1st floor was given as entertainment rooms and billiard halls. The toughest destiny fell to the Church of St. Nicholas, situated on the 2d floor: it became a discotheque. 

The park around the palace has become a welcoming host of many city festivals like “O, Da, Eda!” and “Usad’ba Jazz”

Currently the palace is a museum that hosts various exhibitions, cultural and historical events. The vast green area that surrounds the palace is one of the most popular outdoor venues among locals. It hosts numerous festivals in summer and an open air skating rink and a Christmas market in winter. The palace is situated on Yelagin Island and you can reach it from Krestovsky Island and Staraya Derevnya metro stations.

 

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