The beautiful Catherine’s Palace located at Pushkin is a stunning example of baroque architecture and was given to Catherine I by her husband Peter the Great.
It later served as a summer residence to many Russian emperors and empresses. The building is filled with beautiful rooms and surrounded by beautiful parks. It is one of the gems of Russian palatial architecture. It was destroyed during the war by the Germans. The evacuation of Museum artifacts from the suburban palaces near Leningrad began immediately after the Germans declared war on the USSR. At that time Catherine’s Palace and Alexander’s palace contained over 100,000 exhibits and artifacts.
An artist’s rendition of the palace being destoyed by fire and how it looks today.
The rescue of the museum collections was carried out in three stages. Some shipments went to Gorky on the Volga, some to Novosibirsk in West Siberia and others to Sarapul on the Kama River in Udmurtia. It was mostly women who did his work and what could not be evacuated was packed and stored into the palace cellars and in the basement of St Isaac’s church in Leningrad(now St. Petersburg) in August 1941. In September 1941, the Germans reached the palace and the occupation lasted until January 1944 when Soviet troops liberated Leningrad. The palace had been pillaged and all but destroyed by fire.
Today it has been restored to its former beauty. However one thing that was never found – the precious amber from the Amber Room. The room was covered – floor to ceiling in amber panels with carved reliefs and mosaics. It has been recreated again from photographs, but we were not allowed to take pictures in that room. Note: When it was discovered that the Hermitage held many pieces of “Nazi” art, the Germans asked for it to be returned. The Russians told them, “when the Germans returned their amber.” This has never happened. It seems no one knows where it is.
As you drive or walk about St. Petersburg you are struck by the beauty of the buildings that line the streets. They all look very palatial. I found out that many of these buildings were given to different communist families and many still live there today. They are known as communal flats and families were given rooms to live in, but had to share the kitchen and bath with the other separate families. Today these flats are highly sought after in downtown St. Petersburg, and some people are buying out the other owners so they can have a complete flat for themselves. Others have become offices.
The history and wealth of the emperors and royal families in Russia is mind boggling. One visit to this fascinating country does not do it justice, and certainly is not enough time to get everyone straight in one’s mind. Who married whom. Who killed whom to acquire power, and of course this is made even more difficult because it seems everyone was called Nicholas or Peter or Alexander, not to mentions that most of the wives of rulers and some female rulers changed their names to Catherine.
However, Peter the Great certainly stands out in my mind. He was a giant of a man in Russia’s history, not only in stature, as I mentioned, he was 6’7” tall, but in his thinking and he played a huge role in the development and modernization of Russia.