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The Great Gatchina Palace

The Great Gatchina Palace  is a palace in Gatchina, Leningrad Oblast, Russia. It was built from 1766 to 1781 by Antonio Rinaldi for Count Grigori Grigoryevich Orlov, who was a favourite of Catherine the Great, in Gatchina, a suburb of the royal capital Saint Petersburg. The Gatchina Palace combines classical architecture and themes of a medieval castle with ornate interiors typical of Russian classicism, located on a hill in central Gatchina next to Lake Serebryany. The Gatchina Palace became one of the favourite residences of the Russian Imperial Family, and during the 19th century was an important site of Russian politics. Since the February Revolution in 1917 it has been a museum and public park, and received UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1990.

History : Imperial era : In 1765, Catherine the Great, the Empress of the Russian Empire, purchased from Prince Boris Kurakin the Gatchina Manor, a small manor 40 kilometers (25 mi) south of the royal capital of Saint Petersburg. Catherine presented the manor to Count Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov, who had reportedly organized the assassination of Tsar Peter III three years earlier, resulting in her becoming empress. Orlov was a favorite of Catherine’s, and Gatchina Manor was gifted to him as gratitude for his role in the coup d’etat. On 30 May 1766, construction of a new palace in the Classical architecture style began on a hill next to Lake Serebryany on the grounds of Gatchina Manor. Catherine and Orlov commissioned the new palace to be designed by Antonio Rinaldi, an architect from Italy who was particularly popular in Russia at the time. Rinaldi’s design contained Russian architectural features combined with those of a medieval castle and an English hunting castle. The palace was to be lined with special stone mined in villages near to Gatchina, including parik limestone mined in Paritsy for the main exterior of the buildings, and pudost stone from Pudost for the vestibule and the parapet above the cornice. Gatchina Palace became the first palace to be located in Saint Petersburg’s suburbs, as large estates were typically built within a short distance of the city center. Construction was slow, with the main structure only being completed by the end of 1768 and work on the exterior decoration not being completed until 1772, with the interior delayed further into the late 1770s. The Great Gatchina Palace was finally completed in 1781, almost 15 years after construction began, and Orlov died only two years later in 1783.

The Chesma Gallery in the Neoclassical style of the 1790s. Eduard Hau, 1877.
Following Orlov’s death, Catherine took such a great liking to Gatchina Palace and its accompanying park that she bought it from his heirs. She presented it to her son, Grand Duke Pavel Petrovich (the future Tsar Paul I), despite already building him a home, Pavlovsk Palace, in Saint Petersburg. During the years before coming to the throne, Paul his limited remaining budget on investing in building the town of Gatchina around his new palace, and used his experience from his travels around Europe to make it an exemplary palace and town. In the 1790s Paul expanded and rebuilt much of the palace, commissioning Vincenzo Brenna and Andrei Zakharov with the renovations. The interiors were redone in the Neoclassical style, numerous additions were added to the park such as bridges, gates, and pavilions, naming areas of the park “The Isle of Love”, “The Private garden”, “The Holland garden” and “The Labyrinth”. In 1796, after the death of his mother, Paul became Tsar Paul I of Russia, and granted Gatchina the status of Imperial City, a designation for the official residences of the Russian monarchs. After the death of Paul in 1801, Gatchina Palace came into the ownership of his wife Maria Feodorovna, who in 1809 requested the architect Andrei Nikiforovich Voronikhin make small alterations in the palace to adapt it “in case of winter stay”. In 1835, a signal optical telegraph was installed on one of the towers.

The Gatchina Palace, a Faberge egg featuring a miniature replica of the Gatchina Palace.
In the 1840s, Gatchina Palace was now in the ownership of Tsar Nicholas I, who initiated major reconstruction works of the palace, particularly of its grounds. Roman Ivanovich Kuzmin, the chief architect of the Ministry of the Imperial Court, led the project centred on the palace’s main square, which was completely torn up, raised in height, had basement levels added underneath, and decoration remodelled. The adjoining buildings were also raised in height by one storey, and because the main building no longer dominated the palace Kuzmin had its towers raised an extra storey. A new canopy was added to the balcony overlooking the parade grounds, which was intended to be made from marble but was later made from cast iron instead. Dilapidated bastions and retaining walls around the palace were demolished and rebuilt.

On 1 August 1850, a monument to Tsar Paul I was erected at the parade grounds. Another was later built at the Priory Palace, miniature palace on the shore of the Black Lake (the smaller southern lake of Lake Serebryany) constructed for the Russian Grand Priory of the Order of St John by a decree of Paul I dated 23 August 1799.

In 1854, a railroad connecting Gatchina and Saint Petersburg was opened, and the territory of Gatchina was expanded with several villages in the vicinity being incorporated into the city. The following year Gatchina Palace came under the ownership of Tsar Alexander II, who used it as his second residence. Alexander built a hunting village and other additions for his imperial hunting crew, and turned the area south of Gatchina into a retreat where he and his guests could enjoy the unspoiled wilderness of northwestern Russia. Alexander II also made updates and renovations in the main Gatchina Palace until his assassination in Saint Petersburg in 1881. Gatchina Palace was passed to his shaken son, the new Tsar Alexander III, who was advised that he and his family would be safer at the palace as opposed to at the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg, and became known as “The Citadel of Autocracy” after the Tsar’s reactionary policies. Alexander III spent most of his time living in Gatchina Palace, where he signed decrees,held diplomatic receptions, theatrical performances, masquerades and costumed balls, and other events and entertainment. Alexander III introduced technological modernizations to Gatchina Palace, such as indoor heaters, electric lights, a telephone network, non-freezing water pipes and a modern sewage system. His son, the future Tsar Nicholas II, spent his youth in the Gatchina Palace, although he and his family would make Tsarskoye Selo his home. His mother, Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, widow of Alexander III, was the patron of the city of Gatchina, the palace and its parks.

Access : Coordinates: 59.563333, 30.1075 / Getting to Gatchina by train : By train : t is very easy to get to Gatchina from Saint Petersburg by train. Trains depart from the Baltysky Railway Station.  By car : The M20 highway, connecting Saint Petersburg and Pskov, crosses Gatchina from north to south. Distance is 45 km. By bus :  You can get here from Saint Petersburg using:  From “Moskovskaya” metro station: 100, 18 and 18a.
From “Prospekt Veteranov” metro station: 613.  / Address: 1, Krasnoarmeysky avenue, Gatchina, Leningrad Region, Russia

Visiting Gatchina Palace :

Grand Palace : Admission: RUB 300.00. Children: RUB 150.00. Audio-guide RUB 200.00

Gatchina Park : Admission: Free

Prioratsky Palace : Admission: Adult: RUB 150.00 Children: RUB 70.00

Pavilion of Venus : Open: May to October: daily, 10 am to 6 pm. Last admission is at 5 pm
Admission: Adult: RUB 50.00 Children: RUB 20.00

White-birch House : Open: May to October: daily, 10 am to 6 pm. Last admission is at 5 pm
Admission: Adult: RUB 50.00 Children: RUB 20.00

Private Garden : Open: May to October: daily, 10 am to 6 pm. Last admission is at 5 pm.
Admission: Adult: RUB 50.00 Children: RUB 20.00

Signal Tower : Admission: Adult: RUB 50.00 Children: RUB 20.00

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