The Arsenal pavilion in the Alexander Park is open for visiting after more than seven decades of dilapidation to house our permanent display, co-created with the State Hermitage and named The Arsenal of Tsarskoye Selo: The Imperial Arms Collection(click the pictures below to enlarge them).
The highlights and pride of the Arsenal are the finest pieces from the Asian arms collection of Russian emperors. Like before, the main attraction of the pavilion is the Hall of Knights on the second floor.
With over four hundred exhibits, the new museum display includes the famous 1843 oil on canvas The Tsarskoye Selo Carousel by Emile-Jean-Horace Vernet, Oriental cold steel items, eighteenth-nineteenth century firearms and horse harness, as well as pieces of historic furniture, glassware and military clothing.
The State Hermitage has loaned to the Arsenal some rare exhibits like a sixteenth-century armour set from the collection of Nicholas I, which was showcased in the pavilion during the Emperor’s time.
The first and second floor rooms now present information on the history of the pavilion and some items from our collection of Western European and Asian arms. Modern 3D technologies in the Albanian Room help re-create the historic view of the interior from its nineteenth-century watercolour depiction by Alois Gustav Rockstuhl. A historical video in one peripheral room introduces into the world of medieval court festivities such as equine carousels. The Spiral Stairs Room offers e-books on the history of the Arsenal, Russian imperial libraries and arms collections.
Besides rarities from our historic collection and those loaned by the State Hermitage, our visitors will see sixteenth-seventeenth century Western European artifacts like plate armour, helmets, halberds and swords, purchased by the Museum at different auctions.
The main pavilion of the Alexander Park (see the map at right, click to enlarge), the Arsenal stands on the site of the Monbijou, a pavilion built in 1747–1750s to plans by architects Savva Chevakinsky and Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli. Considered one of the best park structures in the Russian Baroque style, the Monbijou (French for ‘my jewel’) was created in the same fashion as the Hermitage pavilion in the Catherine Park. It was also known as a hunting pavilion as it stood in the Menagerie, a wildlife and game preserve for the imperial hunt.
Dilapidated and partially dismantled after the Menagerie lost its function, the pavilion was reconstructed as a Neo-Gothic building with four crenulated turrets to the design of Adam Menelaws in 1817–34. The magnificent interior decoration by architect Alexander Thon delighted those who saw the Arsenal, but even more did Emperor Nicholas I’s collection of Western European and Asian arms and armour in the rooms, with its finest part on display in the central octagonal Hall of Knights on the second floor (see left). The Emperor willed that the remodeled pavilion should be named ‘Arsenal’.
A remarkable piece of Russian nineteenth-century Neo-Gothic architecture, the Arsenal made the whole ensemble of the Alexander Park seen by contemporaries as some kind of romantic medieval setting for novels by Sir Walter Scott, whose Abbotsford House in the Scottish Borders was a great influence to Nicholas I. The imperial arms collection in the Arsenal became Russia’s first public museum of arms, with over 5,000 exhibits and several guides.
In 1885–86, on the instructions of Alexander III, the unique collection of his grandfather was transferred to the Imperial Hermitage, where some of it is now on display in the Knights’ Hall and other rooms.
The Arsenal suffered considerable damage during the Second World War and remained in a dilapidated condition for decades. It was finally restored by RemStroiFasad CJSC during September 2014 – December 2015 to plans developed for Tsarskoye Selo in 2011 by the St Petersburg Institute for Special Restoration Projects. The cost of the works including project documentation totaled RUB 305,000,000 and was mostly covered by the federal finances.
The renovated building, now equipped with accessibility accommodations for wheelchair users, has an effectively designed reception area on the basement floor, with Ticket and Information Counter, Cloakroom, technical and service rooms and Introduction Hall with information on the Alexander Park and the Arsenal. The latter and the White Tower, another landmark of the park, are available at the pavilion's gift shop as amazing cardboard model kits.