“We went to bed in St. Petersburg, and woke up in Petrograd!” 

On 31st (O.S. 18th) August 1914, St. Petersburg was renamed Petrograd, by decree of Emperor Nicholas II.

The following day, on 1st September 1914, the Highest Order of Emperor Nicholas II to the Governing Senate was published on renaming St. Petersburg to Petrograd. The decision on renaming the capital of the Russian Empire: Sankt Peterburg / St. Petersburg to Petrograd, meaning “Peter’s City”, was to remove the German sounding words “Sankt” and “Burg”. [ “Sankt-Peterburg,” was actually the Dutch-influenced name that Peter the Great gave the city in 1703].

The Emperor’s decree was just the beginning of a large-scale anti-German campaign that swept Russian society at the beginning of the First World War. Not without excesses: Russian nationalists vented their anger against German shops, restaurants and businesses, even the German embassy was not spared. Anti-German sentiment launched conspiracies, and many people were accused of being spies. The Empress Alexandra Feodorovna herself was even accused of being a German spy! The entire anti-German campaign that swept Russian society was of course further fuelled by the press.

It is believed that the initiator of the renaming of the city was the Minister of Land Management and Agriculture Alexander Vasilyevich Krivoshein (1857-1921). On 11th August 1914, he was received by Nicholas II and convinced the Emperor of the need to issue a decree renaming the capital.

The Russian poet Ivan Ivanovich Tkhorzhevsky (1878-1951), later wrote that Krivoshein himself told him: “Many attack him [the Sovereign] for renaming the city Petrograd. Rukhlov (Minister of Railways) allegedly said to him: ‘who are you, Your Majesty, to correct Peter the Great!,’ of which the Sovereign responded: ‘The Russian name is dearer to the Russian heart … “.

The Emperor received support of the renaming of the capital, from the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Nikolai Alekseevich Maklakov (1871-1918), and the chief prosecutor of the Holy Synod, Vladimir Karlovich Sabler (1845-1929). It is interesting to note that with the outbreak of World War I, with Germany as Russia’s chief opponent, Vladimir Karlovich chose to replace his German sounding surname with his wife’s maiden name, Desyatovsky.

As the military historian Anton Antonovich Kersnovsky (1907-1944) noted, “yesterday’s cosmopolitans have suddenly turned into ardent nationalists. Fury against everything “German” became the dominant note. People who seemed to be quite reasonable, suddenly demanded that their surnames of German origin be changed into a Russian form.”

The very next day after Nicholas II’s decree, one St. Petersburg newspaper announced: “We went to bed in St. Petersburg, and woke up in Petrograd! .. The St. Petersburg period of our history with its German tinge has ended … Hooray, gentlemen! ..”

PHOTO: map of Petrograd, 1914

Their euphoria was echoed by Petrogradskie Vedomosti: “Somehow this name sounds much nicer to the Russian ear! In Petrograd … from now on a new era will shine, in which there will no longer be a place for German dominance which has affected St. Petersburg. Fortunately, it has outlived its time and place in our city’s history”.

It should be noted, that the idea of renaming of St. Petersburg was discussed back in the days of Empress Catherine II and Emperor Alexander I. Writers, in particular Derzhavin and Pushkin, sometimes referred to St. Petersburg as “Petropole” in their works. In some decrees issued by Catherine II herself, the place of their publication was the “City of St. Peter”.

The Russkoye Slovo newspaper recalled that as early as the 1870s, Savophiles began a movement in favor of renaming St. Petersburg to Petrograd: “Historical documents confirm that the Slavophiles tried to introduce the use of this name into all aspects of everyday life in the capital. For instance, in correspondence and in personal conversations, they completely avoided using the name Petersburg, and even on the envelopes of letters they wrote “Petrograd”, as a result of which misunderstandings often arose between the Slavophiles and representatives of the post office, who claimed that they could not guarantee the delivery of letters bearing the destination city as “Petrograd”. This movement, however, failed to have any real effect on changing the city’s name at the time.”

It was assumed that not only the capital would be renamed, but other Russian cities bearing German sounding names as well. They wanted to rename Ekaterinburg – Ekaterinograd, Orenburg – Orengrad. They also wanted to rename both Shlisselburg and Oranienbaum, among many others. These plans, however, did not materialize.

The renaming of St. Petersburg caused a mixed reaction in society. According to Tkhorzhevsky, “the city was renamed without consulting the city’s residents: it was as if St. Petersburg had been demoted.” Lawyer and writer Anatoly Fedorovich Koni (1844-1927) was also not happy: “The historical name associated with the founder of the city and borrowed from Holland, reminiscent of the “eternal worker on the throne [Peter the Great]”, was replaced under the influence of some patriotic whim by the meaningless name of Petrograd, in common with Elizavetgrad, Pavlograd and other similar,” he wrote . Even the mother of Nicholas II, the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, sarcastically remarked on this occasion that, “Peterhof would soon be renamed Petrushkin Dvor”.

Kersnovsky even called the renaming of St. Petersburg as the “crown of stupidity”. He wrote: “the ignorance of our educated circles, from which the initiative came, was amazing. Tsar Peter I named the city “St. Petersburg”, which he founded in honor of his saint [St. Peter] – and on a Dutch, not a German model and, of course, did not think to name it after himself. St. Petersburg in Russian could be translated “Svyatopetrovsk”.

PHOTO: a Metro station in St. Petersburg reflects the city’s name changes

Petrograd was by no means to be the last change in the name of the great Russian city.

On 26th January 1924, five days after Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin’s death, Petrograd was renamed Leningrad. a name which the city retained for nearly 70 years. On 12th June 1991, simultaneously with the first Russian presidential elections, the city authorities arranged for the mayoral elections and a referendum upon the name of the city. A majority favoured restoring the city’s pre-World War One name St. Petersburg again.

It should also be noted the surrounding administrative region still retains the name “Leningradskaya Oblast”

In June 2019, Russian politician and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) Vladimir Zhirinovsky (1946-2022), called for renaming St. Petersburg to its pre-revolutionary name PETROGRAD. Nothing, of course, ever came of his request.

© Paul Gilbert. 31 August 2022

Nicholas II’s apartments in the Winter Palace

CLICK on the IMAGE above to watch a VIDEO about the Imperial Apartments
in the Winter Palace. Duration: 12 minutes, 53 seconds. English subtitles

Please note that this article focuses on specific interiors of Emperor Nicholas II’s private apartments in the Winter Palace, it is part of a larger publishing project I am currently working on, that will feature a more comprehenvive study of this Imperial residence during the reign of Russia’s last Tsar – PG

On his accession, Nicholas II was keen to return to the Winter Palace residence in the capital. The palace architect, Alexander Feodorovich Krasovsky (1848-1918), was entrusted with creating private rooms for the Emperor and his wife, Alexandra Feodorovna. In December 1895 they moved into the Winter Palace and lived there permanently in the winter. Following the events of Bloody Sunday [22nd January (O.S. 9th) 1905], the Imperial Family moved to the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo, visiting the Winter Palace only for formal ceremonies, banquets and receptions.

Receptions and balls became rare events. The most famous ball held in the Winter Palace during the reign of Russia’s last Tsar was the luxurious Costume Ball, held in two stages on 11th and 13th February 1903. All the visitors dressed in bejeweled 17th-century style costumes. Nicholas II wore the costume of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich (1629-1676); while the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna wore the costume of his first wife Tsarina Maria Ilyinichna Miloslavskaya (1624-1669).

It was in 1897, that Emperor Nicholas II approved the project for a new colour of the facades of the Winter Palace. A brick-red hue was chosen, to match the red sandstone colour of the new fence of Her Majesty’s Own Garden. The Emperor’s decision was carried out in 1901 after the construction of the fence of the garden was completed.

PHOTO: view of the north-western corner block of the Winter Palace and Her Majesty’s Own Garden. The door in the center is the Saltykov Entrance, which led to the personal apartments of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna, located on the 2nd floor

The personal apartments of Nicholas II and his wife were created in the second floor of the north-western corner block, beyond the Malachite Room that was among the state rooms of the palace whose historical appearance was preserved. The rooms which Alexander Bryullov (1798-1877) had decorated for Empress Alexandra Feodorovna (1798-1860) in 1838-39, were converted for Russia’s last Emperor and Empress.

The rooms were a self-enclosed complex, a separate apartment, designed to embody the young couple’s domestic ideal, a cosy, welcoming home. The Emperor’s diaries show that they both devoted much attention to the fitting out of their new apartments. Many of the rooms belonging to Nicholas II were small, narrow, dark and awkward in design, especially the Emperor’s narrow study.

Krasovsky, showed himself to be a master with immense erudition and superb taste. The combination of brilliant historical stylization with Moderne (Art Nouveau) elements made the apartments of the last Russian Emperor’s family a unique work of art. Each room that Krasovsky created was an elegant paraphrasing of the style of a particular historical era.

The second enfilade overlooked the Admiralty, which included the Imperial Bedroom, Nicholas II’s Study, the Gothic Library, the Billiard Room, Nicholas II’s private bath, a drawing room, lavatory and a small Checkpoint at the Saltykov staircase. A private garden was created beneath the windows of the Imperial apartments on the site of a former parade ground, surrounded by a high wall topped with decorative iron-grille railings.

PHOTO: view of the Imperial Bedroom

PHOTO: the bed which Nicholas and Alexandra shared, and the icon case

The Imperial Bedroom featured an alcove highlighted by two white stucco columns. The walls were decorated with cretonne, a heavy English cotton fabric featuring red flowers and green leaves. The wall panels and furniture were made of Karelian birch.

A small living room was created in front of a large folding screen which separated it from the alcove. It featured a number of pieces of furniture, including a comfortable sofa and chairs. In addition, where wicker furniture for the children. Alexandra Feodorovna spent many hours here, relaxing on the sofa with a book or needlework, while her children played nearby.

In the alcove, separated from the rest of the room by a folding screen was a large bed – unlike most sovereigns of the day, Nicholas II and his wife shared a bedroom. A large folding icon case – covered with icons – was situated against one wall.

PHOTOS: two views of Emperor Nicholas II’s Study

Nicholas II’s Study was arranged in the English Gothic style, decorated with oak. The beauty of the wood was enhanced by the matte surface of the upper part of the walls, painted in an oak colour and the rich green and yellow silk draperies which decorated the double-windows of the interior. The wall between the two arches was decorated with a huge fireplace, the upper part decorated with coloured tiles.

All the details of the interior and the furniture were enhanced with Gothic-style carvings. An important element in in this interior was the Gothic fireplace embellished with griffons and lions, heraldic figures from the arms of the Romanov House and the Hesse-Darmstadt House, to which the Empress belonged.

The Emperor’s desk was decorated with small busts of his grandfather Emperor Alexander II and great-grandfather Nicholas I, and numeroud framed family photographs. The walls were decorated with portraits of Nicholas II’s ancestors. In another part of room stood a piano, which the Imperial couple often played four hands. In the evenings, after returning from the theater, they often had dinner in front of the fireplace.

PHOTO: Emperor Nicholas II’s bath, located next to his Study

A large marble bath was installed next to the Emperor’s Study, behind the lavatory and the Checkpoint. A small staircase connected to the Emperor’s dressing room and his Valet’s room. The pool was a rectangular recess with a marble staircase of 9 steps.

In 1898, the size of the pool was increased to a size of 387 [152 in.] x 385 cm [151 in.] and a depth of 159 cm [63 in.]. The architect, Nikolai Ivanovich Kramskoy (1865-1938), who carried out the renovation managed to preserve the original marble wall cladding and frieze design seen in the photo above.

PHOTO: Emperor Nicholas II’s Gothic Library

The Gothic library was the largest room of the suite refurbished for Nicholas II by Krasovsky, who used the same English medieaval style used in the Emperor’s Study. The two-tiered interior, which included the ceiling, the bookcases, the stairs and upper gallery were trimmed with wax-polished walnut. They were decorated with ornaments characteristic of the Gothic style. The walls between the cabinets and the upper gallery were covered with embossed leather. This magnificent decoration was made at the worskhop of Nikolai Fedorovich Svirsky (1851-1915) – supplier to His Majesty’s Imperial Court.

A huge white stone fireplace, reminiscent of a Gothic portal with a frieze dominated the interior. Nicholas and Alexandra liked to spend their evenings reading in front of the fireplace.

Furniture was made in the Gothic style, according to Nabokov’s drawings, which included several tables, the Emperor’s desk in front of the fireplace, chairs and a lectern. A unique smoking table, decorated with gold and diamonds, with a well stocked selection of cigarettes and cigars was a unique addition. In this interior, reminiscent of a medieval hall, the Emperor often received officials.

The interior of the Gothic Library has survived, click HERE to read more about this interior.

Emperor Nicholas II’s Billiard Room

Nicholas II, like many of his predecessors and relatives loved billiards. Sometimes he played a game or two with his adjutant wing on duty, whose post was in the adjoining Reception Room.

The interior of the Billiard Room was designed in the Neo-Classical style. The doors were framed in the form of portals with pilasters topped with a entablature and acroterium. The classic styled white marble fireplace was decorated with a frieze depicting cupids in chariots. Wall panels, doors and furniture were made of polished mahogany and decorated with copper inserts. Paintings and vases collected by Nicholas II during his Far Eastern journey in 1891-92, decorated the walls and shelves. The parquet floor from the Pompeian Dining Room, created by Alexander Pavlovich Bryullov (1798-1877) in 1838-39, was transferred to this interior.

PHOTO: the Small Dining Room

Formerly known as the Pompeian Dining Room, the Small Dining Room was redecorated in 1894–95, by Krasovsky. A rococo plaster-work style was chosen to frame 18th-century St Petersburg tapestries. It was in this room, that Nicholas and Alexandra and their guests gathered for meals. The crystal chandelier was made in England in the 1760s, it was electrified during Nicholas II’s reign.

The hands of the clock on the mantle [seen on the far wall in the photo above] are stopped at 2.10, the time when the ministers of the Provisional Government were arrested in this room, during the early morning hours on 26th October 1917.

The Winter Palace had been the seat of the Provisional Government since July 1917. It’s leader Alexander Kerensky (1881-1970) wasted little time in acquisitioning the Emperor’s Gothic Library for his own personal use.

Following the Government’s arrest in the Small Dining Room, an eyewitness account records a systematic destruction of the apartments by the Bolsheviks:

“The Palace was pillaged and devastated from top to bottom by the Bolshevik[s]…Priceless pictures were ripped from their frames by bayonets. Packed boxes of rare plate and china…were broken open and the contents smashed or carried off. The library….was forced open and ransacked…..the Tsaritsa’s salon, like all other rooms, was thrown into chaos. The colossal crystal lustre, with its artfully concealed music, was smashed to atoms. Desks, pictures, ornaments—everything was destroyed.”

On 30th October 1917 the Military Revolutionary Committee of the government of the Russian Republic declared the palace “a state museum on a par with the Hermitage”. The palace was given over to the administration of the museum in 1922. In 1923 a programme was initiated under the direction of the architect Alexander Vladimirovich Sivkov (1890-1968) to convert the palace ensemble into a museum complex. This programme included the reconstruction of the Winter Palace that in the post-revolutionary period became known as the Palace of the Arts.

For a brief period following the revolution, the private apartments were open to the public to display the life of the former rulers, as this was the area of the palace where entry had been gained by the revolutionaries, and as a consequence, much had been destroyed so it is hard to know how accurate the depiction of the imperial private lives could have been.

In time the state rooms of the former imperial residence came to be used for exhibitions, while the living rooms and service premises were converted into display rooms, losing their decorations. In 1926, the “Historical Rooms of Emperor Nicholas II” were closed, dismantled and given over to exhibition use.

The only historic interiors which have survived from the time of Nicholas II are the Gothic Library and the Small Dining Room. Sadly, the remaining interiors have not survived and today we only have photographs, architect’s drawings and archive documents which preserve the memory of the former private apartments of Russia’s last emperor and tsar.

© Paul Gilbert. 30 August 2022

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Nicholas II approved the Winter Palace to be painted red in 1897

PHOTO: this contemporary colourized view of the western facade of the Winter Palace, does not reflect the actual terracotta-red hue, however, it does gives an idea of the palace’s facade, as it looked in the early 20th century

During its 250+ year history, the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg has been repainted many times, in a variety of ochre colours and various densities. The colour of the facades of the Winter Palace changed radically at the beginning of the 20th century. It was in 1897, that Emperor Nicholas II approved the project for a new colour of the facades of the Winter Palace. A brick-red hue was chosen, to match the red sandstone colour of the new fence of His Majesty’s Own Garden.

The Emperor’s decision was carried out in 1901 after the construction of the fence of His Majesty’s Own Garden was completed. In April 1901, the architect Nikolai Ivanovich Kramskoy (1865-1938) presented an estimate for 15,639 rubles. “for the project of painting the Imperial Winter Palace in the colours of the new garden fence”. On the project and estimate he wrote: “Highly approved. I was ordered to start painting immediately!” The tender for repair work was awarded to Kruglov, a contractor who was paid 29,467 rubles, which included “to scrape, grind and clean off the walls of the facades, external and outward, the drum of the dome, towers and chimneys”, and then paint all the indicated areas.

Aside from the Winter Palace, all the buildings on Palace Square were painted in the same brick-red colour, including the 580 m [1,902 ft.] long bow-shaped General Staff Building and the Headquarters of the Guards Corps, which, created a complete ensemble of the historic square.

According to the architects of the time, as a result of the Emperor’s decision, the unique buildings of the Palace Square ensemble, diverse in their construction, contributed to a “unity of perception and merged into a monochrome terracotta-brick colouristic mass”.

PHOTO: Emperor Nicholas II leaves the Winter Palace (1896)

In early 20th century black and white photos, one can clearly see the dark coloured facades of the Winter Palace [see photo above]. In addition, colour postcards [see below] from the time, also provide a good example of the colour.

Not all Petersburgers liked the gloomy brick/terracotta-red façade that had been adopted under Nicholas II. The public turned to the Emperor in an effort to persuade him to change the colour scheme of the Winter Palace. However, Nicholas II rejected their proposals.

Under the last Tsar, the white stone statues were also replaced with dark ones made of copper. Before that, the palace featured yellow-ochre façades in various shades depicted in watercolours, fragments of which have been uncovered during architectural stripping operations.

PHOTOS: early 20th century postcards of the Winter Palace

PHOTO: early 20th century postcard of the western facade of the Winter Palace and His Majesty’s Own Garden. The private apartments of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna were located in the northwestern part [to the left, but not seen in the photo above] of the palace

In June 1911, Minister of the Imperial Court Count Vladimir Frederiks (1838-1927) expressed his desire that the Imperial Winter Palace be painted in a lighter hue than that of its current colour. The minister requested that samples of the palace colouring, be presented to him in order to approve one of them.

As there were no colour photographs of the Winter Palace as it looked in 1911, we rely on one observer of the time, who provided an idea of ​​the colour of the palace: “The colour scheme differs in its composition from the approved colour scheme of 1901 in a more pinkish colour, but in terms of density of its composition it is denser than the old colour scheme”.

So, in October 1917, the Winter Palace was not “revolutionary red”, but in a somewhat dubious pinkish one. However, even with all these dubious nuances, the monochrome of the palace, was preserved in full.

PHOTO: watercolour of the Winter Palace, painted by the famous Russian artist Alexandre Benois (1870-1960) in 1939, when he was living in exile in Paris. Note that the canopied balconies; the wall and iron grid fencing surrounding His Majesty’s Own Garden have by now been removed.

The red colour facades of the Winter Palace remained through the revolution and the early Soviet period in the 1930s. Following restoration work on the palace after World War II, it was painted green (turquoise) with the ornaments depicted in white, the standard Soviet colour scheme for Baroque buildings.

In January 2022, the State Hermitage Museum announced that the restoration of the facades of the former Winter Palace is scheduled for 2023. No change of colour scheme is envisaged, but, as with previous restorations, a lighter “pastel” shade of green will be selected in keeping with St Petersburg traditions.

© Paul Gilbert. 23 January 2022

Nicholas II celebrates the Blessing of the Waters, 1904

Note: the video above features a compilation of vintage photographs, set against the ‘Troparion on the Feast of the Epiphany’ sung by the Sretensky Monastery Choir

On 19 (O.S. 6) January 1904, Emperor Nicholas II took part in the annual celebrations marking the Feast of the Epiphany in St. Petersburg.

The Emperor along with members of the Imperial Court, and senior members of the Russian Orthodox Church proceeded down the Jordan Staircase from the first floor of the Winter Palace to the bank of the Neva River for the Blessing of the Waters at Epiphany in commemoration of Christ’s Baptism in the river Jordan.

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Nicholas II descends the stairs leading down to the Neva for the Blessing of the Waters

Situated near the northern entrance to the Winter Palace, a temporary wooden pavilion was constructed on the embankment in front of steps leading down to the Neva. The Metropolitan of St. Petersburg dipped a cross in a hole made in the ice. A small cup was then dipped into the water and presented to the Emperor, who took a sip and then handed the cup back to the Metropolitan. Prayers were said for the health of the Tsar and his family.

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The above photo shows the spot on the embankment of the Neva River, where the temporary wooden pavilion was constructed for the Blessing of the Waters in the early 20th century.

© Paul Gilbert. 19 January 2020

State Russian Museum Establishes Monument to Founding Emperors

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NOTE: All of the articles pertaining to Nicholas II and his family which were originally published in my Royal Russia News blog, have been moved to this Nicholas II blog. This article was originally posted on 17 March 2018 in my Royal Russia News blog – PG

On 15th March 2018, the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg, established a monument to its two founding emperors Alexander III and Nicholas II.

The monument, which was established in the courtyard of the museum, was designed by the Russian sculptor Ilya Dyukov. It features a granite base with bronze portraits of the two emperors, and the text of the decree on the establishment of the museum, published in April 1895.

The monument was established on the eve of the 120th anniversary of the birth of the State Russian Museum. The main building of the museum is the former Mikhailovsky Palace, a splendid Neoclassical residence of Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich (1798-1849), constructed between 1819-1825. Upon the death of the Grand Duke the residence was named after his wife as the Palace of the Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, and became famous for its many theatrical presentations and balls.

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The museum was established on 25 (O.S. 13) April 1895, by Emperor Nicholas II and renamed the Russian Museum of Emperor Alexander III, in honour of his father, who was a great patron of Russian art. The museum was officially opened on 19 (O.S. 7) March 1898. The following day, the museum received its first visitors, and over time would acquire a rich collection of art and sculpture. After the 1917 Revolution, many private collections were nationalized and relocated to the renamed State Russian Museum.

Today it is the world’s largest depository of Russian art, a unique and beautiful architectural complex of palaces and gardens in the heart of St Petersburg, with a collection of more than 410 thousand items.

© Paul Gilbert. 13 December 2019