Pushkin, the Versailles of the North and Tsar’s Town
When you drive into this imperial town, the majestic palace, with its jade green façade and golden gates, will greet you from the end of the hilly street. As you walk along the garden and toward the palace, you’ll spot a bronze statue of the famed Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin. You have arrived in the town of Pushkin.
The small town named Pushkin is about 25 kilometers away from St. Petersburg. And one can’t help but wonder how the town is connected with the great poet of the same name. It turns out Alexander Pushkin spent his younger days here. And it’s not just in Russia. Any place in the Caucasus or the Crimean Peninsula that Pushkin set his foot on has become some sort of a monument for him. Pushkin lived in this town from 1811 to 1817 while studying at the imperial institution named Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum, and Russia would of course celebrate that. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Pushkin’s death in 1937, the town was renamed from Tsar’s Village to Pushkin. And although the town bears the name of the poet, tourists visit mostly for Catherine Palace.
Catherine Palace

View of the Catherine Palace © Shutterstock

How It Became Tsar’s Village
Pushkin was originally called Tsarskoye Selo, or Tsar’s Village. The words Tsar and village don’t seem to go well together, but here’s how things went down. This area had belonged to Sweden until the 17th century, and only became Russia’s after Peter the Great defeated Sweden in the Great Northern War in the early 18th century. The area had a farm called Saris Hoff. In 1710, Peter the Great acquired the estate for the imperial house, and the settlement for the royal family and servants began to take shape. Saris Hoff became Sarskoye Selo, or the hilly village. Once the construction for the palace began in earnest, it came to be called Tsarskoye Selo. In Russian, the pronunciations for the words ‘Sar’ and ‘Tsar’ are quite similar.
Peter the Great built the palace and gave it to his second wife, Catherine, as a gift. And the palace was named after her, too (Catherine grew up on a farm but then married Peter the Great before eventually becoming the empress as Catherine I).
Catherine Palace

Fall at the Catherine Park © Shutterstock

Catherine Palace

Beautiful main gate to the palace © Shutterstock


Bronze statue of the great poet Pushkin at the entrance to the village © Shutterstock

When the imperial couple’s daughter, Elizabeth, took the throne, Tsar’s Village underwent major transformations. The new empress wanted to glorify her father’s accomplishments in westernizing Russia and to extol strengths of Russia as the new European power. Elizabeth embarked on an ambitious project to build winter palace, summer palace and Catherine Palace, inspired by the Versailles of France. The Baroque style was in vogue in Europe at the time, and dynamic sculptures and ivy decorations were perfectly suited to represent the rising power of the absolute monarchy. Elizabeth put Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli, the great Baroque architect, in charge of the project. The construction for the 306-meter long palace went on from 1744 to 1756. St. Petersburg had been known as the Venice of the North, and now it also came to be called the Versailles of the North.
According to records, Elizabeth is said to have neglected her responsibilities as the empress and to have instead indulged herself in the luxurious imperial lifestyle. The decadent one went through multiple lovers and emptied the state coffers to build the palace while running up a debt with other countries. The legend has it that, when Elizabeth’s room was cleaned up following her death, some 30,000 pieces of imperial clothing were recovered. And her people had to work so much just to help the empress sustain that lifestyle. And now, Catherine Palace is a major tourist attraction. How ironic.
Catherine Palace

Main hall inside the palace © The Tsarskoe Selo State Museum

Inside Catherine Palace
Catherine Palace is divided into two areas: the palace itself and the garden.
Once you’re inside and reach the central staircase, the elegant and yet dynamic decorations in Baroque-Rococo style will grab your eyes. These stairs are straight from a film about 18th-century European aristocrats. Either side of the staircase is adorned with pottery from China and Japan. Asian ceramics may not seem to be an immediate fit inside such a western palace, but here’s the story. In the 18th century Europe, Rococo followed Baroque as the popular architectural style. And Rococo preferred something exotic, and, in line with that trend, both Peter the Great and Elizabeth collected Chinese pottery. Not only were there Chinese decorations inside the palace, the Chinese Village was formed in the back of the garden.
Climb the stairs and walk past the small exhibition room, and you’ll reach the Great Hall. At 800㎡, the Great Hall hosted balls and large banquets. The moment you step on that floor, a waltz by Shostakovich will start playing in your head, and you’ll want to dance to that rhythm. On the ceiling is a painting by the Italian artist Giuseppe Valeriani on the allegories of Russia, victory and peace. Four walls are decorated with golden tree branches and ivy. Large windows and mirrors installed between them evoke the image of the Hall of Mirrors at the Versailles, except that Catherine Palace is far more dazzling. Aristocrats must have enjoyed their balls and banquets, with gorgeous views out those windows providing a backdrop, while the common people on the other side had to work their tails off just to make that all possible. It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. The Great Hall is luxurious beyond anyone’s imagination.
Catherine Palace

Palace Chapel © The Tsarskoe Selo State Museum

Flashy interiors inside the palace © Shutterstock

The palace has 55 rooms. Some of the important ones are: Lyons Hall, Arabesque Hall, Antechambers, Chevalier Dining Room, Crimson and Green Pilaster Rooms, Amber Room, Picture Hall, Green Dining Room, Chinese Blue Drawing Room and Palace Chapel. Catherine Palace was initially built in Baroque style and underwent some changes during the reign of Catherine the Great to take on more classical style. Arabesque Hall and Green Dining Room are the prime examples of that. The latter has both the luxurious tone of the Baroque style and the elegant beauty of the classical style.
Catherine Palace

The Catherine Park, with Turkish Bath and the pond © Shutterstock

Catherine Palace

A classical building and garden © The Tsarskoe Selo State Museum

Catherine Palace

Chinese Village, connected to the park © Shutterstock

Garden Featuring Several Styles
Once you finish with the tour of the palace, you’ll be led to the garden. The back garden was done in the classical style, with trees lined up so precisely and symmetrically. To the right of the palace is a path lined with trees, and you’ll see the garden of varying themes on either side of that path. Private Garden has some ancient air to it. Chinese Village is exactly that. Granite Terrace features sculptures from the classical period. The Marble Bridge, in a Palladio style, conjures up the Renaissance era. Turkish Bath was done in an Islamic architectural style, and Admiralty will bring to the mind a Medieval palace. When a gondola appears on a tranquil lake with a flock of mallard ducks, you have to do a double take and make sure you’re not actually in Venice.
A structure in the shape of a Greek shrine is attached to the western wing of Catherine Palace. It’s Cameron Gallery, designed by Charles Cameron. Catherine the Great, who considered herself an enlightened despot, ordered Cameron to build something that reflected her fondness for the classical style. She wanted a place where she could be lost in thoughts while looking out toward a lake, and Cameron built a loggia-style gallery inspired by Greek shrines. Cameron installed busts of Greek and Roman philosophers and politicians, just as the empress had ordered. The Catherine Garden came to represent a wide range of civilizations.
Catherine Palace

Cross Bridge and Observatory at the Alexander Park © Shutterstock

Amber Room, Most Popular inside the Palace
The Amber Room is the most popular hall of the palace among visitors. Decorated in amber panels, it’s the world’s only luxury jewelry house. It is the symbol of indulgent and extravagant lifestyle of the Russian Empire of the time. This room didn’t originally belong to Russia. The Prussian King Frederick William I, who admired Peter the Great, gave the Russian leader amber panels for decorations for his study. And they were stored inside the winter palace in St. Petersburg. Elizabeth later moved her father’s study to Catherine Palace and turned it into the Amber Room.
The room is more than just about the sheer number of amber panels on the walls. Panels all come in different colors and degrees of clarity. Finely-crafted pieces and carvings form those panels. It became a must-see destination during the long ‘Grand Tour’ for the European aristocrats at the time.
Catherine Palace

Inside the Amber Room, the most popular feature of the Catherine Palace © The Tsarskoe Selo State Museum

History of Destruction and Restoration
The Amber Room was dismantled during World War II. In 1941, Nazi Germany attacked the then-Soviet Union and took over Catherine Palace and other castles around what was then called Leningrad. All palaces and parks in Tsar’s Village were destroyed and relics were looted. The Amber Room was one of them. It was relocated to its original spot in Konigsberg. After the end of the war, the Soviet Union negotiated with Germany for the recovery of its lost relics. Many of them never made it back home, including the Amber Room. The Soviets decided to reconstruct the Amber Room.
Finally, in 2003, on the 300th anniversary of the city of St. Petersburg, the reconstructed Amber Room was unveiled. What had once been the domain of the imperial family and aristocrats was now open to the public, giving them a glimpse into the culture of the Romanov dynasty.
While the dynasty is long gone, its legacy is being preserved. Indulgence and decadence of the absolute monarchy, and the blood, sweat and tears of the oppressed people, are all parts of the past. Russians view their past with a sense of shock and a tinge of regret.
The legacy of the Romanovs, built on the strength of those tears and sweat, has given their descendants much joy. Tsar’s Village has been restored with some painstaking efforts, and it has become one of the world’s most famous tourist attractions.
How to Reach Tsar’s Village
Take the suburban train at Vitevskiy Station and get off at Tsarskoye Selo. It’s about a 30-minute ride, and trains leave every 30 minutes. Once you get out of the station, hop on the Catherine Palace-bound bus. It will take you 10 to 15 minutes to reach the palace.
Catherine Palace

Catherine Palace
Address Garden St., 7, Saint-Petersburg
Contact +7-812-415-7667




Where to Stay in St. Petersburg: LOTTE HOTEL ST. PETERSBURG
LOTTE HOTEL ST. PETERSBURG stands right across St. Isaac's Square, the most famous landmark in the city. The hotel is housed in a remodeled building first erected in 1851. It's adjacent to the Nevsky Prsopect, the State Hermitage Museum and Mariinsky Theatre. Standing six stories high with one underground floor, the hotel has 10 different types of rooms for a total of 150, and also offers a wide variety of restaurants and facilities.

Address 2, Antonenko Lane, Saint-Petersburg
Phone +7-812-336-10-00
March 2021 Editor:Jung Jaewook
Writer:Lee Hyunhee
Cooperation: The Tsarskoe Selo State Museum

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