Nicholas II: the amateur photographer

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Shortly after his Coronation at Moscow in May 1896, Emperor Nicholas II acquired a new camera, for which he began photographing himself and his family at play. It was also at this time that he began placing his snapshots of family members in his diaries and compiled his first photo album.

Among the many albums of Romanov family photographs held in the Russian archives, at least two of them were Emperor Nicholas II’s personal photo albums, in which he personally selected and pasted the photos.

Nicholas II was a keen amateur photographer. It is widely known that his wife and children all shared his passion, but it is thanks to him that we have a vast collection of photographs taken by the emperor himself and by members of his family in addition to those taken by official photographers. These photographs not only give us an official portrait of Russia’s last emperor and tsar, but also a pictorial record of his private life and reign.

Nicholas II took pictures throughout his life, leaving to posterity a collection of photographs astonishing in their breadth and variety. It is a collection which allows us to study him in all his guises: emperor, husband and father. As GARF managing director and researcher Alia Iskhakovna Barkovets notes: “Everyone who looks at these photographs will see the last Tsar of Russia in their own way. One feeling, however, unites us: these photographs attract us because in them we see a human life. And regardless of the time and tragedy that separates us from that life, we can comprehend it and identify with it.”

In 1925, the vast collection of documents and photographs of Nicholas II and his family were transferred to the New Romanov Archive, which formed the basis of the Archive of the October Revolution, and was renamed The Department of the Fall of the Old Regime. It was Joseph Stalin who ordered the Romanov archives closed and sealed. They were even off limits to historians, unless for propaganda purposes. Up until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, these private documents and photographs effectively lay untouched.

While it is known that Nicholas II started to take amateur photographs, it is not known where and when the Emperor acquired his first camera, but his personal accounts for November 1896 contain an entry about a payment to the firm ‘London Stereoscopic & Photographic Co,’ for photographic accessories amounting to 9 pound sterling. In December of the same year an invoice from the owner of a warehouse for photographic and optical accessories in St. Petersburg was paid for 25 roubles to cover photographic work, two boxes of film and a camera cover.

That Nicholas himself glued photographs into albums is shown by a diary entry 29th October 1896: “Fussed with some photographs, singling them out for gluing into the big album”. It is apparent that he among the members of his family was mostly concerned with their presentation, also ensuring that each photograph was captioned with date and place, all handwritten by the Emperor himself.. This favourite occupation calmed him and brought him into a state of mental equilibrium. 

Beginning in 1896, small amateur photographs began to appear in the pages of his diary alongside the entries. In almost every diary after this year the Emperor illustrated various entries with his own photographs.

Nicholas II’s private album for 1900-1901 is particularly interesting as it highlights the growing confidence of his skills as a photographer. Nicholas had obtained a special camera which allowed panoramic pictures to be taken. The Emperor’s passion for taking panoramic photographs included those of ships, his beloved Standart, and above all, the Crimean countryside and the architecture of the Livadia Palace. Although the artistic merit of these photographs is questionable, their historic significance is undeniable.

In August 1917, when the Imperial Family was exiled from Tsarskoye Selo to Tobolsk and later Ekaterinburg, they took with them a camera of the ‘panorama company Kodak from the Karpov shop . . . along with instructions, and two boxes containing 33 negatives’.  These items were found after the murder of the Imperial Family in Ekaterinburg at the apartment of Mikhail Letemin, the guard for the Ipatiev House, during a search by the investigator Alexei Nametkin on 6th August 1918. As well as the items found at the Ipatiev House, three reels of Kodak film were recovered from the stoves and rubbish at the Popov house, where the guards of the Imperial Family were accommodated. So, what were these photos? Who took them? Why were they destroyed? Perhaps they contained the last photographic images of the final days of the Imperial Family, or were they destroyed to conceal evidence which the murderers did not want to fall into the hands of monarchists, the Whites or the Western press? Sadly, we will never know!

In conclusion, Alia Barkovets adds: “the photographs from the Tobolsk period of the family’s incarceration are missing from the State Archive, but a few pictures survive in private collections. There are no known photographs of the Imperial Family during their house arrest in Ekaterinburg. If we believe the evidence of of the guard Mikhail Letemin, Nicholas’s camera was stolen by him from the Ipatiev House after the murder of the Imperial Family. Whether or not it contained film we can only surmise.”

COMING SOON! NICHOLAS II. PHOTOGRAPHS by Paul Gilbert

I am pleased to share with you, a preview of the cover of my next book ‘NICHOLAS II. PHOTOGRAPHS‘, which is due to be published by the end of this year and available exclusively from AMAZON.

This large-sized book – 8-1/2″ x 11″ – title, will be available in both paperback and hard cover editions.

It is my most ambitious publishing project to date, 200+ pages and richly illustrated with more than 200 high-quality black and white photos – most of them full-page!

Unlike other Romanov pictorials, this book focuses specifically on Nicholas II.

My book will be divided into 12 parts + an interesting chapter on the many albums and individual photos held in archives and private collections; Nicholas’s own interest in photography; efforts to preserve and restore images currently held in Russian archives; and much more.

This beautiful album is a labour of love, and my personal tribute to the memory of Russia’s last emperor and tsar.

I am so proud of this book, and trust that this book will one day become a much coveted and sought after collectors title.

© Paul Gilbert. 19 August 2022 

“For us, Serbs, Nicholas II will be the greatest and most revered of all saints.”

PHOTO: fresco depicting the image of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II by Stepan Kolesnikov

On 11th August 1927, newspapers in Belgrade reported a miracle witnessed by the Russian artist Stepan Fedorovich Kolesnikov (1879-1955).

Kolesnikov had been invited to paint the frescoes in a new church in the ancient monastery of St. Naum. The master depicted the faces of fourteen saints, while leaving the fifteenth empty. He returned to the church at dusk, and unexpectedly saw that at the very place where he was supposed to draw another saint, the face of Nicholas II appeared.

Kolesnikov, who had met the Emperor on several conversations at exhibitions and remembered his face well. But the vision was so vivid that night Stepan Fedorovich seemed to be working from nature. Having finished the fresco, he wrote below: “All-Russian Emperor Nicholas II, who accepted the martyr’s crown for the prosperity and happiness of the Slavs.”

A few days later, the commander of the Bitolsky military district, General Rostich, arrived at the monastery. For a long time he stood in silence in front of the fresco of the Russian emperor, and then quietly said to Kolesnikov: “For us, Serbs, he will be the greatest and most revered of all saints.”

PHOTO: the Monastery of Saint Naum

The Monastery of Saint Naum is an Eastern Orthodox monastery in North Macedonia, named after the medieval Bulgarian writer and enlightener Saint Naum who founded it. It is situated along Lake Ohrid, 29 kilometres (18 mi) south of the city of Ohrid.

The monastery was established in the Bulgarian Empire in 905 by St Naum of Ohrid himself. St Naum is also buried in the church.

Since the 16th century, a Greek school had functioned in the monastery. The area where the monastery of St Naum lies belonged to Albania for a short period from 1912 until June 28, 1925, when Zog of Albania ceded it to Yugoslavia as a result of negotiations between Albania and Yugoslavia and as a gesture of goodwill.

Today, the Monastery of Saint Naum, is under the jurisdiction of the Macedonian Orthodox Church – Archdiocese of Ohrid, although many Serbs claim that the monastery is under the jurisdiction of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Click HERE to read my article Nicholas II through Serbian eyes, published on 13th October 2020

© Paul Gilbert. 11 August 2022

1917 Bible belonging to Nicholas II preserved in Pskov church museum

PHOTO: copy of the Old Testament with personal notes made by Emperor Nicholas II. On the right, is a small casket containing a milk tooth of Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich

Tucked away in the Church of St. Alexander Nevsky in Zavelichye (Pskov), is a tiny little known museum. The museum was created by Archpriest Oleg Teor (born 1944), who over the years has collected and preserved numerous items and documents of historic value and significance of the diocese.

The museum’s most interesting item is a copy of the Old Testament belonging to Emperor Nicholas II, found on the Imperial Train in March 1917, which includes notes made in the margins, written in pencil. The sacred text lies in a special wooden box under glass. Sitting next to it, is a small casket containing a milk tooth of Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich.

Recall that it was on on the night of 15th (O.S. 2nd March 1917, in a wagon of the Imperial train, stationed in the ancient Russian city of Pskov, Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias, in the forty eighth year of his life and the twenty third of his reign, surrendered the crown that his forebears had held since 1613.

PHOTO: Church of St. Alexander Nevsky in Zavelichye (Pskov)

How did the sacred text end up in Pskov?

The Church of St. Alexander Nevsky was built in 1907-1908, for the 96th Omsk Regiment. The church was closed by the Bolsheviks in 1918. In 1992, it was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church. Following an extensive restoration, the church was reconsecrated on 12th June 1995, new bells were consecrated on 2nd December 2008, marking the 100th anniversary of the church.

There are several theories among the parishioners, as to how the copy of the Old Testament ended up in Church of St. Alexander Nevsky. Some say that the Old Testament was donated to the church by an elderly woman from Pskov, while others claim that the donor was a man who wished to remain anonymous. Allegedly, he went into the church, placed the Bible on the table and, saying that it belonged to the Tsar, disappeared in an unknown direction. The most intriguing theory, however, the book was miraculously found in a looted imperial train car and passed to the woman for safekeeping from relatives.

According to Archpriest Oleg Teor, however, the Old Testament was given to him by the nephew of a veteran of the Great Patriotic War, who later took the clergy. “I know this man very well, and while still a boy, he came to visit his uncle and asked about the book. His uncle replied that it belonged to Tsar Nicholas II. Either the Emperor himself, who prior to his abdication was on the Imperial Train, or one of his aides handed the book to a relative of his uncle with the words “take it and safeguard it.” The uncle then gave the sacred text to his nephew, who some years later gave me the copy of the Old Testament repeating the words of his uncle “take it and safeguard it“. . .

The Old Testament contains two notes in the margins inscribed in a “sharp-edged graphite pencil” on pages 220 and 237. In addition, it contains many underlined passages. Perhaps the Tsar looked for answers to many of his questions in the Holy Scriptures? Perhaps the Old Testament, helped the Tsar put his thoughts and feelings in order and make the difficult decision to abdicate?

PHOTO: Archpriest Oleg Teor shows the sacred text, which lies in a special wooden box under glass

Forensic examination

In February 1997, Archpriest Oleg Teor met with Alexander Bogdanov, a forensic expert of the Internal Affairs Directorate of the Pskov Region, who was instructed to conduct an examination of the Old Testament, and establish whether the notes were indeed made by Nicholas II just before that fateful night in Pskov.

Bogdanov went to the State archives in Moscow, where he sorted through and examined Nicholas II’s documents, including the emperor’s notes, a notebook for playing dominoes and cards, as well as letters and diaries. Many of the documents contained brief alphabetic and digital notes made with a graphite pencil… the same type of pencil used in the margins of the Old Testament.

Bogdanov examined each document meticulously, then made copies with the use of a digital camera. He then took these documents back to the forensic center for further examination. But this was only the beginning of a great work that lasted several months. At the second stage, Valery Ivanov, a leading specialist in the field of handwriting, joined Bogdanov.

“Now the criminalists had to examine and compate the handwriting of the pencil notes found in the margins of the Bible with the handwriting of Emperor Nicholas II,” recalls Yuri Yashin, a colleague of Bogdanov and Ivanov, who oversaw the examination. To do this, it was necessary to identify a certain set of general and particular features of handwriting. As a result of the handwriting examination, a set of matching general and particular features was established.

Researchers of the Pskov State Historical and Architectural Museum-Reserve, who examined the book dated it to the 1870s 1890s. The sacred text shows signs of repairs of the book, probably made in the 20th century by an amateur bookbinder. Putting all the pieces of the puzzle into a single picture, Alexander Bogdanov and Valery Ivanov and their team of forensic experts came to a categorically positive conclusion. “The two handwritten texts found on pages 220 and 237, of the Old Testament were executed by the All-Russian Autocrat Emperor Nicholas II”.

PHOTO: the Old Testament which belonged to Emperor Nicholas II, is today preserved in a special wooden box under glass in the Church of St. Alexander Nevsky in Zavelichye (Pskov)

NOTE: There remains some speculation that it is highly unlikely that the Emperor himself, of his own free will, parted with his personal Bible. Based on the inventory of icons, shrines and spiritual books left after the regicide, it is clear that the Imperial Family treasured such books and carried them everywhere with them.

Known, for example, is a Bible belonging to Nicholas II, which was presented to him by his mother – Empress Maria Feodorovna, when he was Tsesarevich. It was this Bible that accompanied the Tsar, first to Tobolsk, and then to Ekaterinburg. Following the regicide, it was discovered by the Whites in the deserted Ipatiev House, and then, among with other personal items which belonged to the Imperial family, the Bible was given to the Emperor’s sister, Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna, who later donated it to the Russian Orthodox Church of Saint Job in Uccle, Brussels.

The milk tooth of Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich

The milk tooth of Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich was first kept in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, where Nicholas II and his family lived until they moved to Tsarskoye Selo in 1905, then a small apartment in France and, finally, Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas in Saint-Louis, France [just one kilometer from the Swiss border].

The milk tooth of the innocently murdered Tsesarevich was carefully kept by his nurse-nanny Alexandra Alexandrovna Tegleva [wife of the Imperial children’s tutor Pierre Gilliard]. Both Tegleva and Gilliard accompanied the Imperial family into exile to Tobolsk in August 1917.

When the Empress was transferred to Ekaterinburg in April 1918, she passed her jewellery to the nanny and Alexei’s three milk teeth.

Having miraculously escaped execution, Alexandra Teglina fled Bolshevik Russia, eventually settling in Switzerland. Until her death on 21st March 1955, she carefully kept the precious box with the gifts of the Empress. After her death, her nephew gave the casket containing the Tsesarevich’s milk teeth to the Church of St. Nicholas in Saint-Louis.

The rector of the French parish of St. Nicholas ordered three icons of the Holy Royal Martyrs with three absolutely identical reliquaries for each tooth. A request was made by a member of the Russian clergy, who asked that one of these icons be sent to Russia, so that as many Orthodox as possible could see it.

One of these icons was given to the Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg, built on the site of the Ipatiev House, where Nicholas II and his family met their death and martyrdom on 17th July 1918.

Another of these icons was given to Archpriest Oleg Teor by his friend the rector of the Orthodox church in Saint-Louis Vladimir Shibaev. According to Father Oleg, Father Vladimir requested that the milk tooth of the murdered Tsesarevich should be “returned home to Russia“.

To learn more about this sacred text and the Tsar’s alleged abdication, please refer to pages 62-83 of my book Nicholas II: Russia’s Last Orthodox Christian Monarch (2022), available from AMAZON in paperback and eBook editions.

© Paul Gilbert. 10 August 2022

Is it still possible to visit Russia?

NOTE: The purpose of this article is to address the many queries which I have received over the past few months, with regards to whether it is (a) still possible to visit Russia, and (b) if it is safe to visit Russia during these troubled times. The answer is “YES!”, you can still visit Russia, however, making arrangements are now much more challenging.

If you are even considering visiting Russia in the near future, I urge you to read the following. It is important to take into account, that things in Russia can change overnightPaul Gilbert

When the Alexander Palace reopened to the public on 14th August 2021, many Romanovphiles – myself included – began making plans to return to St. Petersburg, in order to visit the reconstructed interiors of the private apartments of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna in the Alexander Palace. Sadly, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the hopes and plans of many were dashed.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit Russia very hard. Since April 2020, more than 18 million cases and more than 372 thousand deaths have been reported. As a result, Russia closed its land borders to foreigners as a precautionary measure to try to stop the spread of coronavirus. While it was still possible to visit via air, Russia imposed very strict measures regarding vaccines, etc.

I myself, was scheduled to visit Russia in September 2020, however, Aeroflot were forced to cancel my flights to St. Petersburg and Ekaterinburg due to COVID.

On 15th July 2022, the Russian government lifted COVID-19 related entry restrictions. You may enter Russia by air, sea or land via any country, but non-Russian nationals must still produce a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours before their arrival in Russia.

On 24th February 2022, Russia began a military invasion of Ukraine. The world responded with swift sanctions, which have now made it near impossible to visit Russia. This latest move has had a very negative effect on foreign travel to Russia, impacting plans for many of us, who were hoping to return to rediscover the Romanov legacy, a subject which is so near and dear to many of us.

Prior to the outbreak of hostilities, I was already making plans to visit Russia in July 2023. My itinerary included St. Petersburg, Ekaterinburg and Tobolsk. On the agenda for this journey was the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo; the Museum of Emperor Nicholas II in Tobolsk; and the ceremonies marking the 300th anniversary of the founding of Ekaterinburg.

Warnings against visiting Russia

The governments of the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia and the European Union, have all issued warnings to nationals about visiting Russia, urging them to “avoid all travel to Russia due to the impacts of the armed conflict with Ukraine, including limited flight options and restrictions on financial transactions”.

While popular tourist destinations such as Moscow, St. Petersburg and Ekaterinburg are far removed from the current Russian-Ukranian conflict, there still remain risks, which must be taken into consideration before planning a visit. Please consult your respective government advisories for the latest updates.

Many of the countries which imposed sanctions, have restricted financial transactions and air connections with Russia. Russia has retaliated with similar measures.

The sanctions, the suspensions and the Russian retaliation may have an important impact on the availability and the provision of essential services.

The value of the Russian ruble is currently volatile and the value of holdings of Rubles may fluctuate considerably.

If you decide to visit Russia despite government advisories, it is a good idea to register and update them with your contact information through your respective embassy. Please be aware that in the case of an emergency, you should not depend on your government to help you leave the country.

The U.S. Department of State has advised Americans of the potential for the singling out and harassment of U.S. citizens by local police and government security officials . . . and the possibility of violence against U.S. citizens by right-wing nationalists.

Some embassies are reporting an increased police presence and ID checks. As a result, you should keep your passport and Russian visa with you at all times. It is important to make copies of both, and keep them separate, such as a hotel safe.

So, is it still possible to visit Russia?

Despite the sanctions imposed on Russia earlier this year by the United States, Canada, UK and EU, Russia has not closed its borders to foreign visitors. For the palaces, museums, art galleries and theatres, it is still business as usual. As far as shopping and dining goes, most of the major Western-owned hotel chains, retailers and restaurants have closed their doors.

The cost of transportation and transit time have increased significantly and remain very volatile due to high demand, limited flight availability and rerouting. Contact your travel agent or tour operator to determine if the situation will disrupt travel arrangements.

In May 2022, the UK government designated Aeroflot, Rossiya Airlines, Ural Airlines and Russian Railways for the purposes of UK sanctions. This means that British nationals and others who are bound by UK sanctions are prohibited from entering into transactions which result in making funds directly or indirectly available to these companies, such as purchasing tickets from them. On 23 May 2022, the Office for Financial Sanctions Implementation issued a general licence which means that for journeys originating in, or within, Russia, British nationals may purchase tickets from these companies without breaching UK sanctions.

The Russian aviation sector has been severely impacted by Western sanctions in the wake of the war in Ukraine. Aeroflot, in particular, landed in deep water with the grounding of planes and canceling flights to many international destinations.

It is still possible, however, to book flights on 3 foreign carriers – see below – to Moscow, St. Petersburg and Ekaterinburg.

Flights from North America, UK and EU

Following the outbreak of hostilities on the territory of Ukraine, Russian carriers are prohibited from flying to the EU countries, the UK, the USA, and Canada. At the same time, 11 airports in the south and central part of Russia have been closed since 24th February. In addition, Western countries have stopped deliveries of civil aircraft and spare parts and have obliged their lessors to return liners already leased from Russia.

For Americans and Canadians, there are currently only 2 airlines offering flights to Russia: Air Serbia from New York (Daily) and Chicago (2 x a week beginning April 2023) via Belgrade to Moscow and St. Petersburg; Turkish Airlines (via Istanbul) to Moscow, St. Petersburg and Ekaterinburg.

Both Air Serbia and Turkish Airlines offer flights from numerous cities in the UK and EU.

For Australians, Emirates offer flights from Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth (among other cities) to Moscow, St. Petersburg and Ekaterinburg – the latter via partner Fly Dubai.

By coach and train from Helsinki and Tallinn

In addition, it is still possible to reach St. Petersburg by coach from Helsinki and Tallinn. International bus carriers Lux Express and Ecolines. Currently, Lux Express offers 4 daily buses from Helsinki St. Petersburg, while Ecolines offers 2 daily buses. Please note that seats sell out quickly, due to the high demand. 

You can also travel by coach from Tallinn (Estonia) to St. Petersburg. Ecolines also offer 2 daily buses, while Lux Empress offer 4 weekly buses on the route.

Finnish Rail has currently suspended all trains from Helsinki to St. Petersburg and Moscow. 

Accomodations

I recommend booking accomodations directly through the hotel web sites. Not only will you get the best rate, you can also book a room and prepay the full amount using a credit card. The hotel can also supply the necessary documents in which you will need to apply for a Russian visa. In addition, they can also arrange transfer from the airport upon your arrival.

Russian Visas

The Russian Federation still maintain diplomatic relations with the United States, Canada, UK and EU, and have not restricted travel by nationals of these countries to Russia. Please consult the web site of the Russian Federation in your country to download and print Russian visa applications.

Currency exchange

Unless you have a suitcase filled with Russian rubles stashed under your bed, changing money is going to be your biggest obstacle when visiting Russia during the current climate.

MasterCard and Visa have suspended operations in Russia. This means that MasterCard and Visa cards issued outside of Russia will not work at Russian merchants or ATMs. You should be aware that it may not be possible for you to access your funds through Russian banks or to make payments to Russian businesses with non-Russian credit/debit cards.

The country’s central bank said in a statement on 1st August that the restrictions introduced following unprecedented sanctions imposed on Russia by the West in early March over its war in Ukraine, will remain in place until at least March 9, 2023.

In the West, foreign currency vendors are not permitted to buy or sell Russian rubles at this time. Non-residents of Russia are barred completely from withdrawing dollars and euros.

Disclaimer: the information contained in this article is for information purposes only. It is based on information from sources believed to be reliable. Should you embark on a visit to Russia during these troubled time, please note that I will not be held responsible for any problems which you may encounter in the planning of your visit, or during your stay in Russia. I will endeavour to update this page as new details are made available to me – PG

© Paul Gilbert. 6 July 2022

Monument to Nicholas II consecrated in Ivanovo region

The unveiling and consecration of a new bust-monument to Emperor Nicholas II took place on 5th August, on the grounds of St. George’s Church, situatedin the village of Vali (the formerly Georgievskoye), situated in the Kineshma district of the Ivanovo region.

The consecration of the bust-monument was performed by the former rector of St. George’s Church, and now Bishop Methodius of Kamensky and Kamyshlovsky.

The bust-monument was installed in memory of Emperor Nicholas II’s visit here during the events marking the 300th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty. It was on 18th May 1913, that the last Russian Tsar with the August family, while traveling on the steamship Mezhen from Nizhny Novgorod to Kostroma, made an unscheduled stop here. He was so taken by the beauty of the village and its church, that he left gifts, including an icon of the Mother of God “Joy of All Who Sorrow”.

PHOTO: final touches were made on the installation of the bust-monument last week

The bust was made by craftsmen from the Kursk region with funds raised by parishioners and sponsors. St. George’s Church was built at the beginning of the 19th century on the left bank of the Volga River. During the Soviet era, the church was not closed, nor was it subjected to desecration. To this day, the church has maintained its original decoration intact.

PHOTO: the consecration of the bust-monument to Nicholas II was performed on 5th August, on the grounds of of St. George’s Church, situated in the Kineshma district of the Ivanovo region

© Paul Gilbert. 6 August 2022

Ekaterinburg celebrates 300th anniversary in 2023

In 2023, Ekaterinburg will celebrate the 300th anniversary of its founding in 1723. This historic anniversary will be marked by a series of events and celebrations, plus the implementation of a number of significant construction projects dedicated to the founding of the Ural city, the center of the Sverdlovsk region and the Urals Federal District, the unofficial “capital of the Urals” and the fourth-largest city in Russia.

Preparations for the celebration began in 2017. It is estimated that the total amount of public and private funding for the celebrations and projects is 244 billion rubles [$4.4 billion USD].

Among the hundreds of events planned are the following:

  • reconstruction of St. Catherine’s Cathedral (destroyed in 1930), according to a new design and a new location
  • expansion of the Hermitage-Ural Cultural and Educational Center, branch of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg
  • Tsar’s Days, marking the 105th anniversary of the death and martyrdom of Emperor Nicholas II and his family, with the participation of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, who will perform a Patriarch Liturgy at the Church on the Blood, and then lead the 21-km (13 miles) Cross Procession to the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs at Ganina Yama

PHOTO: St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Novo-Tikhvinsky Convent, Ekaterinburg

“Ekaterinburg: my favourite Russian city”

People often ask me “Why Ekaterinburg?” as opposed to the former Imperial capital of St. Petersburg, especially given that “Ekaterinburg has such a dark history.”

Once a bastion of Bolshevism, Ekaterinburg has slowly shed its status as the “capital of atheism”. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Urals has experienced a revival of faith, with Ekaterinburg as the center of Orthodox Russia in the region. It is important to add, that Ekaterinburg has done more to honour Nicholas II and his family than any other city in Russia. Thanks to my visits to Ekaterinburg in 2012, 2016 and 2018, it is a city which I have grown to admire and love.

Articles about Paul Gilbert and his admiration for Ekaterinburg, published in Russian media:

“Пол Гилберт: «Екатеринбург – мой любимый российский город»”
Ольга Кошкина. ‘Областная газета’ 22 октября 2019

“«Интерес мира к жизни и царствованию Николая II сохраняется по сей день»:
британский историк о Царской семье”

Ольга Кошкина. Екатеринбургская Епархия. 26 октября 2019

PHOTO: On the eve of the 300th anniversary of Ekaterinburg, the city plans to erect a statue – by the Russian sculptor Fedor Petrov – dedicated to the patron saint of the city – St. Catherine.

“The last capital of the Russian Empire”

“On a spiritual level, Ekaterinburg is the last capital of the Russian Empire, because the residence of the Sovereign was always considered the capital in Russia. Peter the Great never officially transferred the capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg, but since he lived there, it was the capital,” says Russian historian Peter Multatuli.

He noted that in 1918, for 78 days, Emperor Nicholas II and his family lived in Ekaterinburg, and that is why the Ural capital can be considered the last capital of the Russian Empire. [It is important to note that many historians – myself included – firmly believe that the Tsar’s signing of the instrument of abdication, his status as Tsar remained inviolate and unassailable – PG]

“Petrograd and Moscow to one degree or another welcomed his overthrow, and they bear a greater responsibility in this than any other Russian city. No matter what anyone says, it was Ekaterinburg that served as the last Imperial residence, which, according to God’s special plan, became the Royal Golgotha,” added Multatuli.

According to him, in the near future, Ekaterinburg will play a great role in the history of Russia, because “the city named after St. Catherine and becoming the Royal Golgotha ​​will be the city of Russian resurrection.”

© Paul Gilbert. 5 July 2022

What kind of ice cream was served to Nicholas II?

Ice cream in its modern version first appeared in Russia, in the 18th century, its recipe, published in Новейшая и полная поваренная книга / The Newest and Complete Cookbook (1791) by Nikolai Maksimovich Yatsenkov.

Mention of ice cream was not only recorded in the memoirs of members of the Imperial Court, but also in the works of poets and writers. The great Russian Romantic writer, poet and painter Mikhail Lermontov (1814-1841), obliged his home cook to serve ice cream daily. Another Russian writer Thaddeus Bulgarin (1789-1859) writes about Venetian ice cream in his novel Ivan Vyzhigin (1829). The poet Gavriil Derzhavin (1743-1816), in honor of his name day, every year arranged a gala dinner, at the end of which ice cream was served in the form of an ancient temple or castle.

One of the scenes that struck the French aristocrat and writer Marquis de Custine (1790-1857) in the summer of 1839, was Muscovites eating ice cream in the Alexander Garden.

“Muscovites: shaved, curled, in tailcoats and white pantaloons, in yellow gloves, sit at ease in front of brightly lit cafes, eat sweet ice cream and listen to music? In the summer this can now be observed in Moscow every evening,” he wrote.

PHOTO: early 20th century Russian ice cream vendor

Expensive pleasure

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Russian people were content with traaditional folk dishes: cheesecakes and pancakes, syrniki [sweet cheese pancakes], topped with delicious sour cream and jam. Meanwhile, ice cream had acquired the status of a popular, fashionable and incredibly expensive dessert among Russia’s nobility. The new-fashioned cold treat was present at every social event, ball, and lavish feast.

At the time, sugar was in very short supply and was very expensive, which is why the old ice cream recipes, were considered an expensive pleasure, one which was only available to the very rich. Nevertheless, ice cream was already gaining popularity at Russian tables. By the end of the 18th century, they began to complete dinner with this cold treat more and more often.

The Court cooks slowly and masterfully coped with the whimsical melting product, creating new cold desserts, which included “Vesuvius on the Mont Blanc” – ice cream set on a platter, doused with rum or cognac and set aflame.

The production of ice cream by hand was a time-consuming and small-volume business. The amount of product directly depended on refrigeration equipment, which helped with the process of creating and preserving these cold delicacies.

The full-fledged and well-established production of ice cream in Russia began in the 1830s, when a shop was opened at a Moscow dairy plant, equipped with all the necessary equipment.

By the beginning of the 19th century, ice cream continued to gain popularity and more widely available, including fairs. Writer Pavel Efebovsky wrote in his essay Petersburg Peddlers: “Ice cream is sold by a Russian peasant in a huge tub filled with ice. This tub alone weighs at least three pounds . . . Only it’s expensive: a glass in three sips costs as much as two silver kopecks”.

Up until the middle of the 19th century, ice cream in Russia was prepared exclusively by hand. It was only in 1845, the Swiss-born restaurateur and confectioner Johann-Lucius Isler (1810-1877) patented a machine that made it possible to produce this delicacy mechanically. Isler opened one of the most popular St. Petersburg cafes on Nevsky Prospekt, where they served ice cream with unusual ingredients for that time: fruit liqueur, ground coffee, infusion of orange flowers, pistachios, walnuts. At the same time, three main varieties of cold desserts appeared: sorbetto (or sherbet) – a heavily chilled fruit drink; granito made from frozen fruit juice and ice cream – a dense mass of milk or cream with sugar and various ingredients, similar to modern ice cream.

PHOTO: this richly decorated Coronation menu indicates that ice cream was served at the Gala dinner in the Alexander Hall of the Great Kremlin Palace, Moscow, dated 23rd May 1896

Ice cream at the Imperial Court

During the reign of Empress Catherine II, when various overseas amusements and dishes were very fashionable in Russia, recipes for ice cream made from cream and egg whites, included such ingredients as chocolate, lemon, currants, cranberries, raspberries, cherries and oranges.

During the reigns of her successors, ice cream continued to be popular at the Imperial Court. Emperor Alexander I had a French chef named Carem, who invented new types of this dessert to surprise the monarch. Emperor Nicholas I, on the other hand, refused ice cream: based on his solidarity with his brother Michael, who was on a strict diet on the advice of doctors. But the emperor’s wife Empress Alexandra Fedorovna ordered two portions of ice cream from the pastry shop every day for the amount of 1 ruble 72 kopecks.

Richly decorated menus confirm that Мороженое [ice cream] was served to guests at elaborate State Banquets. In particular, ice cream was served to members of the Imperial Family, Russian nobles and visiting foreign delegations, at the Gala dinners held over a three-week period in the Great Kremlin Palace in Moscow, during the festivities marking the Coronation of Emperor Nicholas II in May 1896.

PHOTO: Maria Grigorievna Rasputina with a portrait of her father Grigorii Rasputin, in exile, 1972

Ice cream was especially popular at table of the last Emperor and his family. The recipe for “Romanov ice cream”, which was invented specifically for Nicholas II, has been preserved to this day. It included sugar, 10 egg yolks, heavy cream, whipping cream and vanilla. “I remember ice cream, the like of which I have never eaten anywhere else,” wrote the daughter of Grigorii Rasputin, Maria (1898-1977).

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© Paul Gilbert. 2 August 2022

Honouring Imperial Russia’s WWI soldiers

Никто не забыт, ничто не забыто!
No one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten!

Russia’s entry into World War One in August 1914, was based on Russia’s commitment to defending Orthodox Serbia, its pan-Slavic roles, its treaty obligations with France, its concerns over German or Austro-Hungarian dominance in the Balkan region, and its concern for protecting its status as a great power.

1st August – marks the official Day of Remembrance of Imperial Russian soldiers who died in the First World War of 1914-1918. The commemoration day was officially introduced by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2012. It is on this day, which officials lay wreaths to World War I memorials, Russian cities organize exhibitions dedicated to the war and military units hold solemn assemblies.

During the Soviet years, the First World War and those brave Russian soldiers who gave their lives for the Fatherland, was virtually ignored and forgotten. Soviet dogma dictated that the Great War was a clash of imperialist powers.

How many Russian soldiers laid down their lives “For Faith, Tsar and Fatherland!”? How many fathers, husbands, sons never returned home? According to some estimates, the number exceeds 1,600,000 people, the largest number of casualties among the soldiers and officers of the countries participating in the First World War. The estimate does not include civilian casualties.

Dozens of monuments to soldiers of the Russian Imperial Army, who fought and died during World War One, have since been erected in major cities across Russia. Below, are just three of the finest:

On 16th December 2014, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu opened a sculptural composition dedicated to the heroes of World Wars I and II on the grounds of the Ministry of Defence on the Frunze Embankment in Moscow.

The WWI monument features Emperor Nicholas II on horseback, recognizing and honouring his efforts during the Great War.

Monument to the Heroes of the First World War on Poklonnaya Hill in Moscow, opened on 1st August 2014. Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna is depicted in this monument, providing aid to a wounded soldier.

Monument to the Heroes of the First World War in St. Petersburg, installed at the Vitebsk Railway Station on 1st August 2014. It was from this station, that Emperor Nicholas II travelled on the Imperial Train along a specially built line to Tsarskoye Selo.

Никто не забыт, ничто не забыто!
No one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten!

© Paul Gilbert. 1 August 2022