I never knew that I was much of a palace guy before our trip to Saint Petersburg. In fact, I’m fairly certain that I had never been to an actual palace before our day trip to the suburbs around Saint Petersburg where we managed to visit two in one day. Located about 15 miles from the city center in a small town called Tsarkoe Selo (that would be Tsar’s Village in English) sits one of the most impressive buildings I have ever had the privilege of visiting, Catherine’s Palace.
When German troops reached Leningrad in World War II, they intentionally destroyed the residence. Although the restoration work that has been done is beyond incredible, the palace lost some of its beauty on the exterior. Most of the gold plaster present on the facade used to be actual plated gold. It is still beautiful but had these pictures above been taken in 1940, there would be a hefty amount of more actual gold pictured.
Entering the building, we were ushered up one of the main staircases to get to the more impressive second floor. The entire staircase and basically the rest of the room is all carved out of marble. Now I can’t say I am the biggest fan of all marble everything but it was still incredibly impressive. However, this staircase was just a stepping stone for what lay ahead.
Nothing could really prepare me for the next room we entered. The Grand Hall is the largest building in the palace and takes up about 1,000 square meters and it spans the whole width of the building. Constructed of mirrors, gold plating, exotic woods, and a massive ceiling painting, this hall of mirrors may very well have been the most impressive room I have ever been in. Unfortunately, pictures will never be able to bring justice to the awe that this room emanated.
Designed for balls and masquerades, all sides of the Grand Hall were built to impress. Mirrors were by no means cheap when the palace was initially built and, like the gold plating, added to the grandeur of the room. Walking around this room made me feel as if I had taken a step back into time, when the tacky Russian Baroque style of the late 18th century was back in fashion.
Proceeding through the palace, we moved into the first of many gilded rooms which are collectively known as the Golden Enfilade. Designed by Italian architect Rastrelli, these rooms (as well as the ballroom which is also his creation) are plated in gold and were built to impress. Paintings line the walls and expensive furniture litter every available inch in the several dining rooms that are part of this Golden Enfilade.
Rastrelli helped work on other palaces and large buildings around St. Petersburg such as the Peterhof Palace, the Smolny Convent, and even the Winter Palace. We visited several of his other works during our time in Petersburg but pictured above is one of the coolest little features, at least to me, in one of his works. The green metallic material between the gold plating on the wall looking expensive and exotic upon first examination, but our tour guide assured us that we have some of this material laying around our house somewhere. Tin foil. At the time of construction, tin foil was relatively new technology but it was very cool seeing a cheap material being used as a beautiful decoration in a palace of all places.
As the existence of St. Petersburg might tell you, Peter the Great was obsessed with all things European. He seldom left the country but upon returning from a trip to the Netherlands, Peter had a newfound interest in the way the Dutch decorated the tiles on their furnaces. Pictured above is just one of several Dutch furnaces that were scattered around the palace.
Proceeding out of the Golden Enfilade, we were led down the other main staircase where we popped outside and into the backyard of the palace. The flowers had not quite bloomed yet but the impressive landscaping stood out as well as a man-made pond. The backwards facing facade was just as impressive and the one on the front side and was our last view of the palace before we proceed onto the next palace of the day, the Peterhof Palace. Truly an amazing day and experience, it would be a crime to visit St. Petersburg and skip out on seeing either Catherine’s Palace or another similar work such as Peterhof Palace.