Alexander Palace

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Coordinates: 59°43′16″N 30°23′33″E / 59.721°N 30.3926°E / 59.721; 30.3926

The Alexander Palace (Russian: Александровский дворец) is a former imperial residence at Tsarskoye Selo, on a plateau around 30 minutes by train from St Petersburg. It is known as the favourite residence of the last Russian Emperor, Nicholas II, and his family and their initial place of imprisonment after the revolution that overthrew the Romanov dynasty in early 1917. The Alexander Palace is situated in the Alexander Park, not far from the larger Catherine Palace. Today it is undergoing renovation as a museum housing relics of the former imperial dynasty.

Panoramic view of Alexander Palace in 2010

Construction during the reign of Catherine the Great[edit]

The Alexander Palace was constructed in the Imperial retreat of Tsarskoe Selo.

Catherine II of Russia by Johann Baptist von Lampi the Elder.
Equestrian portrait of Alexander I (1812)
Elizaveeta Alexeevna

It was commissioned by Catherine the Great for her favorite grandson, Grand Duke Alexander Pavlovich, the future emperor Alexander I of Russia on the occasion of his marriage to Grand Duchess Elizaveeta Alexeevna, born Princess Luise Marie Augusta of Baden.

The Neoclassical edifice was planned by Giacomo Quarenghi and built between 1792 and 1796. It was agreed that the architect had excelled himself in creating a masterpiece.[1] In 1821, a quarter of a century later, the architect's son wrote:

An elegant building which looks over the beautiful new garden ... in Tsarskoe Selo, was designed and built by my father at the request of Catherine II, as a summer residence for the young Grand Duke Alexander, our present sovereign. In keeping with the august status of the person for whom the Palace was conceived, the architect shaped it with greatest simplicity, combining both functionality with beauty. Its dignified facade, harmonic proportions, and moderate ornamentation ... are also manifested in its interiors ..., without compromising comfort in striving for magnificence and elegance.

[2]

Home of Grand Duke Alexander Pavlovich and Grand Duchess Elizaveeta Alexeevna[edit]

Alexander used the palace as a summer residence through the remainder of his grandmother's and his father, Paul's, reign. When he became emperor, however, he chose to reside in the much larger nearby Catherine Palace.

Under Nicholas I[edit]

Tsar Nicholas I
The Dowager Empress Alexandra Feodorovna in 1860, the year of her death

Alexander I gave the palace to his brother, the future Nicholas I, for summer usage. From that time on, it was the summer residence of the heir to the throne. From 1830–1850, extensive redecoration was carried out according to designs by D.Cerfolio, A.Thon, D.Yefimov, A.Stakenschneider and others in keeping with rapidly changing tastes. The appearance of the formal and private rooms of the palace during Nicholas' reign can be seen in exquisite watercolors by E. Hau, I. Premazzi and I. Volsky from 1840-1860.[3] The famous Mountain Hall which had a large slide built in for the children of Nicholas I was built during this time. Nicholas I and his family lived in the palace from the early spring till the end of May and after a short period at Krasnoye Selo during manoeuvres returned to the palace to spend their time there until the late autumn. In 1842, the Imperial couple celebrated their silver wedding anniversary with a series of galas including a medieval jousting tournament. Two years later, the family mourned the death of Nicholas's daughter Grand Duchess Alexandra (1825–1844), who was born at the palace and lived the last few months of her life there. On October 19, 1860, the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna also died at the palace.

Under Alexander III and Maria Feodorovna[edit]

Alexander and his wife Empress Maria Fyodorovna on holiday in Copenhagen in 1893.

Alexander III and his Danish born wife Maria Feodorovna had their apartments in the right-hand or western wing of the palace near the gardens. Before their accession to the imperial throne, Maria gave birth to their eldest child, the future Nicholas II, at the Alexander Palace. In his diary, the then Tsarevich Alexander recorded the momentous event of the birth of his first child,

Around 12.30 my wife came to the bedroom and lay down on a couch where everything was prepared. The pains became stronger and stronger, and Minny suffered very much. Papa ... helped me hold my darling the whole time. Finally, at 2.30, the last minute came and suddenly all her suffering stopped. God sent us a son whom we named Nicholas. What a joy it was! It is impossible to imagine. I sprang to embrace my darling wife, and she instantly became cheerful and was terribly happy. I had been weeping like a child but suddenly my heart became light and cheerful.[4]

The entire imperial family was present at the birth of Alexander and Maria’s first child. In a letter to her mother, Queen Louise, the Tsarevna wrote,

.. this bothered me immensely! The Emperor held me by one hand, my Sasha by the other, whilst every so often the Empress kissed me.[5]

After Alexander III's death, Maria Feodorovna would stay at the palace in their rooms while visiting her son and daughter-in-law. As the estrangement with Alexandra Feodorovna became more apparent, the visits of the Dowager Empress became fewer.

Under Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna[edit]

The Russian Imperial Family, 1913. Left to right: Grand Duchess Maria, Tsarina Alexandra, Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana, Tsar Nicholas II, and Grand Duchess Anastasia. Tsarevich Alexei sits in front of his parents.

The palace is most famous though for the role it played in the reign of the last tsar, Nicholas II. He and his wife Alexandra Feodorovna always loved the palace and decided to make it their permanent residence after the Bloody Sunday which made the Winter Palace dangerous for them. They remodeled the former two-story ballroom into the Maple Room[6] and the New Study[7] and added rooms for their children on the floor above. To the horror of the court, Alexandra, and her architect Meltzer, chose a then-modern style of decoration, Jugendstil or Art Nouveau, considered by the aristocracy to be "middle class" and less than "Imperial". One of these most famous rooms is Alexandra's Mauve Room .[8]

During the reign of Nicholas II, the palace was wired for electricity and equipped with a telephone system. In 1899, a hydraulic lift was installed connecting the Empress' suite with the children's rooms on the second floor. Furthermore with the advent of motion pictures, a screening booth was built in the Semicircular Hall to show films.

During the stormy years of war and revolution, the monumental walls of the Alexander Palace sheltered the Imperial Family from the outside world. Pierre Gilliard, tutor to Nicholas II's son, had free access to this inner sanctum. In his memoirs, the tutor later described that the family life at Tsarskoe Selo was less formal than at other residences. Apart from a few exceptions, the court did not reside at the palace. The Imperial Family would gather informally around the table at mealtimes without attendants, unless relatives were visiting.[9] This idyllic world was watched over by the sad and prophetic smile of Queen Marie Antoinette of France, portrayed with her children in a tapestry in the Corner Room. This had been a gift from the French President Émile Loubet during his visit to Russia in 1902.[3]

Romanovs under House Arrest[edit]

One of the last photographs taken of Nicholas II, showing him at Tsarskoye Selo after his abdication in March 1917

Nicholas II abdicated the throne of Russia on March 2, 1917. Thirteen days later, he returned to the Alexander Palace not as Emperor of Russia, but as Colonel Romanov. The Imperial Family were now held under house arrest and confined to a few rooms of the palace and watched over by a guard with fixed bayonets.[10] The regime of their captivity, worked out by Alexander Kerensky himself, envisaged strict limitations in the life of the Imperial Family - an isolation from the outer world, a guard during their promenades in the park, prohibition of any contacts and correspondence apart from approved letters.[10] Gillard noted,

"In their spare time, free from studies, the Empress and her daughters were engaged in sewing something, embroidering or weaving, but they were never idle.... During daytime walks all the members of the family, excluding the Empress, were engaged in physical work: they cleaned paths in the park from snow, chopped ice for the cellar, cut dry branches or old trees, storing firewood for the future winter. With the arrival of the warmer weather the entire family worked on an extensive kitchen-garden...."[10]

Due to an increasingly precarious situation in St. Petersburg, the leader of the provisional government, Alexander Kerensky made the decision to move the Romanov Family out of the palace into internal exile in Tobolsk in far away Siberia. There had been calls for the prisoners to be housed in the prison at the notorious Fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul in St. Petersburg. To avoid this on the morning of August 1, 1917 a train took the family away. They were never to return.

After the Romanovs[edit]

Not long after the departure of the Romanovs for Siberia, a museum was established within the Alexander Palace. It operated until the beginning of the Second World War. At the beginning of the war, the most valuable furnishings were evacuated to the interior of the country. The remaining parts of the collection were hidden in the basement.

Nazi German occupation during the Second World War[edit]

During the Nazi German occupation, the palace was used as headquarters for the German military command. The area in front of the palace was turned into a cemetery for SS soldiers. Artistically and historically unique collections were partially destroyed. As the Nazi German forces were leaving the Soviet Union, many of the former imperial palaces were set ablaze. The Alexander Palace was spared.

After the War[edit]

After the expulsion of the German forces, the palace was used as a depot for artworks coming back into the area. The neighbouring Catherine Palace had been looted and mostly destroyed. For a time it was planned to restore the interiors of the Alexander Palace and to turn it back into a museum, but this decision was reversed and the palace was handed over to the Soviet Navy. It also functioned as an orphanage. As a result, many areas on the upper floor where the rooms of the tsar's five children had been located were destroyed.

The Alexander Palace was purposely left forgotten. Interest in the last Romanov Tsar was discouraged by the Soviet regime. As such the Alexander Palace was off limits to tourists although some of its interior decoration from the imperial past remained in the left wing. Many of its former collections still existed, but were located in other museums such as the Pavlosk Palace. The palace was seen as little more than an enhancement to the beautiful Alexander Park.

Recent History[edit]

When it appeared that the Soviet Navy intended to vacate the complex, the Alexander Palace was included in the 1996 World Monuments Watch by the World Monuments Fund (WMF). With funding from American Express in the same year, WMF helped with emergency renovations to the roof over the Nicholas II wing of the palace, comprising approximately one-third of the building’s total roof structure.[11] In the summer of 1997, a permanent exhibition was opened in the left wing of the building.

Portrait of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, 1907
The central hall

The Alexander Palace is now an exhibition space dedicated to the final years of Tsarist Russia. For this new use, certain elements of the Reception Room, Nicholas II's New Study and Alexandra Feodorovna's Drawing Room have been recreated and provide a backdrop for exhibitions of historical costumes, weapons and objects of applied art. The portrait of Alexandra Feodorovna has been returned to its original position. In Nicholas II's study, where the working environment of the last Russian emperor has been recreated, hangs a portrait of Alexander III painted by the Russian artist Valentin Serov. In another section of the palace, visitors can see clothing once worn by the last imperial family of Russia and uniforms related to the court of Tsar Nicholas II. Restoration is ongoing. Recently more rooms have been brought back to their former glory with furniture and artworks returned to their original positions from other museums.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Alexander Palace by I.Bott & V.Faybisovich 1977
  2. ^ The Alexander Palace in Detskoe Selo by V.I.Yakovlev (Leningrad 1927) p.39-40
  3. ^ a b The Alexander Palace
  4. ^ Diary of Alexander III, 1868, State Archives of the Russian Federation
  5. ^ Letter from Maria Feodorovna to Queen Louise of Denmark, 1868, State Archives of the Russian Federation
  6. ^ Alexander Palace Time Machine - Maple Room
  7. ^ Alexander Palace Time Machine - The New Study
  8. ^ Alexander Palace Time Machine - Mauve Room
  9. ^ Emperor Nicholas II and His Family (Leningrad 1990) p. 59
  10. ^ a b c Nicholas II by O. Barkovets and V. Tenikhina (St. Petersburg 2004)
  11. ^ World Monuments Fund - Alexander Palace

External links[edit]