The Catherine Palace near St. Petersburg is one of the world's great royal residences. It was significantly damaged during World War II but has been restored. The most famous mystery related to the Catherine Palace is the fate of the famous Amber Room, which disappeared during the War. The room has been reconstructed and is a unique feature unlike any other room in any other palace.
Exploring St. Petersburg and the nearby Catherine Palace in Pushkin with a knowledgeable local guide is probably the best way to see the city. Guide Alla Ushakova is a very entertaining and enlightening young woman who has lived in St. Petersburg for about 12 years.
Alla and her driver meet their tours at the St. Petersburg pier where the Silversea Cruises' ship was docked. Guests do not need a Russian Visa to exit the ship if they are touring with a licensed guide. Alla emails a confirmation of the tour and that is sufficient for the immigration officials.
Explore a few of the amazing parts of Catherine Palace, about half of which has been reconstructed since the end of World War II. This may not sound like too much; however, 57 of the massive halls were totally destroyed during the war. Fortunately for all of us, many photos of the palace were in existence, which assisted in the reconstruction.
Catherine Palace (also called Tsarskoye Selo or the Tsar's Village) is located in the small town of Pushkin, about 17 miles south of St. Petersburg, Russia. The palace's ornate, baroque design is breathtaking, and its 740 -meter (2427 feet) length is massive. Like many St. Petersburg structures, the Catherine Palace is brightly painted. The exterior is a brilliant robin's egg blue, trimmed in white and gilded with over 200 pounds of gold.
Peter the Great presented the palace's estate to his wife Catherine in 1710, and it served as the imperial family's summer residence until the time of the last Tsar in 1917. During the reign of Peter's daughter, Empress Elizabeth, the size of the palace was significantly increased during the mid-1700's by the famous architect Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli, and it was Rastrelli who gave the palace its baroque style. The Baroque interior design of the palace was changed during the reign of Catherine the Great (Catherine II) to suit her more neo-Classical taste.
The northern wing of Catherine Palace near St. Petersburg, Russia is topped by the five golden domes of the Palace Chapel. Although over 200 pounds of gold were originally used to gild the exterior of the palace, today it is just gold paint.
Long Hallway Provides Interesting Views
Catherine Palace is laid out with all the doorways exactly the same distance from the exterior walls. Therefore, guests standing in a doorway could see for hundreds of feet and through many rooms. Since the palace has many mirrors and windows, the light makes this view even more impressive. This hallway looks much like the hallways at the Hermitage.
Catherine Palace Centerpiece - Great Hall or Grand Ballroom
The Great Hall (also known as the Grand Ballroom) is Rastrelli's centerpiece room at the Catherine Palace near St. Petersburg, Russia. The Great Hall is almost 56 feet wide and over 154 feet long. The Great Hall is on the second floor and occupies the entire width of the palace. The two tiers of windows enhance the impression of grandness and size. The area between the windows is covered with gilded mirrors. The ceiling is elaborately painted, and the inlaid parquet floor magnificent. Each of the numerous gilded carvings that cover the walls is a masterpiece in itself.
When standing in the room, you can almost picture the regal party-goers of the 18th century enjoying music and this marvelous room.
What Happened to the Amber Room during World War II?
The amber room is probably the most famous room in Catherine Palace, and it was used as a study. King Frederick William of Prussia gave Peter the Great the original inlaid amber panels after Peter admired them in a room in Frederick's palace. The 16-foot jigsaw-looking panels were constructed of over 100,000 perfectly fitted pieces of amber. The Nazis dismantled the amber panels and shipped them from Russia to Germany during World War II, and they have never been found. Much mystery surrounds the fate of the amber room panels, and many Russians believe that they still exist somewhere in Germany. Russian artists began recreating the amber panels using the old techniques in the early 1980's, and the room was opened to the public in 2003.
Bedroom of Maria Fiodorovna
Empress Catherine II (Catherine the Great) did not like the Baroque style used in the Catherine Palace near St. Petersburg, Russia. She preferred a classical style, and the palace interiors created by Scottish architect Charles Cameron are remarkable for their exquisite beauty, the austerity of decoration, and selection of decorative materials. One of the rooms Cameron designed is the bedroom of Maria Fiodorovna, who was the wife of the Grand Duke Pavel Petrovich, the heir to the throne. In this room, Charles Cameron made use of his favored technique of recreating Pompeiian murals in three-dimensional forms. The room certainly has a Roman feel!
Green Dining Room
Charles Cameron used his extensive knowledge of ancient Roman art and decorative motifs in his design of the Green Dining Room at the Catherine Palace near St. Petersburg, Russia.
The Hermitage Pavilions sits a short distance away from Catherine Palace and is one of two garden pavilions on the grounds of the palace. The concept of the Hermitage Pavilion was to be a place of solitary abode or entertainment for the members of the royal family. Rastrelli's design made the Hermitage Pavilion much like a miniature palace.
One of the most interesting features of this place of respite was the use of mechanisms to raise tables already set with meals into the Central Hall of the upper floor. Guests would be amusing themselves and chatting when suddenly the floors would open and exquisite dishes appear to everyone's delight.
Strolling the Streets of St. Petersburg - Shopping, Monuments, and History
After touring the inside of Catherine's Palace and strolling through the gardens, Alla sometimes takes her guests for a late lunch at a typical St. Petersburg "fast food" restaurant--Teaspoon. This deli-type restaurant features all sorts of delicious blini sandwiches and cold meat salads, and it is usually filled with locals.
The large building in this photo is St. Petersburg's largest department store--Gostiny Dvor. This popular two-story shopping center covers a whole city block. Gostiny Dvor was built between 1761 and 1785 and was one of the world's first shopping malls. Originally the store consisted of over 175 separate shops, but today it is just one large store.
Alla pointed our many fascinating sights such as this one that travelers might have missed just driving by on a bus. It was truly a memorable day in St. Petersburg and at Catherine's Palace.
Petersburg Photo Gallery -- 69 more photos of St. Petersburg
Peterhof Photo Gallery -- Peter the Great's Exquisite Summer Palace