RUSSIA: Tsarkoye Selo...go ye to a nunnery

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November 14th 2019
Published: November 14th 2019
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My lasting memory of Russia is a hand washing plate of Catherine the Great in the Patriarch's Palace and Church of the Synaxis of the Twelve Apostles of the Moscow Kremlin that of the 29 Aussies we were probably the only ones to see...'cos they let Denise & I to slip in without tickets.

Twas the most elaborately carved, jewel encrusted gift to her Greatness...vertical sides...about 4 cm deep...I think of silver.

Can picture it filled with scented water...presented on a cushion...and her Highness reaching forward and dunking the tips of her fingers within...another courtier with silk towel to dab the Royal fingers dry.

I say dab as it was not deep enough to dunk her hands within.

If you prefer more in your face grandeur then the Catherine Palace in St Petersburg is for thee.


Tsarkoye Selo

St Peterburg was inspired by Peter the Great in 1703 as a naval seaport following his first victory over the Swedes early in the 21 year Great Northern War for control of the Baltic.

What had been marshland in Russian territory previously occupied by the Swedes...quickly became the capital of northern Russia.
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Privet kenguru...Hello Kangaroo

So determined was Peter to carve a city out of the swamp that he forbid building in stone in Russia other than in St Petersburg and decreed a tax that all travellers on arrival had to pay three blocks of stone.

He was also a sadistic ruler specialising in torture of numerous foes...even later torturing his eldest son Alexey to I guess the stone tax was usually paid.

He even had the Muscovite aristocracy bring stones to build their residences when he moved the capital to St Petersburg.

And he made them shave their beards off which annoyed the Russian Orthodox Church...some calling him the Anti-Christ.

In 1710 the 300 hectares that is now Tsarkoye Seko became a test ground for landscape gardeners, architects, builders, artists and sculptors as a residence of the Tsars from Peter the Great to Nicholas II...a test ground for their whims, fancies, follies and excesses as they each stamped their artistic tastes on the parklands and palaces that adorned the sight.

It is a veritable history of power...and how it was obtained and/or retained by intrigue, espionage, betrayal and bloody behaviour.

And among them were very powerful women ...three of which were ordered to a nunnery...of which one (Elizabeth) attained the throne by refusing.

A brief history begs the telling.

1672 Peter the Great born in Moscow

1682 Peter age 10 becomes co-tsar with his elder half-brother Ivan V under the regency of his elder half-sister Sophia

1689 Peter banishes Sophia to a nunnery

Also the year Peter married his first wife Eudoxia.

1696 Ivan V dies and Peter becomes sole ruler

1698 Peter returns from a trip to Europe and destroys Streltsy Guards...each tortured to death.

Also the year Peter wanted to divorce his wife but this was forbidden by the Russian Orthodox Church.

So he had his wife Eudoxia dragged from her home and tried for adultery...commanded "go ye to a nunnery" ...which she did.

1700 Start of Northern War against Charles XII of Sweden for control of the Baltic

1703 St Petersburg is founded, originally as a naval base.

Over years 100,000 Swedish prisoners of war & peasants died converting bog to a city

1710 Peter the Great gives Saarskava Homestead to his future wife Catherine upon which she built a Palace later to bear her name

This was the founding of Tsarkoye Selo

1712 Russian seat of government moves from Moscow to St Petersburg with reluctance of Muscovite aristocracy

1718 Peter tortures his eldest son Alexey to death in Peter & Paul Fortress whom he suspects was plotting against him.

1721 End of war with Sweden

1725 Peter the Great dies.

Of his 14 children only Anna & Elizabeth survived him.

Peter's second wife Catherine 1 begins rule as Empress to 1727 with Prince Menshikov, Peter the Great's Governor General

She was a Polish-Lithuanian peasant who Peter had married in secret then later remarried as his Empress

1727-1730 Reign of Peter's grandson, Peter II, crowned at age 11 and dies of smallpox 3 years later.

Peter II moves Royal Court back to Moscow at behest of Muscovite aristocracy

Prince Menshikov stripped of his titles and exiled to Siberia

1730-1740 Reign of Anna as Empress, daughter of Ivan V

Royal Court returns to St Petersburg

1740 Ivan VI short reign begins

1741 Peter the Great's daughter Elizabeth ordered to a nunnery but with the help of the revived Streltsy Guards she refuses and deposes Ivan VI and takes the throne herself

1745 Tsarevich Peter (later Peter III) marries a German princess, the future Catherine the Great, chosen by Elizabeth for him.

1752-56 Major construction of Tsarkoye Selo Catherine Palace during Elizabeth's reign by Italian architect Rastrelli

1762 Elizabeth dies succeeded by Peter III who is murdered after 6 months in a coup and his wife, Catherine the Great takes the throne as Catherine II

During her reign Catherine the Great purchases countless works of art by European Masters to adorn her Hermitage Palace

1796 Death of Catherine the Great. Reign of Paul I begins

Paul I decrees no woman will rule Russia ever again

1801 Paul I murdered and Alexander I becomes Tsar

1805-1807 First war with France

1812 Napoleon invades Russia

1814 Russian troops occupy Paris

1825 Alexander I deposed in Decembrist Revolution and Nicholas I becomes Tsar and crushes Decembrist revolt

1855 Nicholas I dies and is succeeded by Alexander II

1853-1856 Crimean War

1861 Emancipation of the serfs frees up labour for industrial revolution

1881 Alexander II assassinated by a bomb by the "Peoples Will" group and Alexander III becomes Tsar

1881-1862 Anti-Semitic pogroms for alleged part in assassination of Alexander II

1887 Lenin's brother hung for attempt on Tsar's life

1896 Alexander III dies and Nicholas II becomes Tsar.

Stampede of crowd during coronation leads to thousands of deaths

1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War

1905 Bloody Sunday when thousands killed by troops firing on protestors presenting a petition to the Tsar

1913 300th Anniversary of Romanov Rule

1914 First World War begins, St Petersburg re-named Petrograd

1917 Russian Revolution led by Lenin and Trotsky

March - Nicholas II house arrest at Tsarkoye Selo

25.10.1917 Red Guards storm Winter Palace in St Petersburg

King George V of England offers asylum to Nicholas II and will send a cruiser to collect him and his family but the offer was withdrawn.

1918 Civil War starts,

Later at Yetaterinburg Nicholas II and his family executed by the Bolsheviks

End of First World War

1921 - 14 neighbouring countries annexed by Russia to later become the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics USSR

1922 Stalin takes
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Catherine Palace

1924 Lenin dies, Petrograd re-named Leningrad

1927 Trotsky exiled by Stalin

1934 - 1938 Stalin's Great Purge or Reign of Terror

1939 Nazi Germany invades Poland and World War II begins

Hitler & Stalin sign Nazi-Soviet non-aggression Pact

1941 Nazi Germany invades Russia and siege of Leningrad begins

1944 Siege of Leningrad ends and Nazis retreat with more than 1,000,000 dead during the siege.

1945 End of World War II

1950-54 Korean War

1953 Stalin dies ending decades of terror

1955 Khrushchev comes to power. Signs Warsaw Pact.

1956 Hungarian uprising crushed

1957 Sputnik 1 launched as first spacecraft to orbit the Earth

1961 Yuri Gagarin first man in space

1962 Cuban missile crisis

1964 Brezhnev becomes Russian General Secretary following a coup

1968 Czech Spring Uprising crushed

1969 Americans land first men on the moon, Apollo 11

Russian/American Strategic Arms Limitation Talks SALT

1971 USSR launches the first piloted orbital space station, Salyut 1.

1975 Russian & American cosmonauts link up space stations and meet in space

Regarded in Russia as the greatest friendship act of
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Catherine Palace
the Cold War

1979 USSR invades Afghanistan

1982 Brezhnev dies replaced by Andropov

1984 Andropov replaced by Chernenko

1985 Chernenko replaced by Gorbachev.

Glastnoss (openness) and Perestroicka (restructuring) announced as his policies

1989 USSR abandons war in Afghanistan

1990 Gorbachev elected President of Russia.

1991 Yeltsin becomes President of Russia.

Dissolution of USSR begins in December 1991

January 1992 Deborah Snow arrives in Moscow and witnesses the hard times of the fall of the Soviet Union for the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC)

Leningrad re-named St Petersburg

2000 Putin becomes President of Russia

2019 Deborah Snow returns to Russia with 28 Aussies to dance in Putin's pastures


Catherine Palace

What is now a museum of 30 halls and rooms was commenced in 1717 in the reign of Catherine I as her Summer Palace, followed by the major construction during the reign of Elizabeth, Peter the Great's daughter who employed the Italian architect Rastrelli to demolish the palace and rebuild in Rococo style to celebrate Russia's victory in the Seven years War (1756-1761) and the capture of Berlin.

Catherine the Great
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Tsarkoye Selo
established a tradition of installing large scale monuments in Tsarkoye Selo to celebrate Russian victories against the Turks and in the Crimea and had various makeovers and additions to the Palace in Baroque style and Late Classicism style.

How their subjects lived I do not know, but the oppulent self indulgence of the Tsars had no bounds.

Alexander I applied classical austerity in some additions in the Empire Style celebrating battles against Napoleon Bonaparte and in 1795 moved into the Alexander Palace in the grounds that his mother Catherine the Great had built for him.

Then followed the reigns of Alexander II and Alexander III.

The history of Catherine Palace as a royal residence came to an end in 1917 when Nicholas II and his family were under house arrest in Alexander Palace at Tsarkoye Selo and later killed by the Bolsheviks.

George V reputedly offered Asylum to his cousin Nicholas II and his family in England but the offer was withdrawn.

The Duke of Windsor wrote about his father George V in his book A King’s Story:

“The murder shook my father’s confidence in the innate decency of mankind.

My father had personally planned to rescue him with a British cruiser but in some way the plan was blocked.”

However, there are grounds to believe that it was George V himself who blocked the plan.

Lord Stamfordham, George V’s Private Secretary wrote to the British Foreign Secretary in early April 1917:

“He must beg you to represent to the Prime Minister that from all he hears and reads in the press, the residence in this country of the ex-Emperor and Empress would be strongly resented by the public, and would undoubtedly compromise the position of the King and Queen from whom it would generally be assumed the invitation had emanated…” .

Nicholas II and his family were executed by firing squad by the Bolsheviks on 16 July 1918. It is said Nicholas and his wife died immediately, while his children were bludgeoned, stabbed and shot again and again until they died.

A poignant photo is of Nicholas II shovelling snow in his last days when previously a myriad of his servants would
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Catherine Palace
have been doing that.

The 300 year reign of the Romanovs was over and the last of the Russian Tsars and his family were buried in unmarked graves.


During WWII in 1941 Hitler ordered St Petersburg (then Leningrad) be flattened to the ground in what was a total surprise to the Russians who were totally unprepared due to the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939. Hitler thought it would thus be easy to control the Northern Baltic with the help of the Finns.

But the Russians had other ideas. They collected and moved many of the city's treasures to beyond the Urals or buried them...dismantled factories brick by brick...dug in for a long stay. It is said up to 2,400,000 soldiers were involved in 1941 on both sides and about 1,500,000 evacuated.

Thus began a 884 day siege that resulted in the death of over 1 million Russians. The US Military Academy reported that Russian casualties during the siege were bigger than combined American and British casualties during the entire war.

Hitler had ordered, "Leningrad must be erased from the face of the Earth" and "Leningrad must die of starvation."

This is
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Catherine Palace
said by some to be attempted genocide as total destruction of place and all inhabitants was ordered.

From 1943 and before retreating in 1944 the German armies looted and seriously damaged or destroyed the historical Palaces of the Tsars, such as the Catherine Palace, the Peterhof Palace, the Gatchina Palace and the Strelna Palace.

Many other historic landmarks and homes in the suburbs of Leningrad were looted and then destroyed, and a large number of valuable art collections are moved to Nazi Germany.

On 27 January 1944 the Germans retreated and the siege ended.

On that day each year Russian victory and the end of the siege is celebrated by about 300,000 soldiers marching in the snow as bands play and crowds cheer.

Restoration and Recovery

This is the part I like best...the damaged shell left by the retreating Nazis had been largely restored to its former glory by 2003 for the 300th Anniversary of the foundation of St Petersburg..

Fortunately detailed plans had been retained by the Russians so the gilded this and that...return of treasures saved and held beyond the Urals or that had been buried were returned...detailed restoration
in original materials was pursued.

An example is the restoration of the Lyons Room completed on 5 June 2019 with the assistance of Gazprom and ENGIE Foundation of France, the latter owning the largest gas transmission facility in Europe and the joint venture an example of Russian/French co-operation.

The opening address states:

"The Lyons Hall was created by architect Charles Cameron for Catherine II in the second half of the 18th century. Later on, the design of the chambers was updated under the project by architect Ippolit Monighetti. The furniture and walls of the imperial chambers were embellished with silk made in Lyons, France. The unique interior decor was destroyed during the Great Patriotic War.

In the course of the restoration, the plafond, lapis lazuli mosaic panels, and textile decorations were restored. The golden silk wallpapers were created at the same French manufactory in Lyons that had fulfilled the order of the Russian Imperial Court in the 19th century. They were made as an exact copy of the original fabric, a sample of which had been preserved by the manufactory."

Yet the restoration of the Amber Room is the stuff of

This is a room decorated with mozaics of small pieces of amber originally presented to Peter the Great by the King of Prussia in 1716 and adorned on the walls by Architect Rastelli at the behest of Elizabeth 1 in 1755.

For more than 200 years they adorned every inch of the walls in intricate finery supplemented by four mosaic pictures depicting allegories of "the five senses.".

In 1942 the Nazis stripped the amber decoration from the walls and transported them to Konigsberg where in 1945 they disappeared without trace.

Undeterred the St Petersburg stone cutters of the Tsarkoye Selo Amber Workshop headed by Boris Igdalov restored the Amber room, working day and night at their own expense using 5.7 tonnes of raw materials including waste.

This is the only restored room where photos are forbidden.

My Amber Room memories are embedded in my brain...the memory of being there and wondering at the skill and dedication...millions of tiny mozaics of orange red amber fitted like a massive jigsaw...a memorial not only of past glory but the glory of modern craftsmen who probably would say to effect...

"This is our Russia...take what you
may...but we remain to reclaim it."

Those are my words but I bet they share them..

Come with me...with the thousands who also share these halls gawk and ponder the over-the-top wealth of the Tsars and the skill of the Russians who built, restored and/or displayed their artistic whims, fancies, follies and excesses for us all to see.

Relax & Enjoy,

Dancing Dave

Additional photos below
Photos: 99, Displayed: 32


15th November 2019
The Upper Bathhouse Pavilion

We've beaten the Russians too, you know?
I'd like to point out that the Swedish army from time to time beat the c**p out of the Russians and we have also been known to take thousands of POW:s. And in recent years we regularly beat the Russians in ice hockey. Btw, thanks for telling me that we can't take photos in the Amber Room. I've been thinking about going to St Petersburg just to see it. I would have been disappointed if I had gone there and not known about the no photo policy. So, what happened to the original Amber Room? Nobody knows. Most likely it was sent to Germany on a train. In the chaos of war time Europe the information on which train it was sent with got lost. The train with the amber room got bombed and burned up and there was no trace of the Amber Room once the fire was put out. That's the boring answer. But what we all really want is that the train car holding the amber room actually reached its destination. We want the crates to have been offloaded and put deep inside an abandoned mine that was later sealed. We all want the legendary Amber Room to still be in that mine today waiting for us to rediscover it. Don't we? /Ake
15th November 2019
The Upper Bathhouse Pavilion

We've beaten the Russians too, you know?
The Swedes were also the dominant power in the Northern Baltic for three or four hundred years before the 21 year Northern 18th Century War, Ake. And a major power in Europe from at least the beginning of the 16th Century when my hero Gustavus Adolphus led the Protestant armies to crush the Catholic armies in the 30 Years War thus shifting cultural and religious balance in Europe. I've got a bit of Swedish in my blood too!
15th November 2019
The Upper Bathhouse Pavilion

The Amber Room
Thanks for the extra info Ake. I stated in my blog, "In 1942 the Nazis stripped the amber decoration from the walls and transported them to Konigsberg where in 1945 they disappeared without trace." Now I know the train that may have been carrying the amber stripped from the Catherine Palace was blown up, I wanna know where. If the pieces are not held in underground vaults, how cool would it be to collect fragments from the side of train tracks where the train was blown up. There would be millions of pieces to choose from! Still worth the visit even if you can't take photos in the Amber Room. The room has an aura of reverence and the admiration one feels for the restorers by just being in there, is overwhelming.
15th November 2019

great blog about a complex and long involved history
a great blog that also brought back wonderful memories of our time in St. Petersburg - thanks
16th November 2019

a complex and long involved history
Thanks Janice. As you sail your 40 ft yacht from Albania to Greece I appreciate that you make the time to read my blog and post a comment. It's also nice that it can bring back great memories of your own time in St Petersburg. Happy sailing!
16th November 2019

Art treasures galore!
Thanks for your wonderful photos ,whittled down no doubt, Dave.... I bet you’ve got hundreds ! There was so much wealth , riches we cannot imagine. In Dresden this summer we experienced another collection of great art and treasures , work for the skilled artisans no doubt but what appalling conditions the serfs and peasants lived in here in Europe and what history of cruelty from the aristocracy and leaders. It’s been great to read your blogs on this dismal winters day .... hope you haven’t had bush fires near you .
16th November 2019

Bushfires in Oz
Thanks for thinking of us Lynne. I presume you are snuggling to be warm on an English winter day, while we watch out for bushfires in what beckons as an horrific summer. Over 400 homes have been lost in the Eastern states so far and it is only the middle of Spring and there are also fires in South and Western Australia. Bordering National Park in northern Sydney we are preparing for the worst but as many fires are intentionally lit it is a lottery that we prefer not to have to face. In Oz if you border bushland we have to have a Bushfire Plan in the event we need to evacuate or stay to fight. Yet compared to the California fires we seem to get off lightly which is a blessing in a way.
16th November 2019

Art treasures galore!
Ahh the history of Russia and the wealth of the Tsars, Lynne. I guess as you live in England, royalty and its treasures are well known to you. I was absolutely gobsmacked by the opulence of the Tzars. Tsakoye Selo with its palaces and gardens is a fine example. Really hard to capture the enormity with a camera lens but the snatches of golden facades and ceiling art that I show in Catherine Palace gives a glimpse of their lifestyle. We were told there are or were about 600 palaces in St Petersburg as there had to be one for each of the numerous royal children as well, plus 870 mansions for members of the aristocracy, so even more poignant to think my pics are just a smidgen of royal excesses that were out there. Everywhere we went in Russia there were art treasures galore. Watch this space.
19th November 2019

Russian Ramblings
Thanks for your blog David - a refresher course in the history & great photos. Our trip seems ingrained in my DNA - sometimes I even speak with a Russian accent! Yes, it made a big impression - as I’m sure it did to all the curious & bold travellers. I trust everyone is watching “Catherine the Great”! Cheers Mary
19th November 2019

Russian Ramblings
It's kinda weird Mary but when we plan a trip, Foxtel makes me think Siri is not the only one listening in. Shows like Art of Russia and Peter the Great pop up and now it's over Catherine the Great emerges as I write my blog! In BB Kings House of the Blues in Moscow the band's banter was in Russian and Denise & I felt quite at home. And now I hear you slip into a Russian accent yourself. I can picture Peter smiling. Our trip was special in so many ways and it is my pleasure to bring back memories for me and you. Thanks for commenting.
20th November 2019

Click, click, click
As I read this blog I could hear your camera clicking away, wait Den... just one more, no over here, ok one more. Smile. A summer house with just 30 rooms... sad really. Man's inhumanity to man goes all around the world. So many brutal stories to tell. Thanks for the timeline. That was very helpful. A country rich in history. Thanks for sharing your story. MJ
20th November 2019

Click, click, click
I have to smile MJ as you have seen my camera in action in Tajikistan but there it was for jaw dropping landscapes and the odd portrait here and there. In Tsarkoye Selo it was an extravagance of gold gilding, candelabra, family paintings of the Tsars, elaborate ceilings and parqueted floors. room after room glittering and dripping with wealth. And there was Denise with her iphone outdoing my camera's pics as is her way! Lucky I got some good ones too...and lucky with the thousands of other tourists being herded through those halls that I got some clear ones.
20th November 2019
The Great Hall

A grand hall indeed.
20th November 2019
The Great Hall

My camera could not capture the enormity of the halls and rooms MJ but that pic gives a hint. Just add elaborately painted ceilings with mythological scenes, gold gilding all over the walls and architraves, and each room having a different design in the inlaid parqueted floors and you get the picture.
20th November 2019

Nice colors and you can sense the movement.
20th November 2019

A small section of ceiling art, MJ. There were even some scenes of Catherine the Great in mythological scenes as if her image of herself was her sharing heaven with cherubs and angelic beings. I can picture her or other royals supervising the work to ensure their greatness was adequately expressed.
20th November 2019

Why aren't the Dutch mentioned!?
I am sure we beat the c**p out of the Russians at some point... Oh, wait no we didn't, we just helped Peter build his fleet. We fought the Swedes though, that should count for something. Ah the Czars and their opulence, even by European royalty standards they were a bit much, though the French were pretty good at it as well, while it lasted.
20th November 2019

Why aren't the Dutch mentioned!?
I forget to mention the Dutch did I, Ralf? Peter the Great spent time with the Dutch learning ship building and returned to Russia and created St Petersburg as a naval base and made the men cut off their shaggy beards to look more civilised in his Dutch influenced eyes. Other major Dutch influence on Peter the Great and Catherine the Great I share in my next blog. Watch this space.
27th November 2019

A Gem of a Nation
Many folks seem to have an unreasonably skewed perception of Russia. It is a fascinating, diverse and beautiful country - one of my favourites. You really brought some of the history alive... Nice work as always.
28th November 2019

A Gem of a Nation
It's kinda easy for some folks to let perceptions of unknowing cloud desires such that they miss the knowing. But hey...we're not like that !!! Gotta agree Dave..Russia is a fascinating, diverse and beautiful country. And the more I see...the more I want to know. Here's to eyes opening and like your Canadian tundra...may first light reveal extraordinary days..
17th January 2020
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Is this the face of Russia?
I love this photo. So friendly and full of hope.
20th January 2020
Привет кенгуру

Is this the face of Russia?
One of my first portraits in Russia, Tommy. One of so many with a smile on his face. Russia was a revelation in so many ways as my blogs attest. Enjoy!

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