Tsarskoye Selo: a place-name that conjures up the dramatic history of the Romanov family from its days of fabulous power and wealth to the final tragic ending, and for me, personally, one of the highlights of my recent visit to Russia.
Easy Pace Russia, courtesy of Insight Vacations, was a wonderful adventure, both for me and for fellow travel writer and photo-journalist Tom Weber, The Palladian Traveler. We were keen to sample everything that this fascinating journey could offer, but when I saw that a trip to the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo was on our list of Optional Experiences, I knew that this was going to be an unforgettable day.
Situated in the town of Pushkin – named after the eponymous poet – about 25 kms from St. Petersburg, Tsarskoye Selo, meaning Tsars’ Village, was the summer retreat of the Romanov family from 1717 until 1918, when the last Tsar, Nicholas II and his entire family, plus their servants, were transported to Ekaterinburg where they were later executed, heralding the end of a long and turbulent dynasty.
Originally built by Peter the Great for his wife Catherine, it was magnificently upgraded by their daughter, the Empress Elizabeth, in 1752 when she commissioned the Italian architect Rastrelli – who had designed St. Petersburg’s Winter Palace – to completely redesign the palace, which was named Catherine Palace after her mother. An unbelievable 100kgs of gold were used to decorate the exterior.
The palace was upgraded yet again during the reign of Catherine II, when the architect Charles Cameron, among others, introduced the Classical style into the gardens and its various buildings.
In 1792, Catherine built the Alexander Palace for her beloved grandson Alexander I.
It was in the Alexander Palace that the tragic family of Tsar Nicholas II lived and from where they were taken in 1918. Unfortunately, it is currently being restored and we were unable to visit.
Entering the Catherine Palace the first thing I noticed was that it was pretty crowded with tourists, which was a pity from my point of view as it made photographing the lavish interiors pretty complicated. But, first of all, we donned some felt booties over our shoes in order to protect the wonderful floors.
Our Tour Guide, who accompanied us to the Catherine Palace, was Gulya. Highly informative and interesting with a sharp sense of humour, I thoroughly enjoyed her enlightened commentary as we strolled through these fantastic rooms.
One of our group was wheelchair bound and appeared to have no problem negotiating his way through the Catherine Palace. However, I was particularly impressed to see how well Insight Vacations looked after this client, bringing a collapsible wheelchair on the coach especially for his use and generally caring for his safety and welfare. Our Tour Director, Gennady, quite apart from being incredibly efficient and looking after all of our needs so perfectly, deserves a special mention for being so wonderfully good with this gentleman.
We also had a ten-year-old boy in our group. Initially, I was convinced he would be bored stiff, as he was the only youngster amongst us, but no. Jordan was fascinated by everything he saw and – being an exceptionally charming and well-behaved little chap from Australia – was adopted by all the adults.
First of all, we strolled through the Great Hall, which is almost 1000 sq. metres in size and is decorated in gilded stucco throughout.
Unfortunately, photography is forbidden in the famous Amber Room, the foremost attraction at the Catherine Palace. This was originally completed in 1770 but dismantled in 1941 when German troops occupied Tsarskoye Selo. Reconstruction was begun in 1982 and took twenty four years and 60 tons of amber to complete.
In the meantime, we wandered through the Blue Drawing Room, Chinese Blue Drawing Room…….
….up the main staircase….and admired more interior details of the various rooms in the Catherine Palace.
In one of the state rooms we saw a replica of a dress belonging to the Empress Elizabeth and the private rooms of a young Alexander I.
Strolling around the extensive grounds, we wandered through the French Garden…..
…..paused to take photographs of the Great Pond….
….the Upper Bathhouse
….and the Cameron Gallery.
For full details of the wonderful Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo, opening times, ticket prices, how to get there, click HERE and for full details of our Easy Pace Russia trip, courtesy of Insight Vacations, click HERE.