PUSHKIN (TSARSKOE SELO)
Pushkin, a town of Imperial palaces also known as Tsarskoe Selo, lies 25 km south of St. Petersburg. In 2010 Tsarskoe Selo celebrates its tercentennial anniversary.
The history of Pushkin dates back to early 18th century. At that time the estate called “Saarskaya Myza” was here. Peter I gave this land first to his favorite, Prince Alexander Menshikov, but later took his gift back and granted it instead to his wife, Ekaterina Alekseevna, the future Empress Catherine I. In 1724 the first palace, known as the “stone mansion” of Catherine I was built and the park was laid down. From that time onwards the place became known as “Tsarskoe Selo” (Royal Village).
When Empress Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great, inherited this property, she decided to turn this estate into her gala summer residence. By the order of Elizabeth, the unique palace and park ensemble was created here by architects Bartolomeo Rastrelli, Mikhail Zemtsov, Savva Chevakinsky. The splendor of new architectural ensemble immediately caused everybody’s admiration and delight. Tsarskoe Selo became the place for official receptions of Russian nobility and representatives of foreign states, who were visiting Russia with diplomatic missions.
During the reign of Catherine the Great further significant alterations were made to the palace and park. The Catherine Park was extended with the layout of the garden landscaped in the English style.
After the Revolution, when numerous mansions were turned into orphanages, the town was renamed into Detskoe Selo (Children’s Village). In 1937 the name was changed into Pushkin, to commemorate the centenary of the poet’s tragic death.
Pushkin’s major attraction is the Great Catherine Palace – an outstanding example of Russian Baroque architecture. The existing palace was built between 1744 and 1756 by architects Mikhail Zemtsov, Aleksey Kvasov, Savva Chevakinsky, Bartolomeo Rastrelli, Charles Cameron, Giacomo Quarenghi. The leading role in design of the palace belongs to Bartolomeo Rastrelli, who by 1756 created an architectural masterpiece, which the delighted Empress Elizabeth named after her mother, Catherine I. In latter 18th century some Baroque interiors with opulent moldings and abundance of gold were replaced with rooms designed in more discreet Classical style, preferred by Catherine the Great.
The interiors of the palace contain objects of applied art, fine furniture, Russian and European paintings, unique collections of porcelain, amber, weaponry, artistic bronze and sculpture.
Part of the fabulous gilded suite of rooms of the palace is the legendary Amber Room, often referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”.
In 1716 King Friedrich-Wilhelm of Prussia presented amber panels as a diplomatic gift to Peter the Great. Great care and protection was given to transporting the panels to St. Petersburg from where they were carried to Tsarskoe Selo by 76 strong guardsmen in six days. In 1755 Empress Elizabeth commissioned Bartolomeo Rastrelli to begin work on the Amber Room. Since the panels were not large enough to complete the decor, mosaic and mirror inserts were inlaid and the upper part of the walls was painted to imitate amber.
During the Second World War the Amber Room was looted by the invading German troops and was taken first to Konigsberg and then to an unknown destination further west. The room has never been found.
Since 1982 a team of Russian amber masters has been painstakingly working to reproduce the opulent amber panels. The project was successfully completed in 2003, just in time for St. Petersburg’s tercentennial anniversary.
In 1780-1795 on the edge of regular and landscape parks a unique architectural complex in the style of ancient Roman bathhouse was designed by Charles Cameron. It comprised Cold Baths with Agate Rooms, the nearby Cameron Gallery used for strolls, Hanging Garden connected with the southern wing of Catherine Palace, and the Ramp by which the aging Catherine the Great could walk down to the park.
The Agate Rooms adjoin the Catherine Palace to the southeast. It is a small pavilion with elegant colonnade and semicircular rotunda, located on the second floor. Fan-shaped granite staircase leads to the first floor of the pavilion, where bathing rooms with pools known as Cold Baths were once located.
Beyond the Hanging Garden stands the elegant Cameron Gallery. Its upper floor is enclosed with a colonnade of Ionic columns forming a covered walking arcade on either side. Between the columns there are bronze busts of ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, orators, politicians and generals. From the side of the Great Pond a divided flight of curved steps leads down to the garden. On the walls which flank the foot of the stairs stand bronze statues of the ancient hero Hercules and Goddess of Flowers Flora.
The alleys of the regular part of Catherine Park are lined with allegorical sculptures of mythological characters by early 18th century Italian sculptors. On the alley in front of the Catherine Palace and in the middle of parterres there are statues of Hercules, Galatea, Amphitrite, wife of God of the Sea Poseidon, Perseus and Andromeda, as well as allegorical sculptures “Military Glory”, “Splendor”, “Allegory of Peace”, “Love for Motherland” and allegorical busts symbolizing the months of the year. By the front steps of the palace there are allegorical statues, called “Glory” and “Wisdom”, as well as statues of the heroes of Greek mythology, Sibyllae and Iole, the lover of Heracles.
To the east of the Catherine Palace, amid marble statues, on the bank of a small lake, stands the Upper Bath, built by Ilya Neelov in 1777-1779 and served as a bathhouse for the royal family. The exterior of the pavilion is fairly modest, but its interior decor was once very ornate. Besides all the bathrooms there was also a lounge with decorative murals. The interior designs of the Upper Bath were based on the murals in the rooms of the Golden House of Emperor Nero discovered during excavations in Rome.
Not far from the Upper Bath is the Lower Bath. It used to be called the Cavaliers’ bathhouse, since it was used as a bathhouse for the courtiers.
The main path through the terraced French Garden leads to the Hermitage Pavilion. It was erected between 1744 and 1756 by architects Aleksey Kvasov, Savva Chevakinsky and Bartolomeo Rastrelli, and was designed for Empress Elizabeth who used to arrange gala receptions and dinners there.
The peculiarity of the Hermitage consisted in the fact that it had an ingenious mechanism for lifting dinner tables to the upper floor. Five tables could be raised mechanically from the ground floor and fixed to these were slates on which the guests could write their orders to the servants below. In this way privacy was ensured for those dining at the invitation of the tsar. The dishes served were most exotic including such delicacies as nightingales’ tongues and young elk lips.
Now you came to the Great Pond. On the north side of the pond one can view the domed Grotto. Its elaborate Baroque exterior is decorated with sculptures of naiads, tritons, shells, seaweed and dolphins. The interior incorporates 3 halls connected by arched arcades and decorated with molding ornaments designed by Antonio Rinaldi in 1780s.
In the center of the Great Pond, on a small artificial island shaped like a truncated pyramid, the Chesma Column rises high above the water. This 25-meter high monument was designed by architect Antonio Rinaldi in 1771-1778 and is made of multi-colored marble. The column was set to glorify the victory of the Russian fleet in Chesma Bay on June 25, 1770. The marble trunk of the column is decorated with rostra, which honor sea victories of Russia (rostrum – prow of the ship). The column is crowned by a bronze eagle (symbol of Russia) crushing a crescent (symbol of Turkey).
On a south cape of the Great Pond stands the Turkish Bath, built in 1852 by Ippolito Monighetti to mark the Russia’s victory in the Russo-Turkish war. From the outside the building resembles a mosque. The interior of the pavilion was originally designed in the Mauritanian style. From the vestibule the visitors were entering the cloakroom, the walls of which were inlaid with marble mosaics at the bottom and covered with moldings and painted arabesques at the top. The cloakroom was separated from the washroom by an alcove in which there was a fountain. Further along in the central octagonal hall was a pool of white marble.
In the southwest corner of the pond you can see the blue and white Marble Bridge (also called Palladiev Bridge) which runs across the channel connecting the Great Pond with a number of small ponds and channels. This bridge is the work of Vasiliy Neelov and was completed between 1770 and 1776. It was modeled after the Palladian Bridge at Wilton in England. Vasiliy Neelov first made a wooden model for the bridge, which was sent to Yekaterinburg in the Urals. There on his pattern the future bridge was built out of marble and sent back to Tsarskoe Selo in pieces were it was reassembled. The bridge’s gallery is classically restrained in form and made of blue and white marble. It is ornamented by Ionic columns and an elegant marble balustrade.
From the Granite Quay, turn right into a path running parallel to the Great Pond. The path will lead you to a statue-cum-fountain called “Maiden with a Jug”. The fountain was created in 1816 by sculptor Pavel Sokolov. On a cliff, in a mournful pose, sits a maiden holding a fragment of a broken jug that lies at her feet. From the broken mouth of the jug a stream from the only spring in the Catherine Park flows into a tiny granite basin.
The prototype for the maiden was the heroine of the fable by Jean de La Fontaine “The Milkmaid”. According to the fable, the milkmaid was dreaming about future wealth on her way to the market. Carried away by her thoughts, she forgot about the jug that she was carrying on her head and jumped for joy. The jug fell and broke, the milk poured out, and the sad maiden sat by the road, mourning her misfortune.
From the pond walk up the hill to the Granite Terrace. The terrace was built in 1808-1810 by architect Luigi Rusca from pink and grey granite, on the spot where the Sliding Hill entertainment pavilion used to be in the 18th century. Fifty years later it was ornamented with the statues of Venice Medice, Apoxyomenus, Diana, and Faun with a kid. In the center of a square in front of the terrace is the statue of Apollo Belvedere.
North of the Granite Terrace, well hidden behind the trees and thick bushes, stands the island Concert Pavilion. It was built in 1782-1788 by architect Giacomo Quarenghi and was originally designed for summer concerts.
At the border of Catherine and Alexander Parks, on a narrow islet, stands Chinese (Creaking) Pavilion – one of the most interesting park pavilions designed by architect Yuriy Felten in 1778-1786 as part of Chinese complex. At the top of the pavilion there are metal weather vanes, modeled in the form of Chinese flags. When turned around by the wind, these weather vanes were creaking, hence the second name of the pavilion. The roof of the pavilion was decorated with brightly colored and gilded figures of the dragons, carved from wood.
Across the road separating Catherine Park from Alexander Park, one can see two originally designed bridges. One of them is called Grande Caprice – a massive humpback arch topped by a pagoda. The bridge is one of the most original constructions in the park, combining elements of antique and Oriental architecture. Grande Caprice as well as Small Caprice located nearby, were designed in 1770 by architect Ilya Neelov. In the 18th century the Grande Caprice was used as the main entrance to Tsarskoe Selo.
In the early 19th century the land on which the menagerie had stood was replanned and made into part of the Alexander Park, which joins the northern end of the Catherine Park. It was here that the idea to create a unique architectural ensemble in Chinoiserie style was put into life. Among pavilions designed in the park were Chinese Village, Chinese Theater and Chinese Bridges.
In the northern part of Alexander Park stands Alexander Palace. The Classical austerity of the palace, designed by Giacomo Quarenghi in 1792-1796, is in contrast with its Baroque neighbors. Its exterior is serene and restrained. Pastel shades tend to dominate and there are no bright colors or excessive moldings. The side wings are attached by white Corinthian colonnade. In the late 1830s two bronze statues (by Nikolay Pimenov and Alexander Loganovsky) were placed in the central part of the colonnade. They depict young men playing traditional Russian games.
The Alexander Palace was built by the order of Catherine the Great for her favorite grandson, the future tsar Alexander I. It was a present to him on his marriage.
The last Russian tsar Nicholas II lived in Alexander Palace to the very moment when he and his family were taken away to begin the fatal trip that concluded in Ekaterinburg.
Retracing your steps to Catherine Palace, you will not fail to see a yellow building of the former town’s Lyceum. It was originally the “new” wing of the Catherine Palace, built by Ilya Neelov in 1789-1791 for the children of Paul I. The archway across the street from the palace allowed Catherine the Great visit her grandchildren without having to climb stairs. In 1811 it was decided to turn the wing into the Lyceum – a privileged school intended for the families of the Court. Alexander Pushkin, Russia’s greatest poet, was a student at Tsarskoe Selo Lyceum from 1811 to 1817. It was here that he wrote his first verses. The young man’s brilliant poetical talent was noticed and highly appreciated by recognized poets.
In the Lyceum Garden stands a famous seated Statue of Alexander Pushkin made by the design of sculptor Robert Bach in 1900. Pushkin is shown as a youth, wearing the uniform of the Lyceum student. The future poet daydreams sitting on an iron bench in a tranquil corner of the park.
Every year, on June 6, Alexander Pushkin’s birthday, admirers of his talent come here from all parts of the country and the world to recite his poems, to listen to other people’s recitals, and to see the places where his talent first blossomed.