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Published: November 14th 2019
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.
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 death...so 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
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
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
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
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
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
Damage by Nazis
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 U
S 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."
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 C
atherine Palace, the P
eterhof Palace, the Gatchina Palace and the S
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 daily...to 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,
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