Duration: 5 hours
Car: tourist class included
Entrance tickets: included
In 1717, when the city of St. Petersburg was just being built on the banks of the Neva river, Tsarskoye Selo saw the construction of a new, stone imperial manor, which became known as the "Stone Chambers" of Catherine I. In August of 1724, when the construction was already completed, a celebration was organized in the palace during which "13 cannons were fired thrice." The Tsar and all of the major government dignitaries were present.
The palace was a small two-story building typical of Russian palaces of the early 18th century. The first attempt to expand the palace was undertaken during the reign of Empress Elizabeth according to plans by Mikhail Zemtsov at the end of 1742 and beginning of 1743. Reconstruction of the Catherine Palace and park ensemble was carried out by his pupils, Andrei Kvasov and Savva Chevakinsky. Following the death of Mikhail Zemtsov, work at Tsarskoye Selo passed under the direction of Andrei Kvasov and his assistant, the builder Giuseppe Trezini. On May 5, 1745, along with Trezini, Savva Chevakinsky was appointed to Tsarskoye Selo, and the latter oversaw the construction at Tsarskoye Selo until 1760. From the end of 1748 and through 1756, construction of the Tsarskoye Selo residence was directed by court architect Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli. On May 10, 1752, Empress Elizabeth signed a decree ordering the complete overhaul of the old palace. On July 30, 1756, Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli presented his creation to Elizabeth and foreign diplomats.
The palace was quite impressive with its size, powerful spatial dynamics and picturesque decoration in the style of the Russian Baroque. The wide, light blue ribbon of the palace with its snow-white columns and gilt ornament looked quite festive. The northern wing was topped by the five golden domes of the Palace Chapel, and the southern wing, which contained the formal, state rooms, was topped off by a golden dome with a star on the spire. Approximately 100 kilograms of gold were used to gild the exterior and interior ornaments. At this time the formal yard was also designed, surrounded by the palace's service buildings placed in a semi-circle around the "circumference" of the yard. The galleries of the palace's facade consisted of windows and columns, each of which bore a wooden, gold-leafed statue or vase.
On the first floor, the large, semi-circular French doors were separated one from the next by sculptural figures of powerful, nude youths. Like the hero of ancient Greek myth, Atlantis, who was commanded by Zeus to hold up the heavens on his head and hands, they bear on their shoulders the colossal weight of the colonnades linking the upper floors. Atlantes, caryatids (feminine forms leaning near the windows of the second formal floor), cartouches on the pediments, lion's masks, window frames and other plaster decorations were executed according to models by Johann Dunker. Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli also luxuriously decorated the interiors and suites of the palace with its magnificent enfilade of formal halls which, for its wealth of gilded carvings, was dubbed the "Golden Enfilade." The placement of halls one next to the other, or enfilade style unknown in Russia until the mid-18th century, was introduced by Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli in other palaces as well. Not only in Tsarskoye Selo did the length of the enfilade equal the length of the entire building, from the Main Staircase to the Chapel. Beginning in 1756, the Great Palace became the center of court life, where not only balls and masquerades were held, but important affairs of state were also carried out.
A new stage in the metamorphosis of the palace's formal halls came in the 1770s. The palace's new owner, Empress Catherine II, with her penchant for antique art, demanded her own personal quarters in the palace, decorated by Charles Cameron. The palace interiors created by this architect in the classical style are remarkable for their exquisite beauty, austerity of decoration and certain flair for selection of decorative materials. We will never see most of the halls since they perished during World War II and have not yet been restored. This includes the spacious apartments of Empress Catherine II: the Arabesque Room, the Lyons and Chinese Drawing Rooms, the Domed Dining Room, Silver Study, Bedchamber, Dressing Room and Palm Room. The rooms belonging to Grand Duke Paul (the future Emperor Paul I) and his wife, Maria Fyodorovna, have been restored. The most significant of these are: the Green Dining Room, the Waiters' Room, the Blue Room, the Chinese Blue Room, the Leisure Room, the Picture and Sculpture Studies.
The 19th century brought changes to the Catherine Palace ensemble. In 1817, by order of Emperor Alexander I, the architect Vasily Stasov created the Formal Study and several adjoining rooms unified by a single style. Here, everything speaks of pride in military victories in the War of 1812.
On June 9, 1918, the Catherine Palace was opened as a museum. The Tsarskoye Selo and the Orient exposition, located in the former personal quarters not yet restored, continues to be featured at the Catherine Palace Museum.Amber Room
The original plans for the Amber Room have been identified as initially planned by Andreas Schluter, the chief architect of the Prussian royal court in 1699. During reconstruction of the Great Royal Palace in Berlin commissioned by Friedrich I, Andreas Schluter had the idea of using amber, a material never before used for interior decoration, to complete one of the palace rooms. Bringing this idea to fruition was made easier by the fact that the royal stores held the king's large amber collection. Andreas Schluter used three richly decorated amber frames with windows created in the 17th century by German masters.
The architect invited Gottfried Wolfram, the court amber master of the Danish King Friedrich IV, from Copenhagen to work on the Amber Room. In April of 1701, Wolfram arrived in Berlin with a letter of recommendation and started working. The original plans were only half completed since Andreas Schluter was later dismissed and left Berlin. The next court architect was the Swede Eosander von Goethe. He did not get along very well with the amber master, so Gottfried Wolfram was also dismissed. The king decided to construct the amber study in the Charlottenburg Castle, and the completed amber fragments were sent there. In 1707, the agreement for the continuation of work was concluded with two masters invited from Danzig Gottfried Turau and Ernest Schacht. This stage in the creation of the Amber Room lasted almost five years. In 1713 after the death of Friedrich I, work was halted. The new Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm I had no need for an Amber Room. All of the amber architectural details were taken to the Berlin Zeighaus and forgotten.
Word of this unusual amber study reached Russia. Emperor Peter I decided to obtain the Amber Study for his Kunstkamera collection. In 1716, on the way to France he met with Friedrich Wilhelm I in Habelbern, not far from Berlin. Soon Emperor Peter I received the Amber Room as a diplomatic gift, along with the "Liburnica" yacht. Two years later, the tsar returned the gesture with a gift of 55 grenadiers and a cup of his own design. The Russian representative at the Prussian court, Count Alexei Golovin, directed the shipping of the Amber Room. Eighteen boxes of amber were loaded into eight carts and sent first to Koenigsburg, then to Memel, and spent 6 weeks in transit. On the 6th of January, 1717, at the orders of Emperor Peter I, P. M. Bestuzhev-Rumin, uber-hofmeister of the Duchess of Curland Anna Ivanovna, met the shipment in Memel and sent it to Riga, from whence it traveled to St. Petersburg. The St. Petersburg General Governor, Alexander Menshikov, accepted and unpacked the boxes according to the instructions from Berlin.
At that time they did not manage to reconstruct the Amber Study, and the amber was taken to a wing of the Summer Palace, where the home of the "Kunstkammer" of the Emperor was situated. Obviously, they were simply stacked by the walls of the room.
When she came to the throne, Empress Elizabeth decided to use the forgotten Amber Room to complete one of the rooms in her official residence, the new, third Winter Palace. She commissioned her chief architect, Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli, with this task. In 1743, the Italian master Alexander Martelli was invited to Russia to repair and correct details of the amber pieces. There were not enough pieces of amber to decorate the room in the Winter Palace, so Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli used mirrored pilasters and painted additional panels in "faux amber." in 1745, Friedrich II gave Empress Elizabeth a fourth frame executed according to the designs of Anton Reich. The Amber Room, pieced together in 1746, served for official receptions, although during palace reconstruction it was moved from one room to another.
In July of 1755, Empress Elizabeth commissioned Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli to move the Amber Room in the Great (Catherine) Palace. V. Fermor, head of the chancellery of the Imperial Study, was given the task of carefully dismantling the room in the Winter Palace and packing it in boxes. A special team was sent from Tsarskoye Selo to bear the crates by hand from the St. Petersburg Winter Palace to Tsarskoye Selo.
In the places where there was not enough amber, the walls were covered in canvas and painted in "false amber" by the artist Ivan Belsky, also the parts of the study were reassembled by placing pilasters, mirrors, and wooden engravings. Alexander Martelli was again invited to install the panels.
Considering the fragility of the material and the fact that pieces could crack and fall, a special caretaker was appointed for the Amber Room to maintain the amber. In 1758, Friedrich Roggenbuch was invited from Prussia to perform this task. He also headed the Tsarskoye Selo Amber Workshop.
In 1763, Empress Catherine II ordered the painted panels to be replaced with real amber panels, and also ordered panels manufactured for the lower tier. Friedrich Roggenbuch was assisted by masters who had previously been invited to Russia: Clemence Fride, Johann Gottlieb Welpendorf, apprentices Heinrich Wilhelm Fride, Friedrich Roggenbuch's son Johann, and their Russian students. Eight flat panels with an inlaid design were produced for the lower tier, including eight fake pilaster panels, supraportas for the central door, and carved accents on the cornice, using fragments of the Prussian work. Over the course of 4 years, 450 kilograms of amber went into the project. The Amber Room was completed by 1770. The room now attained the state in which it appears in old photographs.
The amber, which covered three walls, was arranged in three tiers. The central (middle) tier consisted of eight large, symmetrical vertical panels. Four of them contained pictures made of precious stones executed in the 1750's in Florence, using the Florentine mosaic technique. These were designed according by the artist Giuseppe Dzokki, and depicted the five senses: Sight, Taste, Sound, Touch and Smell. Mirrored pilasters occupied the distance between the large panels. The lower tier of the room was covered in square amber panels. The southwestern corner contained a small amber table on an elegantly turned leg. The room's furnishings consisted of inlaid wood commodes of Russian origin, and a vase of Chinese porcelain. In addition, one of the most valuable collections of amber objects created in the 17th and 18th centuries by German, Polish and Petersburg masters was housed in the room's glass-covered display cases.
Abrupt temperature changes and stove heating damaged the amber. During the 19th century, the room was restored three times: in 1833, 1865, and between 1893 and 1897. During the 1920s and 1930s I. V. Krestovsky performed minor repairs. Major restoration was scheduled for 1941.
During the first days of World War II, when the evacuation of the treasures from the Catherine Palace was already underway, it was decided, due to the fragility of the Amber Room, not to send it further behind the lines. Instead, it was decided to preserve the room on the spot, without taking down the walls. Paper was first glued over the walls, then they were covered in gauze and cotton.
The German troops invading the town of Pushkin (Tsarskoye Selo) brought with them specialists from the Kunstkommission. The occupants dismantled the panels and sent them to Koenigsberg. Number 200 of the Koenigsberg Gift Record notes that the room was bequeathed to the museum by the German State Directorate for Palaces and Parks. The stolen amber panels and doors were displayed in one of the halls on the third floor of the Koenigsberg Palace. The museum's director, Alfred Rode, wrote in 1944 that the Amber Room, now returned to its homeland, was the best exhibit in the Koenigsberg Museum. This was the last place where the Amber Room was shown. In 1944, when the Germans retreated, the amber was again dismantled, packed into crates and taken in an unknown direction. Since then the room has been lost. Search efforts have so far been unsuccessful.