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Castles of Russia: IV

Updated on June 27, 2012

Russian Castles

Here you will find a beautiful palace built in a swampy, dismal area; a grotto with an interior like an underwater cavern; and a palace that once held a room of amber that mysteriously disappeared. This and more intriguing stories about Russian kremlins and palaces can be found here.

Our journey began with Castles of Russia, continued with Castles of Russia: II, and then Castles of Russia: III.

The Castles and Palaces covered in this section are: Winter Palace, Kuskovo, Koporye Fortress, Ryazan Kremlin, and the Catherine Palace.

Winter Palace

Winter Palace
Winter Palace

Located in St. Petersburg, Russia, construction on the Winter Palace began in 1711 by Peter the Great (Pyotr Alexeyevich Romanov), who wanted a residence that adequately represented Imperial Russia. The first Winter Palace had only two floors and was quite small in comparison to the one seen today.

Choosing the area of St. Petersburg to build his palace was a very unpopular decision. The people complained at the swampy ground and the cold weather. They considered it an ugly place for a palace, and when Peter the Great ordered the nobles under his rule to build residences for themselves there, and to spend at least half a year in those residences, there was a lot of grumbling. What the Tsar says goes, especially if they valued their lives. This was a man who had his eldest son whipped to death because of paranoia! Even Peter's wife Catherine had to pretend she loved the place, and she did that well.

St. Petersburg was transformed from an ugly, swampy, uninhabited piece of land to a wonder of the world, but it was built using slave labor and extreme taxation of the people. It has been reported that over 200,000 people died while building the city. While Peter the Great was responsible for transforming Russia from a backwards, undeveloped nation to an industrialized power, its people paid a very high price.

Not satisfied with his home, Peter the Great hired Georg Mattarnovy to rebuild the Winter Palace, making it more grand than the first. This palace was still small when compared to many of the grand palaces in Europe, but larger than the original. On February 8, 1725, Peter the Great died from gangrene of the bladder. He had been suffering from bladder and kidney problems for at least two years. He never saw just how magnificent St. Petersburg became. Sometime after having his eldest son Alexei, whipped to death, Peter's remaining sons died, so not only was Peter denied the pleasure of seeing his city rise to greatness, he was also denied a son on the throne.

After Peter's death, the disgruntled nobles left St. Petersburg, and in 1727, Peter II, the son of Alexei and grandson of Peter the Great, had the architect Domenico Trezzini greatly enlarge the palace. In 1732, the niece of Peter II, Tsaritsa Anna Ivanova, preferred the neighboring Apraksin Palace, and commissioned architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli to completely rebuild Apraksin Palace and enlarge it so much that the neighboring palaces would be incorporated into Apraksin Palace. This means that the center area of the Winter Palace is actually Apraksin Palace.

The Winter Palace flourished under the rule of Catherine II, better known as Catherine the Great. It was Catherine who was responsible for further improving the Winter Palace, as well as the buildings that are collectively known as the Hermitage. Catherine the Great is also responsible for many of the art collections and treasures of the palace and Hermitage. Like Peter the Great, Catherine enslaved over a million peasants to work on her palace.

When Nicholas I came to power in 1825, he updated the palace, and had to rebuild it after a devastating fire in 1837. It is this palace that we see today. Nicholas I was responsible for opening the Winter Palace and its treasures to the public.

In 1917, the Bolsheviks captured every government building in the Palace Square, leaving the Winter Palace for last. The provisional government, assisted by a few remaining loyal servants who had formerly served the Tsar, barricaded themselves in the palace along with some Cossacks, cadets, and 137 female soldiers from the Women's Battalion. The provisional government refused to surrender, and the palace was attacked with a barrage of artillery fire. The Bolsheviks took the palace and arrested the members of the provisional government. The Bolsheviks then pillaged the Winter Palace, breaking, ripping, crushing, and destroying the treasures of the palace. The palace was ransacked again in the 1941-1943 Siege of Leningrad.

This palace that has seen so much misery and destruction, is now fully restored and is part of Russia's famous Hermitage Museum. As one of Europe's most famous museums, it attracts over 3.5 million visitors annually. The palace is a work of art in itself, but the treasures it contains are a testament to the mastery and skill of people all over the world.

The large photo of the Winter Palace above courtesy of Pot Noodle.

Kuskovo

Kuskovo
Kuskovo

Located in eastern Moscow, Kuskovo is a large estate of the Sheremetev family. The buildings of the estate were built in the 18th century, with the baroque Church of the archangel Michael being the oldest of the buildings. Kuskovo Estate consists of a large number of buildings including the Sheremetev Palace, Grotto, Hermitage, Great stone conservatory, church, Italian and Dutch houses, a pond, pavilions and marble sculptures.

Work on the Dutch house began in 1749, the Italian house was built in 1754 and was designed by the architect Kologrivov to resemble an Italian country villa. The interior of these houses reflect the d├ęcor of their countries. Begun in 1755, the Grotto was built for the guests of the family. It was given a sea-foam color with seashell decorations to give it the look of an underwater cavern. Argunov, the architect who built the Grotto, embedded colored glass and travertine in the walls to further give the illusion of water. Some consider the Grotto the most interesting structure on the estate. In 1761, work began on the Great Stone Conservatory which connected the smaller pavilions using glass galleries. The conservatory was used as a concert and dance hall.In 1765, the Hermitage was built for the family and their guests. It was a private pavilion and only those invited were allowed entrance.

In 1769, Karl Blank began building the Sheremetev Palace, which was designed by de Vaya. This beautiful wooden palace is painted to look like stone, and the plaster walls are made to look like marble. There are mirrors skillfully placed to give the illusion of space, and the house even contains bronze urns which are not made of bronze at all, they are paper mache. The foundation of the house is actually made of stone.

In 1919, Lenin nationalized all private estates, and the care-takers wisely sought the protection of the Soviets in Moscow, so the estate was never looted and instead, became a state museum. Kuskovo Estate contains one of the finest collections of porcelain and glass in the world, along with over 30,000 priceless treasures.

The large photo fo Kuskovo Estate courtesy of Marina Lystseva.

Koporye Fortress

Koporye Fortress
Koporye Fortress

Located in the village of Koporye, Russia, the original Koporye Fortress was a wooden fortress built by Teutonic Knights in 1240. This fortress of wood was destroyed by Alexander Nevsky only a year later. The fortress was built of stone by Nevsky's son in 1280, only to be destroyed by Novgorod forces just two years later.

In 1927, the Novgorodians rebuilt the Koporye Fortress because of the threat the Swedish forces posed to the area. The Swedish attacked the fortress again and again, but the fortress defenses were built so strongly that they were able to withstand the numerous attacks. When Koporye became the property of the Grand Duchy of Moscow, the fortress was further enhanced and strengthened so that it would be able to withstand the advanced artillery of the age.

During the Livonian War, Koporye fortress fell to the enemy, only to be regained during the treaty known as the Eternal Peace with Sweden in 1595. The eternal peace didn't last, and the fortress was attacked during the Time of Troubles by the Swedish. The fortress was once again in Swedish hands and remained so until 1703, when Boris Sheremetev regained the fortress in the Great Northern War.

Today the Koporye Fortress is still in a ruinous state, but is one of the most impressive of Russia's medieval ruins.

The large photo of Koporye Fortress above courtesy of ebroW.

Ryazan Kremlin

Ryazan Kremlin
Ryazan Kremlin

Located in the city of Ryazan on the Oka River, Ryazan Kremlin is an unwalled kremlin that was founded bt Slavic settlers. The kremlin was originally built of wood and parts of the kremlin date back to the 12th century. The buildings of the Ryazan Kremlin seen today is an ensemble of Old Russian and classical architecture from the 15th to the 19th centuries, and includes several churches as well as Prince Oleg's Palace.

The town of Ryazan was first mentioned in documents 1095, and the area was under constant attack by the Khazar, Pecheneg, and Polovtsian tribes. Ryazan was also the first Russian city attacked by Batu Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan. By 1837, the city of Ryazan and its citadel was destroyed to the point that the people moved to a new town called Pereslavl-Ryazanskii, which was renamed Ryazan in 1778, and the site of the old city is now called Staraya Ryazan (Old Ryazan).

In 1884, the Museums of Local Lore was founded on the kremlin grounds, and is one of the oldest museums of its kind.

In 1999, apartment buildings in three cities were bombed by extremists who hit four apartment blocks in the cities of Buynaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk. Over 300 innocent people were killed in these cowardly acts of violence. A bomb was also found in the city of Ryazan, but it was defused. The bombs were blamed on rebels from the North Caucasus, and lead to the military invasion of the separatist Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. The Chechen authorities claimed they had nothing to do with the bombing campaign.

The large photo of the Ryazan Kremlin is courtesy of Victor Radziun.

Catherine Palace

Catherine Palace
Catherine Palace

Located in the Tsarskoye Selo district of the town of Puskin, building on the original Catherine Palace began in 1717, designed by architect Johann-Friedrich Braunstein. The palace seen today is the post-war rebuilt version of the palace constructed between 1752-1756 by court architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli at the request of Empress Elizabeth.

The palace is extremely lavish, with no expense spared. Empress Elizabeth even bankrolled some of the cost herself. When Catherine the Great (Catherine II) saw the palace, she was not very impressed with the indulgence Elizabeth took. She believed the palace was over-done and far too ornate. Catherine the Great was more interested in Neo-Classical art, and hired Charles Cameron to redecorate select rooms of the palace interior to suit the reigning Empress. Catherine the Great was also responsible for the beautiful Dutch Admiralty, Creaking Pagoda, Chesme Column, Rumyantsev Obelisk, and Marble Bridge on the palace grounds.

Beginning in 1796, several rulers preferred other palaces, and Catherine Palace had periods of disuse.

During WWII, German forces gutted the beautiful Catherine Palace, but not before some of its contents were hidden away by Russian archivists. These treasures and pictures of the palace were of great importance during its reconstruction. These efforts began in 2003, and are still ongoing. To help pay the immense costs of rebuilding such a grand structure, the palace was leased to dignitaries and celebrities for private events.

The interior of the palace is truly a sight to behold. The Great Hall is adorned with windows lining the entire width of Catherine Palace. When the candles near the mirrors are lit, it presents the onlooker with a dazzling display of light. The agate rooms are breath-taking in design, the palace chapel boasts mural masterpieces, and the ballroom is a golden gilded wonder.

One of the most famous rooms in Catherine Palace is the rebuilt Amber Room. The room is panelled with amber tiles, the ceiling inlaid with amber carvings, the floor constructed with amber mosaics, and amber treasures are placed on pedestals throughout. It has been painstakingly rebuilt from pictures scurried away before the war, and only a few original pieces have been found. Skilled craftsmen from around the world came together to reconstruct this famous room, and the German company Ruhrgas AG donated $3.5 million to help cover some of the enormous costs.

The large photo of Catherine Palace above courtesy of Itsray.

A Hermitage Museum must-have!

The Hermitage Masterpieces
The Hermitage Masterpieces

A breathtaking journey through time, culture and art, this 18-part series includes stunning images of rarely seen treasures that represent the development of world culture and art from the Stone Age to the 20th century. Originally built in 1754, the State Hermitage museum occupies six magnificent buildings and is home to more than 3 million masterpieces collected over two and a half centuries from every school of Western art.

 

Which would you most like to visit?

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What do you think of these beautiful Russian buildings?

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    • AJRG profile image

      Alice Gordon 3 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      The daughter of Peter the Great, the Empress Elizabeth, ruled for 22 years from 1740 on. Anna had the capitol moved back to St Petersburg.

    • AJRG profile image

      Alice Gordon 3 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Peter did not have his son killed out of paranoia. They had been enemies for years and his son was the hope of all conservatives and the church. He said he would destroy the life works of his father when he was Tzar, destroy St Petersburg and sink the navy. I could go on. His father had enough.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Am planning a trip to Saint Petersburg in September, expressly to visit the Amber Room in Catherine's palace. Of course we are planning on visiting other places of interest as well.

    • profile image

      wayne_luvinlife 6 years ago

      From absolutely elegant to the middle ages! Nicely done!

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 8 years ago

      Beautiful picture of Kuskovo -- time for us to plan our next European vacation to check out more castles!

    • Lamarena profile image

      Lamarena 8 years ago

      Wow, they are absolutely beautiful. Magnificent!!! 5* great lens.

    • jimmielanley profile image

      Jimmie Lanley 8 years ago from Memphis, TN, USA

      You're officially blessed!

      This is my first time seeing these castle series. Lovely!