PHOTO: This early 20th century photo of the Children’s Island, clearly shows the Pavilion, the granite piers and the pull-ferry
Situated just a short walk from the Western Wing of the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo, stands a tiny island in one of the lakes and ponds which dot the Alexander Park. It is dominated by a tiny dilapidated toy-like house.
The island and pond were created in 1817, by the famous Scottish architect and landscape gardener Adam Menelaws (1753-1831), it is a peaceful setting, lush and green, with tall, mature trees which offer a cool shade from the hot afternoon sun.
In the summer of 1824, the island was presented to the children of Grand Duke Nicholas Pavlovich (future Emperor Nicholas I) by his brother, Emperor Alexander I.
The tiny pavilion was constructed in the Empire Style in 1830, according to a design by the architect Alexei Gornostayev (1808-1862). The pavilion had two entrances, one of which had a white wooden awning and porch, neither of which has survived.
PHOTO: Two of the grand duchesses paddling on the pond which surrounds the island. You can clearly see the white awning and porch, neither of which have survived
The interior consisted of a drawing room, complete with two white ceramic tile fireplaces, the ceilings painted in the Empire Style, and parquet floors decorated with beautiful carpets. Four furnished smaller rooms adjoined the drawing room.
In 1904, the pavilion was wired for electricity, a telephone was installed with a direct line to the Alexander Palace.
The island was separated from the mainland, with small granite pier on each side. From the shoreline, the island could be reached by a pull-ferry, whereby sailors would pull ropes sending the ferry and its passengers over to the island and back.
For nearly a century, the island and pavilion became a summer refuge for the children of four successive emperors: Nicholas I, Alexander II, Alexander III and Nicholas II.
While the Children’s Island was off-limits to adults, it was in fact enjoyed by all generations of the Imperial family. In April 1895, Nicholas II and his young wife “got up early and sat a long time at the Children’s Island, enjoying the weather.” A few days later the young couple, took a small boat through the channels of the Alexander Park, “peaceful…drank tea together on the Children’s Island. The happiness is indescribable.” In April 1896, Nicholas II wrote in his diary: “I worked at the Children’s Island in the snow.”
PHOTO: The pet cemetery, consisting of four graves is situated on the western side of the island
In the late 19th century, the Imperial family built a cemetery on the western side of the island, where they buried their beloved canine companions. The gravestones have survived to this day.
The names and dates of each of the family dogs are still clearly visible:
Шилка ▪ Shilka
Иманъ ▪ Iman
December 6, 1895 – October 2, 1902
Воронъ ▪ Voron
December 1889 – September 1895
Эра ▪ Era
1894 – 1906
PHOTO: Emperor Nicholas II, Tsesarevich Alexei, two of theGrand Duchesses, an unknown soldier, and one the family dogs a black Boston Terrier, travelling across to the island on the pull-ferry. This photo was taken during the Imperial family’s house arrest in the Alexander Palace in 1917. The family’s freedom was restricted within the Alexander Park.
PHOTO: Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich, posing with a cigarette in his mouth, while leaning against the granite pier and pull-ferry, during the Imperial Family’s house arrest in 1917
Even after their father’s abdication in March 1917, and the restrictions placed on them during their house arrest at the Alexander Palace, the children still visited the Children’s Island. “Papa walks on the outer reaches of the garden where they chop and saw dry trees. Alexei plays on the Children’s Island, runs barefoot and sometimes swims,” wrote Grand Duchess Olga to her friend, Pyotr Petrov, 19th June, 1917.
PHOTO: The current state of the Children’s Island, which shows the dilapidated state of the pavilion, the doors and windows boarded up. The granite piers are overgrown with weeds, the pull-ferry long gone
The Children’s Pavilion has sat in a terrible state of decline and disrepair for decades. In the 1990s, it became a popular hangout for the homeless and drug users. They left the interiors in a horrid state. The pavilion has since been boarded up. According to Ekaterina Eparinova, a research historian at Tsarskoye Selo, the palace-museum have plans to restore the island and pavilion once they can secure funding.
PHOTO: Paul Gilbert standing on the frozen pond, between the shoreline and the island. What a marvellous experience it was for this author to explore the island, pavilion and cemetery
During my winter visits to Tsarskoye Selo, I have on two occasions walked across the ice and explored the Children’s Island and Pavilion. I took many photos of the Pavilion, as well as the pet cemetery, some of which I in ‘Royal Russia’ No. 4 (pgs. 1-10) in 2013.
© Paul Gilbert. 16 October 2022