The Alexander Palace
The Alexander Palace (New Tsarskoselsky) was presented as a gift by Catherine II to her eldest grandson, the future Emperor Alexander I, on the occasion of his marriage to Grand Duchess Elizaveta Alexeevna. According to the idea of the sovereign grandmother the palace had to be similar to the château at Ferney, where the great thinker of that time – Voltaire – lived. But in 1792 the architect G. Quarenghi presented another project to the Empress and could convinced her of its advantage. The palace construction was completed in May of 1796, and in June the Grand Duke Alexander Pavlovich, his spouse and his court moved into the New Palace.
The New Palace in the classical style is considered to be the pearl among the creations of Quarenghi and one of the main masterpieces in the world. The art-critic I.E.Grabar wrote that “there are palaces bigger and more regal, but there is no palace which architecture is more beautiful”. In the center of the main northern façade is a magnificent Corinthian colonnade passage consisting of two rows of columns. In 1838 two sculptures were placed in front of the colonnade: one represented a boy playing svaika (a big nail), another – a boy playing babkas (knuckle-bones). A.S. Pushkin immortalized these sculptures in his poems. During 150 years the owners reconstructed the palace several times, but its appearance did not change.
The Alexander Palace was a summer dacha for the Imperial Family in the 19th century, but it became a real home for the last Russian Emperor Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra Feodorovna during the last 13 years of their reign. From this palace the family of Nicholas II was sent into exile in Tobolsk.
In 1918 the Alexander Palace was opened to visitors as a state museum. The display included the historic interiors in the central part of the building and the living apartments of the Romanov family in the east wing of the palace.
Later the left-hand wing was turned into a rest home for NKVD staff, while on the second storey of the right-hand wing the former secluded rooms of Nicholas II’s children became an orphanage named after the “Young Communards”.
In the first months after the Nazi invasion chandeliers, carpets, some items of furniture, eighteenth-century marble and porcelain articles were evacuated from the Alexander Palace. Most of the palace furnishings remained in the halls.
During the occupation of Pushkin the palace housed the German army staff and the Gestapo. The cellars became a prison and the square in front of the palace a cemetery for members of the SS.
At the end of the war conservation work was carried out in the palace and in 1946 it was handed over to the USSR Academy of Sciences for the storage of the collections of its Institute of Russian Literature and to house a display of the All-Union Pushkin Museum. As a consequence in 1947-51 refurbishment began in the palace, in the course of which it was intended to restore the surviving Quarenghi interiors and extant fragments of décor and also to recreate the interiors from the time of Nicholas I and Nicholas II. However, during the work many elements in the décor of Empress Alexandra Fiodorovna’s Maple and Palisander Drawing-Rooms, as well as Nicholas II’s (Moresque) Dressing-Room were actually destroyed. These rooms of the palace were recreated to a project by the architect L.M. Bezverkhny (1908–1963) “in accordance with the architectural norms of the time of Quarenghi and Pushkin”.
In 1951 a government decision handed the Alexander Palace to the Naval Department, while the palace’s stocks that were among the evacuated items in the Central Repository of Museum Stocks from the Suburban Palace-Museums passed to the Pavlovsk Palace Museum. In 1996 the World Monuments Fund awarded a grant for the restoration of the Alexander Palace and work on repairing the building’s roofs began. A year later, on the initiative of the military institute occupying the palace, a permanent exhibition was created in the right-hand wing of the palace, formerly the location of the private apartments of Nicholas II and Alexandra Fidorovna. It was entitled Reminiscences in the Alexander Palace and was prepared by the Tsarskoye Selo Museum-Preserve using items from the museum stocks.
This display, housed in partially preserved historic interiors and rooms that lost their decoration during the war, features furnishings from the apartments and personal possessions of the last Russian emperor and his family.
In late 2009, the palace recovered its museum status and restoration work started. In Tsarskoye Selo’s jubilee year of 2010, the first three state rooms – the Semi-Circular Hall, the Portrait Hall and the Marble Drawing-Room – welcomed their first visitors.
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