Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Catherine's Palace in St. Petersburg

Today, we were off to visit Catherine's Palace, the summer residence of the Imperial family. We were greeted by a band as we got off the bus.

This is the long line-up of groups that are allowed to enter the palace early before it’s open to the general public. I was hoping it wouldn't be as crowded as the Hermitage yesterday. I can't say Jim looks thrilled!

Standing in line, we could see the amazing gilded domes.

Outside the palace grounds...

It was started by Peter the Great's wife, but really became a palace during Elizabeth's reign, hence the "E" on the gate. After her death, it was expanded by Catherine the Great. As the palace is 28 km south of St. Petersburg, the first Russian railway was built so that the tsar could travel here easily.

Inside the gate looking at the length of the palace...300 m with 300 rooms. It had several architects; one of the more prominent was Rastrelli, an Italian who made Russia his home.

The servants’ quarters...

The palaces are in constant need of maintenance...

One of the entrances...

The front of the palace has 60 Atlases made of plaster of Paris, which Catherine had painted bronze. I'm sure it wasn't a cost savings measure...

 These are some of the repairs they are making...

The main entrance with the official palace band. Entrance to the palace is controlled with only so many people allowed in at a time.

The band leader was quite funny. Every once in a while he would go over and shake the jar to give us a hint to put money in it.

These ladies were having fun...

video

Picture of the booties that we had to put on. I think we were actually polishing their floors for them. In some areas where the floors were slippery, it was best to skate along, rather than walk.

A barometer inside the palace...

During WWII, the palace was all but destroyed by the Germans. When it became clear that the palace would not be safe, servants buried some of the artwork, and much of it was taken to St. Petersburg and hidden in church basements. This reclining Cupid is one of the items that survived.

The main staircase...we were standing on an identical landing on the opposite side.

The stylish hall with a floor area of over 800 square metres was intended as the venue for official receptions and celebrations, banquets, balls and masquerades.

Completely stripped of all its gilding during the war, it has been restored by craftsmen using the original tools. In order to train them, they set up two colleges. Upon graduation the men worked on the carvings and the women worked on the gilding. 240 pounds of gold was using in the restoration.

The two dark cherubs are the originals; the others were recreated.

One of the many stoves throughout the palace...

"E" for Elizabeth on ceiling...

Another part of the restored ceiling...

Looking out of the Great Hall towards the servants’ quarters...

The Chevaliers' Dining Room...it is not particularly large, so the architect placed mirrors and false windows containing mirrors on the walls, making the hall spacious and bright.

One of the original chairs with original upholstery...

Some of the statues that weren't gilded...

The White State Dining Room was intended for grand banquets, but also the Empress would entertain a small group of intimates.

Meissen scent vases known as boule-de-neige, or snowball, because of the flowers.

The Crimson Pilaster Room...Rastrelli strove to make the interiors of the rooms as varied as possible. On the walls lined with white damask he placed pilasters containing clear glass backed by red metallic foil. In the centre of the room is a card table and on it a unique 18th century chess set inlaid with mother-of-pearl and carved ivory figures, a gift from the Chinese government.

The room also contains a secretary made by the German master craftsman Abraham Roentgen (1711–1793).

The Portrait Hall has a painting of Catherine and a recreation of the dress she is wearing made out of paper. The beautiful floors are the reason we were wearing booties.

We went through the Amber Room, where we were not allowed to take photographs. The link will take you to a site where, at the bottom of the page, you can see a 360 degree view of the room. Work on the recreation of the “eighth wonder of the world” lasted 24 years, and on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the foundation of St. Petersburg, the restored legendary Amber Room received its first visitors.

The Portrait Hall...114 of the 130 portraits were saved before the German occupation.

Portrait of the original palace...

The Chinese Drawing Room of Alexander I stood out from the other rooms because the silk lining the walls was painted with watercolours in the Chinese manner.

The Green Dining Room was designed by Scottish architect Charles Cameron, at the time an unknown architect. Catherine had to go to the West to get the Baroque architecture she wanted.

One of the original parquet floors...they were saved by covering them with floor runners and sand during the occupation.

A depiction of what the palace looked like after the Germans left...

The Palace after restoration...

Photos of what it looked like during the war. It's a good time to mention the Siege of Leningrad, which St. Petersburg was known as at the time of the war. For 900 days (September 1941 to January 1944), the German army kept the city under siege cutting off their supply to food and fuel, but the city would not surrender.


A worker sorting through the gilded carved pieces...

Renewing the floor in 1958...

Outside in the gardens...


The Upper Bath House was destroyed during the war and rebuilt in 1952-1953.

We headed over to the Grotto, completed in 1760.

This looked like a palace to us...Catherine wished to have sculptures and vases on display here.

Some of the decorative work on the Grotto...

The Grotto in on the banks of the Great Pond, a huge man-made lake. Hard to imagine how you could make a lake this big with hand tools. You can also see the lower bath house, intended for use by members of the court.

A duck in the Great Pond...

Statue with no eyes...reminded me a bit of Corinne in the Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah.

We’ve been so lucky to miss any of the sudden downpours we've seen while in Russia. These huge dark clouds were coming over the palace, but our luck held and we escaped any rain.

A screen on the left mimics the facade of the palace so that while they are doing restoration work, you don’t have ugly construction to look at. You can see on the right the actual palace and how it blends in.

A map of Catherine Park...we were just in the top right hand corner. Look at the size of the lake they made by hand!

Don’t do...anything!

We left the palace and saw this neat BMW...

That evening we went to the Ballet at the Opera House...


Interesting interior...

Once we got inside the theatre, we realized how small it was. It was obvious we weren’t going to see a full-scale ballet here. It was actually billed as a gala performance...snippets of many ballets.

There were only ever two dancers on stage at the same time. It was nice, but I would have preferred a story. Actually, we were so tired, it was probably just right.

Leaving the theatre at 10:30 p.m...

Going back to the ship...with the White Nights, you could practically fish all night.

It wouldn’t be a day if I didn’t take a photo of the Peter and Paul Fortress!

The first pink limo we'd ever seen...

Tomorrow, we're off to see Peterhof...it's our last day on the ship.

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