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 ”

© 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
1894-1910
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

Protecting the Tsar – Part 2: the security of Nicholas II in the Alexander Palace

PHOTO: security at the main gate leading to the Alexander Palace

This is the second of a two-part article, which explores efforts to ensure the safety and security of Russia’s last Tsar. Click HERE to read Part 1: How Nicholas II was Protected – PG

Following his father’s assassination in March 1881, Emperor Alexander III was advised that it would be difficult for him to be kept safe at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. As a result, he relocated his family to the Gatchina Palace, located 30 kilometres (20 mi) south of St. Petersburg. The palace was surrounded by moats, watch towers, and trenches, and soldiers were on guard night and day. Under heavy guard, he would make occasional visits into St. Petersburg, but even then he would stay in the Anichkov Palace on Nevsky Prospect, as opposed to the Winter Palace.[

In November 1894, Nicholas II ascended the throne. He had spent his youth in Gatchina Palace, however, he did not really like the fortress-like building, and returned to the capital, where, according to tradition, he settled in the Winter Palace.

In 1904, Russia was at war with Japan, and the newborn Tsesarevich Alexei was secretly ill; Nicholas and Alexandra permanently abandoned the Winter Palace, for the greater comfort, security and privacy of Tsarskoye Selo, where they settled into the Alexander Palace.

PHOTO: Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, review His Imperial Majesty’s Own Convoy – the Cossack unit which served as the Tsar’s elite guard – on the parade ground in front of the Alexander Palace

External security of the Alexander Palace

Up until 1917, the Alexander Park (and the palace on its territory) was guarded along the outer contour by 26 round-the-clock and 3 temporary (daytime) posts. In addition, 5 Cossack patrols constantly covered the palace from nearby villages (Aleksandrovka and Bolshoye Kuzmino).

The intersections of the streets of Tsarskoye Selo which faced the park were also subject to constant surveillance; during the day, agents of the Palace Police dressed in civilian clothes walked along them, always on the alert for suspicious activity. In total, there were 13 additional such “hidden” posts (although all the locals were well aware of them).

If any members of the Imperial Family wanted to go for a walk in the Alexander Park, any employees (gardeners, etc.) were removed, and 3 more additional posts from staffed by local police officers were set up along the fence.

From 1906, at night, guard dogs began to be released into the Alexander Park from a specially created dog kennel in the village of Aleksandrovka. It turns out that even members of the Imperial Family could not just leave the palace during the evening, because the park was full of aggressive security dogs.

PHOTO: the Imperial Bedroom, situated in the eastern wing of the palace

Internal security of the Alexander Palace

The most important post of the internal security of the Alexander Palace was a secret guard post, located in the basement directly under the bedroom of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna. An alarm was installed in the Imperial Bedroom, which linked it to the guard room below. If the alarm was pressed, it triggered a signal in the guard post below. The guard on duty, regardless of any circumstances, had to immediately break into the room.

Until 1917, only two panic button signals were received by guards at their post: on the first occasion, the Empress accidentally placed a book on top of the alarm bell, and the other time, a curious Grand Duchess Anastasia pressed it. On both occasions, the guard immediately acted according to the instructions (and subsequently received the highest gratitude for vigilance).

In total, by 1914, there were 13 permanent (round-the-clock) guard posts inside the Alexander Palace, and at night an additional post was set up at the entrance to the private rooms of the August couple. A hidden security unit of 15 non-commissioned officers of the guard regiments also operated in the palace, disguised as palace servants.

PHOTO: plan of the underground tunnel, connecting the palace with the kitchen building, used by palace employees

PHOTO: the tunnel, through which palace employees used before the Revolution, it was filled in during the Soviet era and is now in the process of restoration

Palace employees entered the Alexander Palace only through a special underground tunnel (built during the time of Empress Catherine II), connecting the main residence with the kitchen building. The appearance of each employee who entered the palace was first checked against a photograph in a special catalogue (which was kept by security officers), and then thoroughly searched.

More senior visitors to the palace (officials, persons close to the Imperial Family, etc.) entered the building through the main palace entrances, but 95% of these people were also searched (even the personal dressmaker of the Empress Madame Bezac).

In order for a visitor to the palace not to be searched, a personal order of the Emperor or the Empress (temporary or permanent) was necessary. The privilege to enter the palace without being searched was, however, limited to few, for example, the court jeweller Peter Carl Faberge (1846-1920) and the court architect Roman Meltzer (1860-1943).

The security system turned out to be quite effective, and from 1906 until 1917 there were no special incidents in the Alexander Palace and Park.

© Paul Gilbert. 27 February 2022

Lilacs return to the Alexander Palace

PHOTO: after more than a century, fresh lilacs once again decorate the recently restored interior of the Empress’s Mauve Boudoir in the Alexander Palace. © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

For the first time in more than a hundred years, the fragrant scent of lilacs once again fill the interiors of the Alexander Palace during the cold winter months. The Tsarskoye Selo State Museum have revived the tradition, by placing lilacs in the Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir and the Maple Drawing Room of the Alexander Palace.

It was during the Imperial Family’s residence in the palace [between 1905-1917] that Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, filled her rooms fresh flowers year round. During the winter months, fragrant lilacs were grown in the greenhouses at Tsarskoye Selo. Even during the first few months of their house arrest in 1917, flowers remained in the interiors. Since “prisoners” were not entitled to any luxuries, the flowers were soon removed from the rooms by their captors.

PHOTO: fresh lilacs have also been placed in the recently restored interior of the Maple Drawing Room in the Alexander Palace. © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

In order to provide fresh lilacs for the palace, the greenhouses at Tsarskoye Selo, as in the beginning of the last century, use a forcing technique, by which plants come out of dormancy, allowing them to bloom throughout the year. In the early 20th century, bushes were planted in greenhouse boxes, and lilacs began to be prepared for awakening in December, with the help of additional light. The interiors of the Alexander Palace were decorated with historical varieties, among them the famous white “Madame Lemoine” lilac, which was on the order lists of Tsarskoye Selo gardeners. It was from this variety that the cult of lilac began.

Empress Alexandra Feodorovna loved flowers – the rooms in her private quarter of the palace were decorated with fresh flowers all year round. Floral themes were also present in the wall upholstery, furniture, stucco reliefs on the walls and ceilings. The Empress was especially fond of lilacs. It is no coincidence that in her Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir, that the furniture and walls were decorated with lilac-colored silk, which reflected the Empress’s preferred lilac tones in clothes, and lilac-scented perfumes.

PHOTO: Empress Alexandra Feodorovna admiring a tub of lilacs in the Mauve Boudoir of the Alexander Palace, Tsarskoye Selo. 1909

Lilacs were placed everywhere in the palace: cut branches in a vase on a table by the window and bushes in a jardinière [a decorative flower box or planter] by the sofa in the Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir; magnificent lilac compositions decorated the Pallisander (Rosewood) and Maple Drawing Rooms.

In present day, between late spring – early summer, the Catherine and Alexander Parks are filled with lilacs, especially along Lilac Alley in the Catherine Park.

Lilacs first appeared at Tsarskoye Selo in the 18th century. Under Empress Elizabeth Petrovna, trees and shrubs were regularly planted in the parks of Tsarskoye Selo, including lilacs. Under Catherine II, parks and greenhouses were replenished with new species of plants, flowers and shrubs, including lilacs. Under Alexander I in 1817, at the direction of the architect Adam Menelas, the gardener Fyodor Lyamin planted lilacs in front of the palace and the colonnade, where they continued to bloom for over a hundred years. In the middle of the 19th century, the Lilac Alley was created, stretching from the Pink Guardhouse to the Krestovy Canal. In the 19th century, gardeners planted many new varieties of lilacs with various colors: white, mauve, purple and pink.

In the 19th century, many new varieties of lilac appeared with a variety of colors: white, mauve, purple and pink. A rich collection was formed at the end of the century in a small family company Lemoynov from the French city of Nancy. It was founded by Victor Lemoine, a master of ornamental plant breeding. He was not a supplier of the Russian Imperial Court, however, his varieties were purchased for Tsarskoye Selo, among them – “Madame Antoine Buchner” (terry lilac with dark pink buds, large, fragrant flowers from mauve-pink to pale whitish -pink), “Madame Lemoine” (lilac with white, large, double fragrant flowers).

PHOTO: each year, lilacs decorate the interiors of the Alexander Palace on 6th June, in honour of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna’s birthday. The photo above, shows the Marble (Mountain) Hall

In the years prior to the closing of the Alexander Palace for restoration between 2015-2021 – bouquets of fresh lilacs were placed in the former apartments of the Empress on her birthday: 6th June [O.S. 25th May]. Now that the restoration of the eastern wing of the Alexander Palace has been completed, let us hope that this annual tradition is also revived.

© Paul Gilbert. 12 January 2022

Alexander Palace Curator answers questions about the Imperial residence

Maria Filiptseva. Photo © Ruslan Shamukov

The curator of the Alexander Palace exposition, Maria Filiptseva, answers questions about the Imperial Residence at Tsarskoye Selo.

Tatiana Grinchuk: Will the children’s rooms be restored?

Maria Filiptseva: Unfortunately, the reconstruction of the interiors of the Children’s wing[1] is not planned, this is due to the lack of historical sources to carry out such works.

Katya Meshalkina: What is it that you like most about your work? Are there any items in the exposition that you are your personal favourite?

Maria Filiptseva: I really like the opportunity to work creatively, especially in the Alexander Palace, where we talk about the everyday life of Nicholas II and his family. I really love to conduct historical research, because an exhibit should not just simply stand on a shelf, you need to study its origin, the history of existence. Among my favourite items, are the works of the Danish Royal Porcelain Factory. Be sure to pay attention to the porcelain figurines of animals and birds that are exhibited in many of the palace’s interiors.

Irina Zrazhevskaya: Why is the hidden safe in the bedroom of Nicholas and Alexandra not available for viewing? Has it survived?

Maria Filiptseva: The safe was lost either during the war, or during the restoration work carried out in the 1950s.

Irina Zrazhevskaya: What happened to Kuchumov’s album, into which fabric samples were pasted, etc. the Imperial chambers?

Maria Filiptseva: The albums created by Anatoly Mikhailovich Kuchumov[2] are in the collection of the Pavlovsk Museum.

Irina Zrazhevskaya: Why are there no descriptions of the exhibits in the apartments?

Maria Filiptseva: We have tried to recreate the interiors as close as possible to their historic original as they looked more than a hundred years ago, and present them as a home. An audio guide will be available soon in the museum, making it possible to obtain descriptions and information on the most significant items of each interior.

Irina Zrazhevskaya: What is the progress of the restoration of the other interiors?

Maria Filiptseva: The Mountain [Mountain] Hall with a recreated slide and the State Halls are still in the process of being recreated. There are also plans to recreate the Raspberry Drawing Room.

Irina Zrazhevskaya: Please tell us about the keys to the Alexander Palace, which are now displayed in the main corridor which separate the Imperial apartment. Were they previously kept in the Museum of the History of Modern Russia?

Maria Filiptseva: The keys were provided for temporary storage by the State Central Museum of Contemporary History of Russia (GCMSIR), they have now been returned to the palace. The keys to the apartments were preserved by the family of the assistant to the commandant of the Alexander Palace V.M.Dommazyants, who was appointed to this position in June 1917. After his death, his relatives handed over the keys for storage to the Museum of the Revolution (now the State Center for Contemporary Art).

NOTES:

PHOTO: the second floor of the eastern wing of the Alexander Palace, where the former rooms of the August children were located. The original interiors have been lost.

[1] The children’s rooms were located on the second floor of the eastern wing of the Alexander Palace. The original interiors have been lost. In 2011, they were refitted for temporary exhibitions, and open to visitors for the first time in more than 80 years. The first exhibition “Alexander Palace. Visiting the Children’s Rooms” ran from 2nd June to 11th September 2011. Framed portraits of OTMAA decorated the walls leading to their rooms. A small catalogue [in Russian] was published.

[2] Anatoly Mikhailovich Kuchumov (1912-1993), was a museum worker, art historian, honoured culture worker of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (1975), honorary citizen of the town of Pavlovsk (1992).

In 1932, he worked as a cataloguer of the Pavlovsk Palace Museum; from 1937, he headed the Alexander Palace Museum in Pushkin. In 1941, Kochumov took charge of Pushkin museum collections evacuation to Gorky, then to Novosibirsk. In 1944, he returned to Leningrad, and took part in setting up the Central Depository of Museum Collections, becoming its first director.

Kuchumov was a member of the Investigation Commission for Valuables Looted by the Nazis (with Kuchumov’s assistance, over 12,000 exhibits were found and returned to museums).

In 1956, he was appointed chief curator of Pavlovsk Palace Museum, and became one of the authors of the project of restoration of its interiors. A specialist in the 18th -19th centuries Russian material culture history, Kuchumov provided consulting support to the Hermitage, the State Museum of History, Tretyakov Gallery and other museums.

© Paul Gilbert. 21 December 2021

Ganina Yama to host Alexander Palace exhibition

On 19th December 2021, the exhibition Alexander Palace – The Tsar’s Residence opens in the Museum and Exhibition Center – located in the Church of the Reigning Mother of God – of the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs in Ganina Yama.

The exhibition was prepared for the 225th anniversary of the opening of the New Tsarskoye Selo (later – Alexander) Palace, The palace has a long, eventful history, having served as the family home of the Russian Imperial family (from 1796 to 1917). Built for the grandson of Empress Catherine the Great, the future Emperor Alexander I, the palace was to become a favourite summer residence for Emperors Nicholas I, Alexander II, Alexander III and Nicholas II, for more than a century.

For Emperor Nicholas II and his family, however, the Alexander Palace, where he was born in 1868, became a permanent residence year-round [1]. It was here that the Imperial family began to spend Christmas in quiet surroundings, as opposed to noisy and bustling St. Petersburg. The Alexander Palace became the new Winter Palace during the last years of the monarchy in Russia.

PHOTO: early 19th century view of the Alexander Palace. Artist unknown

After the February Revolution, it was from the Alexander Palace in August 1917 that the Imperial family were sent into exile to Tobolsk in Siberia, and then to Ekaterinburg the following year, where they met their death and martyrdom.

Visitors to the exhibition will be presented with rare family photographs of the Tsar’s family from the Alexander Palace, as well as a number of interesting exhibits.

The exhibition will be open daily from 11:00 to 16:30. Free admission.

PHOTO: scale model of the Alexander Palace on display at the exhibition

NOTES:

[1] The Imperial family also maintained residences in Peterhof at the Lower Dacha, and in Crimea at the Livadia Palace

© Paul Gilbert. 9 December 2021