Two NEW books on the Alexander Palace

I cannot think of a better way to kick off the summer than the release of two NEW titles on the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo: The Empress’s Balcony and the Empress’s Chair.

I have compiled two unique pictorials dedicated to two of the most iconic spots in the former residence of Russia’s last Imperial Family, both of them favourite spots for the rest and relaxation of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.

The Empress’s famous balcony and the corner chair in her Mauve Boudoir served as the settings for hundreds of iconic photographs of herself, the Tsar, their children, as well as extended family members and those close to the Imperial Family.

Each of these pictorials feature more than 100 full-page black-and-white photos. The accompanying text explores the history of both the balcony and chair, as well as the history and recreation of the Maple Drawing Room and Mauve Boudoir. While the balcony was demolished during the Soviet years, the Empress’s chair has recently been recreated for the recreated interior of her Mauve Boudoir, which opened to the public in 2021.

Each of these charming pictorials will be a welcome addition to any one who shares an interest in the Alexander Palace and its Imperial residents during the late 19th to early 20th centuries.


*This title is available from AMAZON in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia,
France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and Japan


English. 110 pages, 98 black & white photos

Between 1896-1898 – the Court architect Silvio Danini carried out the reconstruction of the eastern wing of the Alexander Palace, which included the personal apartments of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna.

In addition, he installed the famous L-shaped iron balcony for the Empress, which was accessed via the Maple Drawing Room.

The Empress’s balcony became a favourite setting for taking family photographs, taken by the Empress and her children, all of whom were avid amateur photographers. More than a century later, these iconic images provide us with a rare glimpse into the private world of the Imperial Family.

The photographs presented in this pictorial, have all been selected from the private albums of the Empress and her children, and that of Alexandra’s friend and lady-in-waiting Anna Vyrubova.

The balcony was dismantled between 1947-49, with no plans to restore it. In the meantime, we have to content ourselves with the selection of vintage photographs which have survived to this day, and are presented in this pictorial.

*This title is available from AMAZON in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia,
France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and Japan


English. 120 pages, 107 black & white photos

Between 1896-1898 – the Court architect Silvio Danini carried out the reconstruction of the eastern wing of the Alexander Palace, which included the personal apartments of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna.

Among the Empress’s quarters was the Mauve Boudoir, which would become her favourite room. According to legend, the Empress gave Alexnder Meltzer a lilac branch, her favourite flower, so that he could choose the colour scheme for the decoration of the room.

Among the most notable pieces of furniture in this room was a corner chair, which became a popular spot for family photographs, taken by the Empress and her children, all of whom were avid amateur photographers. More than a century later, these iconic images provide us with a rare glimpse into the private world of the Imperial Family.

Like many other rooms in the Alexander Palace, the Mauve Boudoir suffered a sad fate – the decoration and the interior were lost during the Great Patriotic War. The room has since been reconstructed and restored to its original historic look, as has the Empress’s famous chair.

© Paul Gilbert. 31 May 2023

New additions to the interiors of the Alexander Palace

Photo © Tsarskoye Selo Restoration Workshop

It has been almost two years since the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo opened its doors to visitors after an extensive restoration and reconstruction which began in the autumn of 2015. This extensive and costly project brought new life to the former private apartments of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, situated in the eastern wing of the palace.

Since that time, additional interiors – the Marble (Mountain) Hall – have opened while recreated furniture and other decorations continue to be added to the interiors.

In late March, new additions were added to the Maple Drawing Room and the Working Study of Nicholas II:

PHOTO: a large stand for palm tree and other large plants is the latest addition to the Maple Drawing Room

Photo © Tsarskoye Selo Restoration Workshop

In the Maple Drawing Room, one of several large stands or tubs has been recreated. Empress Alexandra Feodorovna would have them filled year-round with palm trees and other large plants – as seen in the photo below taken shortly after the Imperial Family were sent into exile in August 1914. 

PHOTO: colour autochrome of the Maple Drawing Room. 1917

PHOTO: the Tsar’s desk and ottoman have been recreated for the Working Study of Nicholas II

Photo © Tsarskoye Selo Restoration Workshop

In the Working Study of Nicholas II, an L-shaped desk and ottoman have been recreated.

The Working Study of Emperor Nicholas II was decorated in 1896-1897 in the English Style by Roman Meltzer (1860-1943) and furniture master Karl Grinberg. It was in this room that the Emperor read papers, including numerous correspondence, received foreign ministers and dignitaries and listened to reports.

PHOTO: Emperor Nicholas II with his brother-in-law Ernest Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse, in the Tsar’s Working Study. 1901

© Paul Gilbert. 5 May 2023


Dear Reader: I have written more than 100 articles and news updates on the history and restoration of the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo. If you have enjoyed all my updates, then please help support my research by making a donation in US dollars – donations can be made by PayPal or credit card. Click HERE to make a donation. Thank you for your consideration – PG

On this day – 22nd March 1917 – Nicholas II and family are placed under house arrest in the Alexander Palace


Iconic image of Emperor Nicholas II in the Alexander Park at Tsarskoye Selo

On this day – 22nd March (O.S. 9th March) 1917 – the Provisional Government decreed that Emperor Nicholas II, his wife and five children should be held under house arrest in the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo.

At eleven in the morning, the Imperial Train pulled into the Imperial Railway Pavilion at Tsarskoye Selo. Nicholas emerged wearing a Caucasian fur cap and soldier’s greatcoat. Behind him the members of his suite began to jump off the train – like rats abandoning a sinking ship – and run down the platform. Not looking back – they fled.

According to Count Paul Benckendorff (1853-1921), the Emperor’s motorcar arrived at the gate of the Alexander Palace and was stopped by the sentry, who summoned the Commandant. The Commandant went down the steps and asked in a loud voice who was there. The sentry cried out, ‘Nicholas Romanov’. ‘Let him pass,’ said the officer.

During his captivity, the Tsar was subject to constant harassment and humiliation from the soldiers – most of whom were thugs – stationed in and around the Alexander Palace.

According to Pierre Gilliard: “The Emperor accepted all these restraints with extraordinary serenity and moral grandeur. No word of reproach ever passed his lips.”


Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna sitting in the Alexander Park, June 1917

On Alexander Kerensky’s order, Nicholas and Alexandra were kept apart in the palace for a period of 18 days. They were permitted to see each other only during meals, and only in the presence of soldiers. It was during this time that Kerensky conducted an investigation of the Imperial couple’s documents and letters. He failed to find any evidence which would incriminate either of them.

Kerensky interviewed Alexandra regarding her involvement in state affairs and Rasputin’s involvement in them through his influence over her. She answered that as she and her spouse kept no secrets from each other, they often discussed politics and she naturally gave him advice to support him; as for Rasputin, he had been a true holy man of God, and his advice had been only in the interest of the good of Russia and the imperial family. After the interview, Kerensky told the Tsar that he believed that Alexandra had told him the truth and was not lying.


Nicholas II working in the vegetable garden behind the Alexander Palace in 1917

The Imperial Family had total privacy inside the palace, but walks in the grounds were strictly regulated. Members of their domestic staff were allowed to stay if they wished and culinary standards were maintained.

Even in the Alexander Park, their movements were restricted. The photo below, show the prisoners at the frontier of their domain. They were not permitted to cross the bridge which led them to the big park, to the outside world and freedom.

Colonel Eugene Kobylinsky was appointed to command the military garrison at Tsarskoye Selo, which increasingly had to be done through negotiation with the committees or soviets elected by the soldiers.


Nicholas II and his family under guard in the Alexander Park, August 1917

The Imperial Family were held under house arrest until 14th (O.S. 1st) August 1917, it was on this day that Nicholas II and his family left the Alexander Palace for the last time. They exited from the Semicircular Hall of the palace, and travelled by car to the Alexandrovskaya Station where they were sent into exile to Tobolsk. 

For an eye witness account of Nicholas II and his family under house arrest in the Alexander Palace, please refer to the following book The Romanovs Under House Arrest: From the 1917 Diary of a Palace Priest, the memories of Archpriest Afanasy Belyaev, who served as priest and confessor to the Russian Imperial family.

© Paul Gilbert. 22 March 2023

Watercolours by Pavel Shipov returned to Alexander Palace

Watercolours by Pavel Dmitrievich Shipov (1860-1919)
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

A pair of watercolours by Pavel Shipov – believed to have been lost during the Great Patriotic War (1941-45), have been returned to the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum. Up until 1941, these works hung in the Working Study of Emperor Nicholas II in the Alexander Palace, which at the time was a museum[1].

During the Nazi occupation of Tsarskoye Selo (1941-44), the Alexander Palace was used as headquarters for the German military command. Following the Nazi retreat in 1944, many items from the palace were destroyed, lost of stolen[2].

The provenance of Shipov’s watercolors are confirmed by the inventory numbers on the works (A-2033, A-2035), which match those found in the inventory book of museum items of the Pushkin Palaces-Museums of 1940.

The watercolours were in the possession of Björn Kohler-Svendsen, who received them from Horst Kohler-Svendsen, a relative who was in the Pushkin [Tsarskoye Selo] during the Nazi occupation. It was during the German retreat from Pushkin, that Horst discovered the watercolours and took back them to Germany. The watercolours were presented to the Russian Embassy in Berlin, who subsequently arranged for them to be returned to Tsarskoye Selo.

Both watercolours are pasted on cardboard and edged into frames, while on the reverse side there are inscriptions written in German with a ballpoint pen.

The watercolor seen on the right in the above photo depicts the presentation of the deputation of the Vologda province to Emperor Nicholas II on 29th January 1910, which features three members of the deputation, two of whom are holding icons. In the center of the composition the Tsar is depicted, leaning forward to kiss the icon. Two officers are depicted standing behind the Tsar.

On the back of the frame, Horst wrote: “I brought this painting from the city of Pushkin near Leningrad. It was lying on the floor of the Alexander Palace when the palace was destroyed by grenade explosions. I survived, and brought it with me in 1941.”

The second watercolor seen on the left in the above photo depicts a private of the Life-Guards 4th The Imperial Family’s Rifle Regiment. The artist has signed his name P. Shipov in the lower right corner, and in the lower left corner is written Tsarskoye Selo / 29 Jan. 1910.

On the back of the frame, Horst wrote: “This picture fluttered in the wind when, in the winter of 1941, the Catherine/Alexander Palaces in Pushkin, Russia (Leningrad) was bombed and damaged. I picked it up, and brought it with me.”

Pavel Dmitrievich Shipov (1860-1919)

Pavel Dmitrievich Shipov (1860-1919) served as Lieutenant General in both the Russian-Japanese and First World Wars. On 21st February 1908, he was appointed Wing-Adjutant to the Retinue of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Nicholas II, with the post of commander of the regiment. 

He was also an artist, educated at the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg. During the war, he specialized in military portraiture, making pencil sketches and watercolor portraits of soldiers and officers, observing them in battles and on leave.

Shipov was shot by the Bolsheviks on 23rd July 1919, although according to other sources he was shot in 1923.

These two watercolours now bring a total of five works by this artist in the collection of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum. Both watercolors will be returned to their historical place in the Working Study of Nicholas II in the Alexander Palace.


[1] In June 1918, the Alexander Palace was established as a museum and opened to the public. It was closed in 1941.

[2] The fate of the contents of the Alexander Palace in the 20th century

© Paul Gilbert. 16 March 2023

Marble (Mountain) Hall opens in the Alexander Palace

PHOTO: the restored interior of the Marble [aka Mountain] Hall in the Alexander Palace. © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

Sixteen months after it’s official reopening in August 2021, the restoration of the interiors of the Alexander Palace continues. On 2nd February 2023, the Marble Hall – which is part of the ceremonial enfilade – officially opened it’s doors to visitors for the first time in 80 years.

Visitors can now see the Marble Hall as it looked in the 1930s when the Alexander Palace was a museum before the outbreak of the Great Patriotic War in 1941. The opening of the Marble Hall is the fourteenth interior restored or reconstructed in the Alexander Palace since the large-scale restoration began in 2012.

The restoration work on the Marble [nicknamed the Mountain Hall by Emperor Nicholas I, 1796-1855] included the restoration and cleaning of the artificial marble walls and fireplaces. The highlight of the interior, however, is the recreation of the wooden slide, thanks to financial support of the Transsoyuz Charitable Foundation.

The Marble (Mountain) Hall which connects the Large Library with the Portraits Hall, is now included in the Alexander Palace tour.

PHOTO: the recreated slide in the Marble [aka Mountain] Hall
© Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

The restoration of the Marble Hall interior was developed by specialists of the Studio 44 Architectural Bureau in St. Petersburg, while the actual restoration of the interior and the reconstruction of the slide was carried out by the specialists of PSB ZhilStroy.

The interior, like other halls of the ceremonial enfilade, have retained some elements of their original decoration. During the process of work, the artificial marble walls of light gray and lilac shades, the parquet flooring and a fireplace were cleaned and restored. In addition, historical photographs helped experts recreate a picturesque frieze imitating artificial marble, as well as oak door and window fillings.

During the work on a lunette – situated above the mountain slide – an authentic oil painting on canvas imitating a window was discovered and restored. During the restoration of the ceiling, the metal rosette in its center, was dismantled, restored and reinstalled.

PHOTO: view of the restored interior of the Marble [aka Mountain] Hall
© Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

The project for the recreation of a chandelier was developed by specialists of the Tsarskoye Selo Amber Workshop according to the historical model; the painstaking work on creating a copy of the 40 candle chandelier was carried out by Studio Yuzhakova.

The restored interior has been further complemented with furniture from the museum’s collection; bronze items and porcelain vases, and a fireplace screen, the original from this interior; a bronze clock and candelabra with figures of Orpheus and Eurydice.

PHOTO: the Marble (Mountain) Hall as it looked before the Second World War

The mountain slide was ordered in 1833 by Empress Alexandra Feodorovna [wife of Emperor Nicholas I] for the New Palace [Alexander Palace] at Tsarskoye Selo.

Following the completion of the parquet and other finishing works of the Marble Hall’s interior in 1843, the question of replacing the “mountain slide”, which had fallen into disrepair was discussed. In the report dated 18th March 1843, the architect I.Ye. Efimov notes that the existing foundation of the old hill, “was all split, the surface chipped in several places, out of which nails were dangerously exposed and thus beyond repair.”

Efimov announced that the cost to replace the wooden slide would be 500 rubles [a significant fee in the mid-19th century].

The Mountain Hall and its slide were enjoyed by the future Emperors Nicholas I, Alexander II and Alexander III, all of whom played on the hill as children. The Emperors, even after they became adults, periodically slid down the mountain along with other members of their family. For example, the educator of the future Alexander III S.A. Yuryevich wrote to his parents in 1847, after moving at the end of August from Peterhof to Tsarskoye Selo, anticipating “noisy games in the Mountain Hall”.

A member of the aristocracy noted in her memoirs how Emperor Alexander II invited her to the Alexander Palace as a child and invited her to play on the wooden mountain. She noted that Alexander II who was then 50 years old at the time “himself, slid down with his grandson in his arms.” It is worth noting that this particular grandson was the future Emperor Nicholas II.

The four daughters of Nicholas II and their brother Tsesarevich Alexei were the last of the Imperial Children who played in the Mountain Hall. As in previous years, adults also entertained themselves on the slide with equal pleasure. In 1908, Lili Dehn, recalls riding with the Grand Duchesses “on the mountain slide, installed in one of the premises of the palace. We had fun for hours, getting great pleasure from the ride. I completely forgot that I was a married woman who was going to become a mother in a few months. ”

PHOTO: In the 1930s. the ceremonial dresses of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, the wife of Emperor Nicholas I, were exhibited in the Marble (Mountain) Hall

During the Great Patriotic War (1941-45), the Marble (Mountain) Hall was damaged during the Nazi occupation of Tsarskoye Selo.

Following the war, the Director of the Alexander Palace Anatoly Mikhailovich Kuchumov (1912-1993), describes the destruction of the Hall: “We go to the Hall with a slide … the amazing color of the marble is still pleasing , which is especially evident now that all the curtains have been removed. There is not even a trace of the hill, the mirrors have been ripped out, the marble fireplace is broken – the caryatids have all been stolen. The massive gilded frame from the picture hanging above the hill seems to have miraculously survived. The vault of the hall in one second has been damaged by dampness, since the roof over this hall was torn apart by a shell ”

VIDEO of the recently restored Marble (Mountain) Hall in the Alexander Palace

Note: the audio is in Russian, however, do not let that deter you from watching this 2-minute newsclip, which allows us to see the more intricate details and elements of the interior and mountain slide.

© Paul Gilbert. 2 February 2023

The Alexander Palace: Then and Now

PHOTO: view of the front and rear facades of the Alexander Palace, Tsarskoye Selo

The Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Reserve have reissued a series of colour autochromes and photographs which allow us to compare some of the interiors of the Alexander Palace as they looked like in 1917 and how they look today, following a large-scale reconstruction and restoration project that began in the Autumn 2015.

Shortly after Emperor Nicholas II and his family were sent into exile to Tobolsk on 1st (O.S.) August 1917, George Kreskentievich Lukomsky (1884-1952), chairman of the Commission for the Acceptance and Registration of Property of the Tsarskoye Selo Palace Administration, arrived at the Alexander Palace, where he “methodically and consistently photographed” the interiors of the former Imperial residence.

Zehest had been commissioned by the art historian George Loukomski, Head of the Tsarskoye Selo Inventory Commission. A total of 140 colour auto-chromes were taken of the Alexander Palace. A collection of 48 auto-chromes, which were acquired at a Paris auction in 2012 have since proven to be of immense value with the restoration of the interiors of the Alexander Palace.

The Alexander Palace reopened to visitors on 14th (O.S. 1st) August 2021, marking the 104th anniversary since the Imperial Family left the palace for the last time. Visitors can now see thirteen reconstructed and restored interiors of the private apartments of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna located in the eastern wing of the palace.

These include the New Study of Nicholas II, Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II, Working Study of Nicholas II, Reception Room of Nicholas II, the Valet’s Room, PLUS the Maple Drawing Room, Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room, Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir, Alexandra’s Corner Reception Room, the Imperial Bedroom, the Small and Large Libraries, and the Mountain Hall. In addition are the State Halls: the Portrait Hall, the Semi-Circular Hall and the Marble Drawing Room.

Please note that all the photos posted below are courtesy of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum:

Empress Alexandra’s Corner Reception Room as it looked in 1917 and 2022.
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room as it looked in 1917 and 2022.
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir as it looked in 1917 and 2022.
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

Maple Drawing Room as it looked in 1917 and 2022.
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

Small Library as it looked in 1917 and 2022.
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room as it looked in 1917 and 2022.
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

Reception Room of Emperor Nicholas II as it looked in 1917 and 2022.
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir as it looked in 1917 and 2022.
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

The Western wing of the Alexander Palace is scheduled for completion no earlier than 2024. After the completion of the work, the Alexander Palace will become a multifunctional museum complex, which will include exhibition halls, halls for temporary exhibitions, halls for research work and conferences, as well as a library and a children’s center. The basement floor will house a ticket booth, a museum shop, a café, a cloakroom, a tour desk, as well as technical and ancillary facilities.

Please note that I have written more than 60 articles on the history and restoration of the Alexander Palace, which include 100s of photographs, illustrations and videos. Click HERE to review the articles in this category.

© Paul Gilbert. 4 January 2023

Christmas returns to the Alexander Palace

Christmas/New Year’s Tree in the Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Reserve

In 2021, the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum restored the tradition of decorating a Christmas/New Year’s tree in the Alexander Palace. For the second year in a row, a live spruce tree was installed today in the Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room and decorated with more than forty authentic toys from the early 20th century from the museum’s collection.

From 1905 to 1917, the Alexander Palace was the centre of Russian statehood, and the permanent residence of Emperor Nicholas II and his family. It was here that they celebrated the New Year holidays, which included Christmas – the Imperial Family and their close associates all took part in decorating the tree and gifts for it.

Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna celebrated Christmas in the Alexander Palace for the first time in 1895. It became a favourite family holiday and was celebrated on a grand scale. According to eyewitnesses, at least eight trees were installed in the palace, and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna herself took part in the decoration of each of them. She also chose gifts for the entire palace staff, including lackeys, cooks and stokers, a separate Christmas tree was decorated for them and the children’s nanny.

It was not until 1915, that the Alexander Palace became the permanent residence of the Imperial Family, however, they celebrated their first Christmas at Tsarskoye Selo on 24th December 1904.

PHOTO: OTMA seated in front of a Christmas tree in the Alexander Palace

Each year, on the 24th, the children would dress up in their finery and decorate a Christmas tree on the second floor, where there private rooms were situated. The first floor was set aside for the main family holiday. That evening, the Emperor and his wife visited the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna in the Gatchina Palace. There they also attended the Christmas Vigil service. The imperial couple returned to Tsarskoye Selo at 11 o’clock in the evening and arranged their Christmas tree in the Empress’s new room (apparently referring to the Maple Drawing Room of Alexandra Feodorovna).

In subsequent years, the celebration of Christmas in the Alexander Palace took place according to that of previous years: a Christmas tree for the children on the second floor, the main family holiday on the first: several separate trees for servants and guards in the ceremonial halls, and in Alexandra Feodorovna’s rooms – a tree for the Emperor and Empress. The last tree decorated in the Alexander Palace was in December 1916.

The celebration of the New Year was significantly inferior in scale to that of Christmas. Throughout the entire reign of Nicholas II, December 31st was a festive day for the Emperor. The last day of the year stood out with a small festive tea party with the participation of family members, as well as a New Year’s prayer service, at which the Emperor was always present.

© Paul Gilbert. 21 December 2022

The Children’s Island and Pavilion at Tsarskoye Selo

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

Click HERE to read my article Nicholas II’s canine companions, originally published on 22nd May 2021

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

French Savonnerie carpet in the Corner Reception Room of the Alexander Palace

View of Empress Alexandra’s Corner Reception Room, in the Alexander Palace
PHOTO © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

The Tsarskoye Selo State Museum have released some beautiful new photos of the Empress Alexandra’s Corner Reception Room, situated in the eastern wing of the Alexander Palace.

The room is decorated with a luxurious 100 square meter woolen carpet. The central includes griffins, dolphins, masks, and cartouches. The carpet was made at the French Savonnerie manufactory at the beginning of the 19th century and purchased specifically for the Billiard Room (later the Corner Reception Room) of the Alexander Palace. At that time, the carpet was spread out only during the Highest Presence of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. The room was sometimes used for family breakfasts and lunches, at which a “waterproof canvas” was placed over the carpet, in order to protect it from spillage.

The pre-history of the Savonnerie manufactory lay in the concerns of King Henri IV to revive the French luxury arts. When Savonnerie appeared in France in the 17th century, it was considered the most prestigious European manufactory of knotted-pile carpets of its time. It was established in a former soap factory (French savon) on the Quai de Chaillot district of Paris in 1615. Under an eighteen year patent, a monopoly was granted by Louis XIII in 1627 to Pierre DuPont and his former apprentice Simon Lourdet, makers of Turkish-style carpets. Until 1768, the products of the manufactory remained exclusively the property of the Crown. Not only did Savonnerie carpets adorn the rooms of the Louvre and Versailles, they were also among the grandest of French diplomatic gifts.

Detail of the Savonnerie carpet in Empress Alexandra’s Corner Reception Room
PHOTO © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

Detail of the Savonnerie carpet in Empress Alexandra’s Corner Reception Room
PHOTO © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

The formation of the individual style of the manufactory was influenced by classical oriental patterns and ornaments, to which elements of European art of different eras were added: luxurious baroque, exquisite rococo, and sophisticated classicism. Drawings of carpet products produced by Savonnerie manufactory are full of various floral ornaments, compositions of vignettes, bouquets and wreaths, decorated with images of heraldic medallions, and zoomorphic motifs.

Carpets were made mainly of wool with the addition of natural silk, which emphasized the beauty of a complex, detailed pattern. It took several months to create a sketch, from which some two hundred to four hundred colours and shades were used in the production of a single carpet.

By the end of the 18th century, the Savonnerie manufactory was producing not only carpets, but also screen panels and tapestries. The decline of the manufactory began during the years of the French Revolution. In 1825, the company experienced financial difficulties and became part of the Manufactory of Tapestries (later the Manufactory of National Furnishings), which resulted in the loss of its once privileged status at the French Court and the aristocracy.

View of Empress Alexandra’s Corner Reception Room, in the Alexander Palace
PHOTO © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

It is nothing short of a miracle, that the luxurious woollen carpet in the Corner Reception Room of the Alexander Palace, survived the ravages of 20th century Russia, which included two revolutions, a civil war, two world wars, and more than seventy years of Soviet dogma. We are indeed fortunate, that it is once again on display, for all to see, in the reconstructed and restored interiors of the private apartments of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna, in the eastern wing of the palace.

© Paul Gilbert. 30 September 2022

Nazi atrocities in the Alexander Park, 1941-42

PHOTO: Nazi soldiers lead a group of Jews through the streets of Pushkin (1941).
Artist: V. V. Kahn

In July 2018, a horrible discovery was made by workers in the Alexander Park in the city of Pushkin [Tsarskoye Selo], a place where Jews had been shot by the Nazis, between 17th September 1941 to 1st January 1942. According to archival documents, the execution and burial of Pushkin’s Jews were carried out near the Alexander Palace.

During the repair of drainage channels in the park, workers discovered the remains of two people. On one of the skulls, the temple had been pierced, believed to be from a blow with a rifle butt, while evidence of a bullet was found in the back of the head. Local historian Vitaly Novitsky claimed that these were the remains of Jews shot during the Nazi occupation of Pushkin in 1941.

Novitsky’s discovery marks yet another place associated with the “Leningrad Holocaust” – the extermination of the Jews of the Leningrad region during the war years. Jews were shot in Pushkin, Pavlovsk [in 1941, shot a total of 41 Jews in Pavlovsk Park], Gatchina, among other towns in the occupied territory.

The history of the Holocaust in Pushkin has not been sufficiently studied. Firstly, there were not many witnesses of the extermination of Jews. In addition, during Soviet times, the tragedy of the Holocaust was hushed up and the systematic study of the crimes of the German Nazis in Pushkin was not carried out until many years later.

It was only in 1986 that the collection of evidence about the acts of genocide carried out the Nazis in Pushkin began, and subsequently published in 1991.

Konstantin Plotkin, a historian and researcher of the Holocaust in the Leningrad region, claims that before the Great Patriotic War (1941-45), the Jewish population of the occupied part of the Leningrad region was 7,500 people. Approximately half of them were drafted into the Soviet army or evacuated. According to the reports of the Einsatz groups, the rest (3600 people) were shot by the Nazis.

It is believed that approximately 250-300 Jews were shot in Pushkin, however, some historians believe there may have been many more killed, up to 800 people. One historian claims that the bodies of about 500 Jews were buried near the White Tower – just steps from the Alexander Palace.

Plotkin also noted that during the battle for Pushkin, residents hid in the basements of Gostiny Dvor, the Lyceum and other places. And so the Germans immediately began to inspect these cellars in search of Jews. Following their arrests, many Jews were shot in the Babolovsky, Alexander and Catherine parks. On 20th September 1941, 38 people, including 15 children, were shot on the square in front of the Catherine Palace. In addition, Jews were shot in front of the Large Caprice [situated on the western boundary between the Catherine and Alexander Parks] and in the Lyceum Garden [near the Catherine Palace]. After the executions, personal items were collected from the murdered victims, and laid out on the second floor of the Lyceum, where local residents were free to help themselves.

PHOTO: The Formula of Sorrow (1972) monument by Russian artist Vadim Abramovich Sidur

On 13th October 1991, the Formula of Sorrow, a monument to Jewish victims of Nazism, killed in 1941 in Pushkin during the Great Patriotic War was unveiled in the city. In attendance were delegations from Israel, the USA, Germany, Finland and numerous compatriots.

The sculpture which was made by Soviet artist and sculptor Vadim Abramovich Sidur (1924-1986), while the architectural design of the memorial was made by Boris Bader.

The Formula of Sorrow resembles a mournful figure leaning over a lake of blood-red flowers. It is placed on a low equilateral triangular granite pedestal, which cuts like a wedge into the face of a larger triangular flower bed, the edging of the opposite faces of which is also made of granite. On the opposite corner of the flower bed from the sculpture, there are three inclined triangular plates, which, overlapping each other, form the Star of David . On the middle slab, in cast letters in Hebrew and Russian, the verse Tegilim 79:3 is displayed (Psalm 79:3): “.שפכו דמם כמים… ואין קובר // … they shed their blood like water, / and there was no one to bury them.” This text for the monument was chosen by the chairman of the Leningrad Jewish Association and Hebrew teacher Felix Fainberg. Below is a dedicatory inscription: “To the Jews of Pushkin, / fallen victims of / the fascist / genocide / 1941.”

The memorial is located in the park at the intersection of Dvortsovaya and Moskovskaya streets, not far from the Alexander Palace, near which mass execution of Jews took place.


PHOTO: the damaged Alexander Palace and SS cemetery, 1944

During the Nazi German occupation of Tsarskoye Selo (1941-44), during the Great Patriotic War, the Alexander Palace was used as headquarters for the German military command.

The basement of the Alexander Palace was used a prison, while the area in front of the palace was turned into a cemetery for SS soldiers. The bodies were later reinterred to Germany.

As the Nazi German forces were leaving the Soviet Union, many of the former imperial palaces were set ablaze – Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo, the Grand Palace in Peterhof, and Pavlovsk Palace.

The Alexander Palace was spared, however, many of the interiors were destroyed, their contents left prior to evacuation were stolen or destroyed.

© Paul Gilbert. 20 April 2022