Catherine Palace is one of the most opulent palaces of Saint Petersburg. Its fame and beauty attract millions of visitors each year. The palace was a residence of Russian tsars. Nowadays, people head there to see the legendary Amber Room and other wonders from the imperial times.
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Located in the suburbs of the city, Catherine Palace is the central site of the Tsarskoe Selo Museum Complex. Though the museum complex includes multiple sights, Catherine Palace is the most popular among them.
This magnificent palace has preserved memories of all of its owners — the Romanov Imperial Family. It amazes with its beauty, grace and intimidates with a difficult life story.
Catherine Palace has a cultural and historical value. It is included in the UNESCO World Heritage list.
EARLY DAYS OF TSARSKOE SELO
History of the Saar Manor
At the beginning of the 17th century, the estate of a Swedish magnate called Saari Mois was located on the territory of modern Tsarskoe Selo. It existed until the beginning of the 18th century.
Saar Manor was a small and not very rich estate. It consisted of a hut, several unheated outbuildings for household purposes, and a modest square.
The first mention of the estate can be found in the salary book for Novgorod Votskaya Pyatina, from which scientists also learned the original name of the estate.
Where does the name “Tsarskoe Selo” come from?
On the maps that were compiled for the first elected Russian tsar, Boris Godunov, the contemporary area of Tsarskoe Selo is called “Saritsa”.
Later, under the influence of Russian etymology, this word acquired folk features. First, it was transformed into Saarskaya Myza, then — into Saarskoe Selo. Finally, it acquired the name Tsarskoe Selo, already familiar to everyone.
“Tsarskoe Selo” means “village of tsars”.
Where does the name of the palace come from?
Russian Emperor Peter the Great founded Saint Petersburg in 1703.
Already in the first years of the construction of Saint Petersburg, Emperor Peter the Great actively developed suburban areas on the coast of the Gulf of Finland. There he built summer residences for himself and gave land to his subjects. Some of these residences did not last long, and some palaces still exist.
One of those residences is Tsarskoe Selo. Catherine Palace is the most striking structure and the heart of this estate. Magnificent halls and rooms every day host thousands of tourists from all over the world.
It was Catherine I, the wife of Peter the Great, who started the construction of the palace. And the palace got its name in honour of this empress.
The great architect of that time Johann Friedrich Braunstein was engaged in the construction and development of the first Catherine Palace. Already in 1724, the construction of the palace was completed.
The original palace differed was significantly from the current one. It was a two-story house in the then popular “Dutch” style. It consisted of 16 rooms.
WHY CATHERINE PALACE IS FAMOUS?
Catherine Palace turned into a luxurious imperial residence in the mid-18th century, under the reign of Elizabeth Petrovna. Elizabeth was the daughter of Peter the Great. This empress adored luxury! Over the 20 years of her reign, Empress Elizabeth Petrovna rebuilt the palace four times, each time finding it insufficiently opulent.
During the reign of Elizabeth, the palace was completely transformed. Several architects were engaged in the implementation of large-scale construction. However, Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli controlled the whole work.
Rastrelli increased the building by one floor, completely modified the internal layout. He also repainted the palace in an unusual azure colour. This is how we see the palace today.
In the future, more than one architect was engaged in the improvement of the building, but it acquired a well-known look to everyone precisely during the time of Rastrelli.
WHO LIVED IN CATHERINE PALACE?
Catherine Palace was a summer residence of the Russian imperial family — the Romanovs. Many generations of the Romanov family spent summers Tsarskoe Selo.
Located in the suburbs of Saint Petersburg, Tsarskoe Selo was a great place for summer. The vast palace could accommodate multiple guests, and large parks and gardens were pleasant for spending time outdoors.
WAS CATHERINE PALACE DESTROYED?
Yes, during World War II, the palace and park complex ended up in the zone of Nazis occupation. The palace and park survived many trials. The palace was occupied by the Nazis. Most of the wealth was looted and destroyed. The building itself was almost completely destroyed.
The pearl of Catherine Palace — the Amber Room — was lost forever. Nobody had yet discovered what had happened to this unique room. It is assumed that it was stolen and sold in parts to the United States of America by the Nazis.
SO IS CATHERINE PALACE STILL STANDING?
Fortunately, Catherine Palace is still standing! The restoration began right after the war and is still going on nowadays.
The historical restoration means that each room or piece of decoration is recreated exactly as they used to be. They are made with the same materials and designs, and looks absolutely as originals. Such restoration is tough, long, and expensive. For example, restoration of the legendary Amber Room took 24 years! And the Amber Room is a rather small room.
CATHERINE PALACE INTERIORS AND ROOMS
Catherine Palace is a large place where you can see interiors of different epochs. There are whole books about the history and interiors of this place!
While decorating the halls, Francesco Rastrelli strove for the maximum variety of architectural and decorative solutions for his interiors. It is why all rooms differ from each other.
There are several tour itineraries in Catherine Palace. They change depending on the season. During summer, when there are too many visitors, the itineraries are shorter, they include fewer rooms.
So when buying tickets, ask which itinerary is the longer and opt for it.
WHEN IS CATHERINE PALACE OPEN?
Opening time of Catherine Palace:
From 10:00 to 18:00. Ticket office opens until 16:45, entrance to the exposition is allowed until 17:00.
Pay attention! Catherine Palace is closed on Tuesdays. Additionally, the palace is closed on the sanitary day: the last Monday of the month (November to April).
Entrance ticket price: 1500 Rub. (price for 2022). Children under 14 years — free entrance (you have to obtain a free ticket in a ticket office).
CAN YOU VISIT THE AMBER ROOM?
Yes, the Amber Room is open for visiting.
HOW MUCH TIME YOU NEED TO SEE CATHERINE PALACE
If you visit the palace with a guided tour, you will spend there 1-1,5 hours. This is absolutely not enough.
I advise you opt for an independent tour with an audio guide. Audio guides are available in the ticket offices.
And the best option is to visit the palace with a private guide. With an individual or small group tour, you will have more time and will know much more about the palace.
WHAT ATTRACTIONS ARE NEAR CATHERINE PALACE?
After visiting the palace, go for a tour to Catherine Park. It is a museum under the open sky. The park is exceptionally pleasant in summer and autumn. But during wither time, Catherine park is impressive, too.
If you love palaces, come visit another gems of Tsarskoye Selo — Alexander Palace. Alexander Palace was the last home of the last Russian emperor, Nicholas II. In the palace, you can see the private rooms of Nicholas II and his wife, Alexandra Feodorovna.
Museum Lyceum of Alexander Pushkin in Tsarskoye Selo
It is a former Imperial Lyceum, a privileged institution of higher education for the children of nobles. Nowadays, the museum is dedicated to the most famous of its students — Russian poet and writer Alexander Pushkin.
If you are not inclined to visiting museums, go wander to the town of Pushkin itself. It is a picturesque town with old houses, impressive churches, and parks. It is a place where ordinary people live. So if you are interested in seeing the everyday life of Russians, you will surely love to stroll in Pushkin.
To know more about palaces of Russian tsars, check our project Imperial Russia.