In the 1750s, when he reconstructed the Great Palace, Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli placed the main staircase at a distance from the entrance gates, in the southern part of the palace, which was crowned by a dome and spire. In the reign of Catherine II Rastrelli’s main staircase was removed and instead, in keeping with the wishes of the mistress of Tsarskoye Selo, Charles Cameron constructed a new staircase of mahogany in the centre of the palace, in place of the Chinese Hall that Rastrelli had designed. In 1860–63 the staircase was reconstructed by the architect Ippolito Monighetti. He produced a new one in marble stylized in imitation of the Rococo and decorated by elaborate carved balustrades and figured vases.
The stairwell occupies the entire height and width of the palace and is lit by three tiers of windows on both east and west. The white marble steps ascend from both sides to a central landing from which four flights rise to the first floor where the state rooms are located. The walls are embellished with moulded ornament and also decorative vases and dishes made of Chinese and Japanese porcelain (eighteenth- and nineteenth-century) – a reminder of the Chinese Hall that was located here in the mid-1700s. During the Second World War a fire destroyed the décor of the Main Staircase. Only the collection of porcelain survived in part, as it was evacuated in time, together with fragments of the marble vases and balustrades found among the ruins. Today the upper landings of the staircase are adorned by restored marble sculptures of Cupid Sleeping and Cupid Awakening that were carved by Victor Brodzsky in 1860 by the order of Empress Maria Feodorovna, the spouse of Alexander II.
In the nineteenth century the well of the Main Staircase was decorated with a ceiling painting by Joseph-Marie Vien, The Triumph of Venus, and two smaller works by Guido Reni, The Rape of Europa and Galatea. These were destroyed when the roof collapsed during the war. To recreate the appearance of the stairwell, canvases were selected that match the previous compositions in both style and size. The central painting of The Judgement of Paris, produced by the Italian artist Carlo Maratti, and Jupiter and Callisto by Pietro Liberi came from the stocks of the State Hermitage. The composition Aeneas and Venus by an unknown eighteenth-century Italian artist that is on the west side of the ceiling was a gift to the palace museum from the Leningrader A. Tikhomirov.