The stunning Catherine Palace and the accompanying fantastic parks are the undisputed highlights of Pushkin, the former residence of the tsars.
Catherine Palace in Pushkin (formerly Tsarskoye Selo, "Tsar's Village"), is located 25 kilometers south of St. Petersburg in one of the most beautiful ensembles of residences in the world. Pushkin is a picturesque collection of stately palaces and landscaped parks, the undisputed highlights of which are the magnificent Catherine Palace and its park. The impressive structure is among our top 10 sights of Russia.
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PICTURES: Catherine Palace in Pushkin
The long history of the Catherine Palace
The site of today's Catherine Palace was given by Tsar Peter I the Great to his second wife Catherine I at the beginning of the 18th century. At first the tsarina resided in a wooden mansion, which she merely had refurnished, but in 1717 the German architect Johann Friedrich Braunstein was commissioned to build a small two-story palace, which even then was called the "Palace of Sixteen State Rooms".
After her death, the castle went to her daughter Elisabeth I. After she became empress in 1741, she made the small castle her summer residence and had it expanded by several architects into a veritable palace.
Galleries, which were later covered, were added, banquet halls and chapels, a precious church decorated with 100 kilograms of gold, of which only the dome is gilded today, a greenhouse and hanging gardens based on the Babylonian model of those of Semiramis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Under Catherine II the Great, the remodeling work continued, led by her Italian court architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli. Among other things, bridges, wings, Roman baths, Greek statues, theaters and a pyramid were built. She also had the garden design revised by English experts, who created an idyllic ode to nature out of the Katharinenpark.
Under Emperor Paul I, the son of Catherine II, the facade decorations, ancient statues, pavilions and park buildings, paintings and furniture were destroyed or carried off. The emperor hated his mother as well as her favorite residence, which he dismantled piece by piece.
Under his successor, Emperor Alexander I, some sculptures were returned, but much remained lost. But Emperor Alexander loved the Catherine Palace in Pushkin. Here it was quiet and not as courtly austere as in St. Petersburg. He had the palace and gardens further embellished, including the Alexander Palace, the Alexander Garden, and the Lyceum, an elite school for boys.
Emperor Nicholas I continued to expand the palace. His achievements included stucco and marble fireplaces in the previously unheatable palace, installation of the world's first electromagnetic telegraph apparatus, running water, restoration of many state rooms, and the picturesque Turkish Bath in Catherine Park.
Sightseeing tour of the Catherine Palace in Pushkin
The breathtaking Catherine Palace and its parks are waiting to be discovered by visitors today. The blue and white palace facade, stretches over 300 meters and includes five building sections, all decorated with columns, masks, pilasters, statues and ornaments.
In the east rises the five-domed baroque palace church, whose dark blue walls are ornately decorated with gold ornaments. A magnificent parade staircase in the courtyard of honor leads to the apartments of the former Russian rulers.
The stunning Amber Room
In the Catherine Palace there are many fantastic halls with incredibly precious furnishings, but in magnificence surpassed by nothing is the stunning Amber Room. The sparkling room is over 100 square meters in size and is covered all over with amber.
During World War II, the complete wall decoration was carried off, but restorers painstakingly reassembled the puzzle of 500,000 amber pieces according to old photographs. Today it is also called the "Eighth Wonder of the World".
Great Hall and other sights in Catherine Palace
Also magnificent to behold is the 800-square-meter Great Hall, which was used for receptions and balls. Its grandeur is enhanced by the ornate ceiling painting "Russia's Triumph".
The baroque Bright Gallery features 130 paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries, and the Chinese Blue Salon offers a glimpse of 18th-century China infatuation with its wallpaper made of genuine Chinese silk.
The magnificent French and shady English gardens of Catherine Palace cover a total of 100 hectares and invite visitors to marvel and stroll with their ornate structures, winding paths, murmuring brooks, picturesque bridges and small ponds.
Tip: To take in the full splendor of the Catherine Palace, several hours, if not a whole day, are necessary. Since the Catherine Palace is only 20min from St. Petersburg's Pulkovo Airport, a visit is perfect for the crowning finale of a trip to Russia.