Tsarskoe Selo is one of the most known museums in Saint Petersburg. Millions of visitors come to Tsarskoe Selo each year. Let’s explore this amazing historical place closely connected with the history of Imperial Russia.
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HISTORY OF TSARSKOE SELO
Tsarskoe Selo (or Tsar’s Village) is a former residence of Russian emperors — the Romanov. It is located in the suburbs of Saint Petersburg, in the town of Pushkin.
The main sight of Tsarskoe Selo is the Catherine Palace with the world-famous Amber Room. Millions of tourists come to Tsarskoe Selo each year to see this wonder.
The second must-see place is Catherine Park. In this gorgeous park, you will find plenty of small palaces-pavilions, sculptures, galleries, and monuments.
In Swedish times (1609-1702), the territory belonged to a Swedish magnate. There was a small wooden house surrounded by a modest garden. The estate had the name of Sarskaya manor. After the expulsion of the Swedes from this area, Russian Emperor Peter the Great offered the Sarskaya manor to his wife Marta Skavronskaya (future empress Catherine I). It happened in 1710.
Since then, Tsarskoe Selo became the favourite summer residence for many Russian emperors. Year after year, the estate grew, new buildings appeared.
The main sights in Tsarskoe Selo
- Catherine Palace (including the Amber Room)
- Palace Chapel
- Catherine Park
- Alexander Palace
- Alexander Park
- Martial Chamber (Russia in World War I Museum)
- Babolovsky Park
- Alexander Pushkin Memorial Lyceum Museum
The territory of Tsarskoye Selo is vast. You will need to spend there a couple of days (and even more!) to see the main sights. But it is worth it! All the territory of Tsarskoe Selo is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The most known sight of Tsarskoe Selo is the Catherine Palace. This imposing 280-meters long building leaves nobody indifferent.
The Catherine Palace was the official summer residence of three Russian Empresses: Catherine I, Elizabeth Petrovna and Catherine II.
In 1717, German architect Johann Braunstein started the construction of the palace for the Imperial family. According to the first project, it was a typical small two-storey building in the Dutch style — “for 16 rooms”. Emperors called the palace very modestly: Stone Chambers. At the same time, they start to plant a garden in front of the Stone Chambers.
The Catherine Palace has changed several times. Each new Emperor wanted to adapt the building to his taste.
At, present, there are two tourist routes in the Catherine Palace. One of them is longer and includes more halls. Opt for this variant to see the best of the Palace.
Tsarskoe Selo is one of the most known museums in Saint Petersburg. For this reason, during the high tourist season (from May to September) it may be challenging to get to the palace. Visitors may wait up to 5 hours for the tour to start. Plan your visit and book your tour in advance.
Catherine Palace strikes with its fairy-tale luxury. However, not all tsars’ palaces were so lavish. For example, the first palace of St Petersburg — the Cabin of Peter the Great — was just a small wooden house.
The gilded domes of the Palace Church are the most recognizable symbol of Tsarskoe Selo.
The chapel is a part of the Catherine Palace. The construction began in 1745 by the order of Empress Elizabeth Petrovna. The decoration of the church is one of the finest examples of the Elizabethan era.
The Chapel “remembers” many of the most important events in the life of the Romanovs. This is where the weddings of members of the imperial family and courtiers took place. Besides, it was the place for the baptism of the infants of the Imperial House (among them — future emperors Nicholas I and Nicholas II).
During World War II, the Nazis destroyed the church and stole the icons. For more than 50 years the building was in very poor condition.
In 2019, the church opened after a long restoration. Nowadays, we can admire the splendour of this baroque masterpiece.
The decoration of the palace chapel mesmerizes with its opulence. The gilded carving of the iconostasis against the background of blue walls just looks amazing. Rastrelli made the interior decor in his favourite Barocco style.
The tour of the Palace Chapel is a separate route. It is not included in the tours of the Catherine Palace. You have to purchase a separate ticket for visiting it.
During your visit, you will see the palace church and personal apartments of Grand Duke Pavel Petrovich (future emperor Paul I).
Often called a museum under the open sky, Catherine Park lays in front of the Catherine Palace. This spectacular park is an integral part of the Tsarskoye Selo imperial residence.
Catherine Park consists of two parts: the regular Old Garden and the English landscape park. The old (Dutch) garden was founded, according to legend, by Peter I. It is an excellent example of gardening, architectural, engineering and sculptural art of the early 18th century.
Wandering in Catherine Park, you will fully realize the incredible luxury of imperial Russia. The park is full of sights: fountains, pavilions, sculptures, ponds, and bridges. In its beauty, status and fame, Catherine Park is on a par with Versailles.
If you plan to visit the Catherine Palace and Park, think of spending there a whole day. Begin with a tour of the palace. It may take 2-3 hours. Spend the rest of the day in the parks.
Take a map for visiting the park. They usually give a very informative free map in the ticket office. The map shows places of interest and offers short descriptions.
• READ ALSO: CATHERINE PARK IN TSARSKOE SELO: ATTRACTIONS, TICKETS, TRAVEL TIPS
ALEXANDER PALACE & ALEXANDER PARK
Alexander Park is a big park in front of Catherine Palace. At first sight, Alexander Park is a rather wild place and looks more like a forest. It is a misleading impression! When I first went on a guided tour of Alexander Park, I was fascinated by the history of the park and its accurate landscaping!
Alexander Park is one of the hidden gems in the suburbs of Saint Petersburg. It is well-known by locals. However, you will hardly find a travel agency that offers a tour of this place. It is a great reason to explore this place, isn’t it?
Alexander Palace is the palace where Nicholas II, the last Russian Emperor, lived with his family. Unlike opulent Catherine Palace with rich decoration, the exterior of Alexander Palace is elegant and strict.
In August 2021, Alexander Palace opened after restoration. The visitor can see the rooms where Nicholas lived and worked: the State Study, the Palissandre Drawing Room, the Mauve Boudoir, and others.
• Read also: Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo: Travel Guide
Twenty years ago, Alexander Park was in a lamentable condition. During World War II, the Nazis gravely damaged the park. If the restoration of the Catherine Palace and Park began after the war, Alexander park did not receive the necessary maintenance. Fortunately, many sights of the park are under reconstruction now.
While wandering in the park, think of visiting the Arsenal. The Arsenal hosts an exhibition of Imperial weapons collection: armour, helmets, halberds, swords, and other weapons collected by Russian emperors.
MARTIAL CHAMBER (RUSSIA IN WORLD WAR I MUSEUM)
The Martial Chamber is a museum dedicated to the history of World War I. It is the first museum in modern Russia that tells us the story of that tragic period.
The organizers of the Martial Chamber collected more than two thousand exhibits. These are uniforms, weapons, awards, personal belongings of soldiers, photographs, and military equipment of the First World War era.
The founder of the museum was emperor Nicholas II. One hundred years ago, he decided to create a pantheon of Russian military glory.
The museum exposition was prepared in 1917. Unfortunately, it existed for less than a year. In 1918 the museum closed. The exhibits of the Martial Chamber were transferred to other museums or were destroyed.
Martial Chamber reopened only in 2014. The building was restored, the expositions — made from scratch.
Nowadays, the main goal of the museum is to restore historical justice and the desire to tell citizens about the history of the World War, unjustly forgotten during the Soviet era.
Babolovsky Park is the largest park in Pushkin. It occupies more than 260 hectares. The park looks peaceful with its charming paths, forests, and meadows.
During imperial times, Babolovsky Park was one of the most well-maintained parks of Saint Petersburg. Many Russian tsars, including Alexander I and Nicholas II, rested here with their families.
Sadly, Babolovsky Park was almost completely ruined during World War II. All we can see now are just tiny remains of the former luxury.
For instance, in the park, you can find the ruins of the Babolovsky Palace. In 1784, Catherine the Great ordered the creation of a residence for her favourite Prince Grigory Potemkin. This neo-Gothic palace became the gem of the park. It reminds me of another Gothic-style palace that Catherine the Great wanted to build in Moscow — Tsaritsyno. Nowadays, the Babolovsky Palace is in a bad condition. If you don’t know the history of the place, you will never guess that there was a lavish palace once upon a time.
ALEXANDER PUSHKIN LYCEUM MUSEUM
Alexander Pushkin Memorial Lyceum Museum is also known as Tsarskoe Selo Lyceum.
The Lyceum received its name after prominent Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, who studied in the Lyceum. Alexander Pushkin gave his name to the whole town. As you remember, Tsarskoe Selo is a part of Pushkin-town.
In the 19th century, the Lyceum was an institution of higher education for children of nobles families.
The museum shows us the environment where students lived and studied. Though students were nobility children, they lived in rough conditions. For instance, this is how Alexander Pushkin described his room: it was a small narrow “cell”, very modestly furnished. There were only a desk, a drawer, an iron bed, a table with a washbasin, and a mirror.
The Memorial Lyceum Museum is not as opulent as the Catherine Palace. However, I am sure it will be interesting for you to know more about the life of ordinary people in Tsarskoe Selo.
HOW TO VISIT TSARSKOE SELO
How to get to Tsarskoe Selo
You can visit Tsarskoe Selo within a guided group tour. Remember that the group tours cover only the Catherine Palace and a part of Catherine Park.
You can also choose a private guided tour. A private tour will give you more freedom and time to explore the sights of Tsarskoe Selo.
If you decide to go to Tsarskoe Selo on your own. Buses № 187, 299 to Tsarskoe Selo depart from Moskovskaya Square in St Petersburg (near Moskovskaya metro station). The route takes 40–50 minutes.
Where to stay
Tsarskoe Selo is a large museum complex. One day is not enough to see all the sights of this place. Think of staying in Tsarskoe Selo overnight. On the territory of the museum, there is a cosy and affordable hotel Ekaterina. If you choose to stay there, you will just have to cross the road to get to Alexander Park, Catherine Park and Catherine Palace.
Before heading to Tsarskoe Selo museums, have breakfast.
On the territory of the parks, there is only one cafe and two restaurants. In summer, they are usually full. I didn’t like the food in the cafe. I can go there only for a cup of coffee.
There are many cafes and restaurants in Pushkin-town. But to get there, you have to leave Catherine Park (exit the museum territory). So remember to have a hearty meal before your visit — you will need much energy to explore all the sights of Tsarskoe Selo!
What sight of Tsarskoe Selo have you visited?