Intimacy and Grandeur in Russia’s Finest Palace
The gold-and-white summer palace that Catherine the Great built for her son, Paul I (whose name in Russian is Pavel, hence Pavlovsk), has been painstakingly preserved and looks exactly as it did in the late 1700s when the young grand duke arrived with his grand duchess and their brood of ten royal children.
This masterpiece of neo-Palladian style was built on a bluff overlooking a 1,500-acre estate. The former royal hunting grounds now make a lovely park of ponds, lime-tree-lined allées, rolling lawns, pavilions, and woodlands popular with residents of St. Petersburg. Most palaces and estates of the period were built as symbols of Russian imperial might – venues for state occasions, royal balls, and entertaining on a scale surpassing anything seen in the West. But Pavlovsk was conceived as a home.
By palace standards, its rooms (numbering approximately forty-five) are intimate (and exquisite), their contents precious and personal. Although Pavlovsk seems miraculously untouched by the ravages of history, it is in fact an extraordinary replica. Hitler’s troops used the place as Gestapo headquarters before setting fire to it and the gardens in 1944.
It took a virtual army of Russia’s finest artisans twenty-five years to re-create the finest architectural monument to Russia’s prerevolutionary past, following detailed logs, plans, prints, and correspondence. A loyal palace staff somehow managed to bury, warehouse, hide, and protect a large number of the original furnishings and artworks that once again grace Pavlovsk.