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The Chinese Village

From the Krestovy Bridge it is possible to walk along an alley of the New Garden in the Alexander Park to the Chinese Village that was constructed in the 1780s by the architects Charles Cameron and Ilya Neyelov (many researchers incline to the opinion that the idea and the original project belonged most probably to Antonio Rinaldi).

The compositional centre of the ensemble was supposed to be an octagonal observatory pavilion, the design for which was borrowed down to the smallest decorative details of the façade from an engraved view of a Chinese pagoda that was included in an album published in Amsterdam in 1669. An octagonal square and narrow street leading up to the “observatory” were to be lined by eighteen little houses in the “Chinese” style encircled by galleries. A small lane led from the Large Caprice to the square, where its entrance was to be marked by a “Chinese” gate. A further addition to the ensemble was a planned eight-tiered pagoda-tower that was allotted the role of a belvedere. For its construction a model of the famous pagoda in the royal gardens at Kew was ordered through the Russian ambassador in London. Its creator, Sir William Chambers, was the only eighteenth-century European architect to have visited China.

Construction of the Chinese Village began ten years after the project was drawn up. Of the eighteen single-storey houses, only ten were actually built. The observatory was not given the planned octagonal two-tier lantern with a Chinese roof; the galleries, entrance gates and pagoda never left the drawing-board. The role of belvedere was assumed by the Large Caprice, the pavilion at the top of which provided a vantage point for viewing the Tsarskoye Selo parks.

Originally the walls of the houses were faced with glazed ceramic tiles produced at the Conradi factory in Krasnoye Selo, but the tiles cracked with the first frosts and in 1780 Cameron gave orders for the buildings to be plastered and painted with oriental ornamental motifs. The most attractive feature of the houses became their curving roofs, painted in checkerboard and fish-scale patterns and adorned with figures of fantastic dragons. This smart decoration did not survive intact for long and was partially lost during the reconstruction carried out in the 1820s under the supervision of the architect Vasily Stasov.

On the death of Catherine II work on the Chinese Village was abandoned altogether. In 1798 her son, Paul I, gave orders for the houses to be dismantled to provide material for the Mikhailovsky Castle in St Petersburg. Fortunately that order was not carried out.

In the nineteenth century the Chinese Village was used as guest accommodation. Each house was furnished and provided with a small garden for relaxation. The furnishings comprised a bed, table, chest of drawers for linen and clothing, a properly equipped writing desk, and also a samovar, tea and coffee sets. The outstanding Russian historian Nikolai Karamzin lived in the village fairly often from spring until late autumn and from 1822 to 1825 worked here on his multivolume History of the Russian State that remained unfinished at his death on 22 May 1826.

Today the Chinese Village has been completely restored. Its houses are used as guest and living accommodation.

Panoramic bird's eye view of Chinese Village

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The Chinese Village
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