The Alexander Palace circa 1990

PHOTO: The Alexander Palace as it looked in the early 1990s

This photo reminds me of my visits to the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo in the 1990s, when the palace was surrounded by a security fence and watchtower, and off limits to visitors.

In 1951, by a government decree, the Alexander Palace was transferred to the Ministry of Defense. The Naval Department used the building as a top-secret, submarine tracking research institute of the Baltic Fleet. As a result, the former palace would be strictly off-limits to visitors for the next 45 years.

In 1996 the Alexander Palace was designated as one of the world’s 100 most endangered sites by the World Monuments Fund who issued a grant for the restoration of the palace. American Express donated $200,000 for urgent roof repair. This struck fear into the security-conscious Ministry of Defence, who feared that their top-secret facility might be bugged during the repairs.

In 1997, a permanent exhibition was created in the former apartments of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, located in the eastern wing of the palace. The remainder of the palace was still occupied by the Ministry of Defense and remained strictly off limits to both museum administration staff and visitors.

The exhibition Reminiscences in the Alexander Palace opened on 26th August 1997. The exhibition which consisted of twelve rooms did not attempt to recreate the palace’s historic appearance, instead featured furnishings and personal items set against the backdrop of an enormous historic photograph of the each respective room as it looked.

On 5th September 1997, I entered the Alexander Palace for the very first time. I was hosting my second tour to Russia, The World of Nicholas and Alexandra. My group which consisted of 18 persons from the United States and Canada had the honour of being one of the first groups of visitors to tour the Alexander Palace interiors since before the Great Patriotic War (1941-45), when the palace was a museum.

It was not until October 2009, according to the order of the Federal Property Management Agency, that the Alexander Palace was placed under the administration of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Reserve.

The Alexander Palace was closed in August 2015 for an extensive restoration, which included the reconstruction of the historic interiors of the private apartments of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna. The first 15 interiors located in the eastern wing of the palace are now scheduled to open in 2021.

In the future, the Alexander Palace will become a memorial museum of the Romanov family – from Catherine the Great to Nicholas II, showcasing the private, domestic life of the Russian monarchs who used the palace as an official residence. The eastern wing of the palace will be known as the Museum of the Russian Imperial Family. The multi-museum complex, which includes the Western wing is scheduled for completion no earlier than 2024.

© Paul Gilbert. 15 November 2020

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