July 6, 2011 was marked with the opening to public of the Catherine Park’s Lower Bathhouse pavilion after long restoration that took years, while it had taken decades of research and hopes before the work could start.
Intended for use by members of the court, the pavilion was built to the design of the architect Ilya Neyelov in 1778–79 and called the Cavaliers Bath.
It contains ten rooms grouped around a central hall with a large round bathtub. The water was heated in two boiler-rooms that had separate entrances and delivered by pipes to the steam-room and the rooms with baths. The unusual layout of the pavilion determined its external appearance. Two of its facades – looking towards the Catherine Palace and directly away from it – are identical, but neither is the main one. The walls of the central hall are raised considerably higher than those of the side room and form a windowed drum supporting the dome that crowns the building. Both the drum and the façade walls contain round windows that are placed high up in accordance with the functional purpose of the building.
The facades of the pavilion suffered little during the Second World War and were restored in 1944–45.
The original internal décor of the 18th century has not survived. From archive documents we know that some of the rooms had ornamental painting on the walls and ceiling, that the relaxation and changing rooms were heated by marble fireplaces and that the circular bath in the central hall was surrounded by a balustrade (now re-created). The restoration work has revealed the ornaments partially surviving under a later paint layer on some of the walls — leftovers from the 19th century when the building became known as the Lower Bathhouse.
Modern museum goers, somewhat tired of high art, enjoy peering into the everyday life of epochs bygone. The Lower Bathhouse offers a chance to see where and how the Russian nobles of the old took baths and what emotions that brought up in them.
The exhibit Court Bath in the 21st century, showing what the rooms of the Bathhouse might look like and be filled with, is built upon the nineteenth-century inventories, according to which – just as now – there stood furniture of Masure birch and mahogany, the steam-room had lime wainscoting on the walls, the wooden buckets were hooped with copper, the central bathtub was made of tin.
The restored gentlemen’s, ladies’ and children’s bathing rooms, the steam-room with a changing anteroom, and the central hall with the pool-like bath contain not only the period clothes and bathhouse accessories. The pavilion is “alive” with the sounds of water splashing, low voices murmuring, the scents of conifer in the steam room and flowers in the ladies’ bathing room, and “warmed” with imitation flames dancing in the antique fireplaces…