The building restoration project of the Arsenal pavilion in the Alexander Park is complete. It will house a permanent historical display of arms and armour, which is expected to open there in the autumn of 2016.
The Arsenal stands on the place where Rastrelli and Chevakinsky’s Monbijou pavilion was built in 1747-50 to match the style and richly decorated façade of the Hermitage on the other side of the Catherine Palace. A hunting house surrounded by a slowly decaying Menagerie, the Monbijou was finally partially dismantled to give place to the Neo-Gothic creation of Adam Menelaws during 1817-34.
Finished by the architect Alexander Thon, the beautiful interiors of the Arsenal contained Emperor Nicholas I’s gorgeous arms collection, which moved to the Imperial Hermitage (Winter Palace) at the behest of Alexander III in 1883. Some part of it is now on display in the Knights' Hall of the State Hermitage Museum.
Half destroyed during WWII, the Arsenal stood dilapidated for decades until a project was drawn up for Tsarskoye Selo by SpetsProektRestavratsiya (special restoration projects institute) for the revival of the building in 2011. The contractor RemStroyFasad started preliminary works in 2012 and went on with repairs and restoration during September 2014 to December 2015. The cost of work including project documentation totaled 305 million rubles, most of which came from the federal budget.
Modern restoration methods with some conservation were employed. The façades retained their original brickwork and mortar, with new historic-like bricks specially produced to fill in some gaps. The original white mortar was reinforced and restored. Beige mortar was used with new bricks to make the original brickwork stand out visually.
Two fragments of the pre-Arsenal brickwork were exposed on the left-hand side of two large second-floor windows, so we can see what is left of the eighteenth-century Monbijou pavilion (see right). The historic truss systems were fully restored over the main space and turrets. The restorers recreated the limestone main staircase, a cast-iron spiral staircase to one of the turrets, floors with some surviving authentic stone slabs, as well as parquets, doors and windows. Interior colour scheme was based on pre-WWII photographs and nineteenth-century watercolours by the artist Alois Rockstuhl.
Preserving the domed brick ceiling of the Hall of Knights on the second floor (see pictures above left) was extremely difficult. The roof above it was destroyed during the war. With two shell holes, the dome’s old brickwork was exposed to rain and snow for over seventy years. Fortunately, its satisfactory condition gave the ceiling a good chance for preservation. Shifting the weight of the rafters from the ceiling to the supporting walls helped as well. Lost during the war, the Gothic décor of the ceiling had to be rebuilt
The partially surviving stuccowork fragments in the first-floor rooms were left unpainted on purpose (above). So were the niches in the walls where the lost stoves and fireplaces used to be (see left). One white-tiled stove will be later reconstructed on the first floor to give the visitor an idea of what the others looked like.
The building’s gutter system came fairly well preserved down to the present day, the surviving downspouts were restored. Rainwater from the gutters falls into a brick drainage system and then to a nearby grotto and a spring running to the Lamsky Ponds.
The renovated building is now fully equipped with utility networks. The ground floor (see right) will soon have a cloakroom, service rooms and an exhibition room finished. The first floor has the main staircase, a vestibule and exhibition rooms (above right) and the spiral staircase up to the north turret. The centerpiece of the future permanent display will be the octagonal Hall of Knights on the second floor of the Arsenal.