Tsarskoe Selo is the name of the summer residence of the Russian Royal family. Nowadays palaces and parks of this magnificent place are one of the greatest tourist attraction of St. Petersburg.

History of Tsarskoe Selo

The summer residence of the Russian Royal Family - Tsarskoe Selo was started in the 18th century. It was located on the land which had been part of the Novgorod principality from ancient times. Russians, Swedes and Germans were always struggling for this land. At the end of the 17th century this land belonged to Sweden.

During the Northern War with Sweden (1700-1721), Peter the Great reconquered this land back to Russia and appointed his favorite Alexander Menshikov as the General Governor of Ingermanland, Karelia and Estland.

In 1710, Peter transferred part of Menshikov's possessions to his future wife, and future Empress Catherine I. She started developing the area with great enthusiasm. Later, this place was named as Tsarskoye Selo. The first garden, arranged in Dutch style and a small 2-storeyed stone palace, simply called “Stone Palace” appeared during the reign of Catherine I. br>
In 1727 Catherine I died and Tsarskoe Selo became the property of her daughter – Princess Elizabeth. As she always had lack of money, she strictly controlled the income and expenses of her estates. After she had assumed the throne in 1741, Elizabeth of Russia greatly increased expenses on her beloved residence and ordered to rebuid the old “Stone Palace” which was completed in 1756. The new structure was named Catherine Palace.

The next Russian Emperor Peter III ruled for half a year. He spent a week in Tsarskoe Selo in February 1762.

Empress Catherine II “the Great” (reign 1762 - 1796) preferred Tsarskoe Selo to Peterhof and other summer palaces in the suburbs of St. Petersburg. She spent almost each summer in this residence. During her reign, some alterations were done in the palace. The garden was extended and redesigned according to the manner of "English landscape parks". Some new garden pavilions: the Admiralty, the Turkish Bath pavilion, the Cold Baths pavilion with Agate rooms appeared in the same period of time.

In 1792, Catherine II started the construction of Alexander’s Palace, which she presented as a wedding gift to her grandson, the future Emperor Alexander I. The picturesque Alexander’s landscape Park was laid out around the palace.

Catherine’s son Paul I ruled Russia for five years. He didn’t like Tsarskoe Selo and preferred his palaces in Pavlovsk and Gatchina.

Catherine’s grandson Alexander I assumed the throne in 1801. The Emperor loved Tsarskoe Selo as he had spent a lot of time there in his childhood. By that time Tsarskoe Selo had become a prestigious suburb. Alexander I founded the famous Imperial Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum - an educational institution for boys of noble origin. The most famous graduate of the Lyceum was the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin.

Alexander’s younger brother - Emperor Nicholas I shared his summer vacation between Tsarskoye Selo and Peterhof.

The first in Russia passenger railway road was established in 1836. It connected Tsarskoe Selo and Vitebsky railway station in St. Petersburg. Nicholas I was among the first passengers.

The road was designed by Gerstner - the same engineer who had built the first railway roads in Czech Republic and Austria.

In 1887, during the reign of Alexander III, a power plant was built in Tarskoe Selo. It is noteworthy that Tsarskoe Selo became the first town in Europe that was fully lit with electricity.

The last Russian Emperor - Nicholas II was born in Alexander’s Palace of Tsarskoe Selo in 1868. This palace was his main residence from 1905 to 1917.

The town was greatly developed during his reign: new incinerators and a new sewerage network were built, the biological wastewater treatment plant intended for a population of 40,000 was designed.

In 1911 Nicholas II founded the museum of Tsarskoe Selo in the Upper Bath pavilion.

In the morning of August 1, 1917, the Romanovs Royal Family was arrested in Alexander Palace and sent to exile in the Siberian town of Tobolsk.

After the Bolsheviks Revolution of October 1917, the palaces of the residence were transformed into orphanages, rest homes for NKVD secret police officers and other institutions. Soviet government sent many children to Tsarskoe Selo, therefore, since 1918, it became known as Detskoe Selo (Children’s Village).

In 1937 in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the death of the poet Alexander Pushkin they renamed Detskoe Selo into Pushkin.

During the Second World War, Pushkin was occupied by Germans from September 1941 to January 1944. The palaces and parks of the town were destroyed or badly damaged. In the late 1950s, the restoration began and it continues nowadays. The great achievement of the restorers was the complete restoration of the world-famous Amber Room, lost during the war.

Nowadays Tsarskoe Selo is a palace and park museum complex located in the town of Pushkin in about 25 km away from St. Petersburg. You can get to Tsarskoe Selo either by suburban train from Vitebsk railway station, or by public transport from Moskovskaya metro station.

Catherine Palace

The first stone palace called “Stone Palace” was built between 1717-1724. In 1748, the reconstruction of the palace, headed by the famous architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli, began. He completely changed the building, and in 1756 represented a luxurious baroque palace. They used about 100 kg of gold to gild the interiors and facade elements and created the most famous interiors: the Amber Room and the Golden Enfilade. Catherine II was fond of antique art and in 1770s she invited the Scottish architect Charles Cameron, an expert of Greek and Roman architecture, to decorate the Empress's living quarters in classical style.

Amber Room

It is the most famous room in Catherine Palace. In the beginning of the 18th century the interior was commissioned by the Prussian king Friedrich I. Later Peter I asked the king of Prussia to present the Amber Room to him. Thus the amber panels appeared in Russia, though they were not used for a long time.

In 1755 Elizabeth I wished to arrange the Amber Room in Catherine’s Palace. Her court architect Francesco Rassterelli did some alterations by adding mirrors, gilded carvings and four Florentine mosaics depicting five senses: Sight, Taste, Hearing, Smell and Touch.

German troops occupied Pushkin on 17 September 18941. The Amber Room was not evacuated. The official reason for that is strange enough: "because of the fragility of the amber panels, it was decided not to dismantle them, but to preserve them on site: the panels were pasted over with paper, then gauze, covered with cotton wool and covered with wooden shields."

Very soon, the invaders found the panels, easily dismantled them and transported to the town of Konigsberg (now Kaliningrad); "In the donation book of the Konigsberg Museum there is an entry under No. 200 which reads that the Amber Room was donated to the museum by the German State Office of Palaces and Gardens." Presumably, Germans removed the amber panels from Konigsberg Castle during their retreat in 1944. One of the indirect proofs of the removal of the panels is the fact that one of the four Florentine mosaics from the original Amber Room ("Smell and Touch") appeared in 1997. A German notary tried to sell this mosaic. He explained that he received it from a German officer who had participated in the removal of the amber panels from Konigsberg. The German government confiscated the mosaic and handed it over to the Russian Federation in 2000.

The reconstruction of the Amber Room lasted for 24 years and was completed in 2003.

Martial Chamber

Located in the Alexander Park, the Martial Chamber hosts the museum “Russia in the Great War". The museum presents displays on a range of themes relating to the WWI, including documents, photographs, postcards, soldier equipment, weapons and vehicles.

Catherine Park

Catherine’s Park is located around Catherine’s Palace and consists of the regular Old Garden and the landscape English Park. There are some notable buildings in the regular Old Garden.

The Upper & the Lower Bathhouses

The two pavilions were constructed in 1778 - the Upper Bathhouse for the members of the Royal family and the Lower Bathhouse for the courtiers. Nowadays, the first one hosts temporary exhibitions and the second one houses the exhibition "Cavalier Soap House of the XIX Century" where one can see bath-related equipment and utensils, such as bathtubs, stoves, brooms, washcloths, etc.

The Hermitage & the Hermitage Kitchen

These pavillions were built in 1743 - 1753 in Baroque style. The Hermitage pavilion was intended for private dinners, and even servants were not present then. It was a two-storeyed pavilion, with a serving room on the first floor and a dining room on the second floor. Tables were served by servants and raised up to the dining room by means of special lifts. Up to 35 people could have their private meal and conversation at the same time as a kind of “hermits” which could give the building its name - Hermitage means "the hermit's hut" in French. Nowadays visitors of the Hermitage pavilion can see historical interiors, tables, lifting mechanisms, murals and so on. The Hermitage Kitchen pavilion was built in 1774 not far from the Hermitage pavilion so that kitchen smells could not reach the posh visitors.

The Grotto

In the days of Catherine II the pavilion was used as a storage for "antiques" - antique works of art. She loved the view from the Grotto at the Large Pond and quite often she stayed here working or reading. There was a tradition to call young people for an assembly. At 10 o’clock in the morning they gathered for having tea and coffee with chocolate together. Temporary exhibitions are located in the pavilion nowadays.

Cameron Gallery

The pavilion was built at the end of the 18th century by the Scottish architect Charles Cameron and Russian architect Ivan Neelov at the border of the Old Garden and the Landscape Park. The gallery is decorated with statues and busts of ancient gods, heroes, philosophes and rulers, as well as some famous personalities of the New Age. Catherine II used the gallery for walks during her philosophical conversations with the courtiers.