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

On this day in 1933 the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral at Tsarskoye Selo was closed

PHOTO: Early 20th century view of the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral at Tsarskoye Selo

On this day – 27th December 1933, the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral[1] at Tsarskoye Selo was officially closed by a resolution of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee[2].

The Cathedra’s Upper Church became a cinema hall, where a screen was placed right in the altar, while the Lower Cave Church[3] was turned into a warehouse and archive for film and film documents.

The Decree on the Separation of Church and State had been proclaimed by the Bolsheviks in January 1918. It declared all Church property to be the property of the state. Sanctioned by this license, squads of Bolshevik thugs went around the country desecrating and looting churches and monasteries, mocking religion and religious people unmercifully, even murdering priests, monks, nuns and other believers by the thousands.

The years between 1929-1939, the Russian Orthodox Church was subject to further rabid anti-church persecution. Thousands of cathedrals, churches and monasteries were desecrated and pillaged by the Bolsheviks, by order of Joseph Stalin.

PHOTO: watercolour of the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral (1917) by Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna

At first, during the collectivization process, many rural parishes were dissolved by local Soviet authorities, and on 9th August 1931, the Leningrad [St. Petersburg] City Council raised the question of closing all of the city’s churches.

The Bolsheviks anti-church campaign spread from parish to parish throughout the former Russian Empire. In Pushkin[4] the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral[4] was desecrated and pillaged before it was finally closed in 1933.

In 1934, the Bolsheviks conducted an Anti-Easter campaign, which included Detskoye Selo[4]: “… in an attempt to distract parishioners from the churches, a carnival with music and dancing was arranged on the streets of the city… Against the backdrop of the Catherine Cathedral a screen was arranged on the wall of the City Council on which a film was shown.”

Between 1934 to 1935, a total of 361 churches were closed in the diocese, and many more churches could not function due to the absence of the repressed clergy.

PHOTO: the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral in 1945

The Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral was badly damaged during the Nazi occupation of Pushkin (1941-44). During the Soviet years, the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral was left in a terrible state of disrepair and neglect.

PHOTO: the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral in 1977

After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church. The entire complex of buildings closely connected with the life of the last Russian Emperor was taken over by the Moscow Patriarchate, who allocated funds for the reconstruction and restoration work carried out over a 20 year period.

The Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral was reconsecrated on 29 February 1992. Regular liturgies are today carried out in the Upper Church, and the Lower Cave Church. In addition, Divine Liturgies are regularly conducted in memory of the murdered Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia Nikolaevna, and Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich.

The Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral has become a popular pilgrimage site for Orthodox Christians from across Russia and around the world. In addition are monarchists, modern-day Cossacks and adherents of the Holy Royal Martyrs.

On 17th July 1993, Russia’s first monument to Emperor Nicholas II by the Russian sculptor V.V. Zaiko was established in the garden located in behind the Cathedral.

On 4th May (O.S. 21st April) 1913, Emperor Nicholas II and his family planted a group of oak trees on the grounds of the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral. A total of seven trees were planted that day, with each member of the Imperial Family, beginning with the Tsar, planting a single oak tree. Of the seven trees planted, only four have survived to the present day, the other three were cut down during the Nazi occupation of Pushkin.

PHOTO: the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral as it looks today. The blue tent-roof of the Royal or Tsar’s Porch – used by the Emperor and his family – can be seen to the right


[1] The Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral served as the regimental church of His Imperial Majesty’s Own Convoy. In addition, the cathedral served as the house church for the Imperial family, while they were in residence in the Alexander Palace. Construction of the Cathedral was financed by Nicholas II, who contributed 150,000 gold rubles from his own personal funds.

[2] The All-Russian Central Executive Committee (VTsIK) was the highest legislative, administrative and revising body of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (Russian SFSR) from 1917 until 1937. Although the All-Russian Congress of Soviets had supreme authority, in periods between its sessions its powers were passed to VTsIK.

[3] Empress Alexandra Feodorovna was particularly fond of the Cave Church. A special room was arranged for her, which allowed her to retire in prayer. The chapel, a small room less than a meter wide, was installed to the right of the altar. It contained a mosaic icon of St. Seraphim of Sarov. The Cave Church has been fully restored and open to worshippers.

[4] On 7th November 1918 Tsarskoye Selo was renamed Detskoye Selo (Children’s Village). On 10th February 1937, it was renamed Pushkin, in honour of the great Russian poet, playright and novelist Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837). On 10th June 1939, the Catherine Cathedral was demolished by the Soviet authorities.

© Paul Gilbert. 27 December 2022

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

Nicholas II plants oak trees at the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral, April 1913

PHOTO: Emperor Nicholas II, his family and retinue planting seven oak trees on the square, in front of the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral at Tsarskoye Selo, 1913

Construction of the house church of the Imperial Family at Tsarskoye Selo

The Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral was constructed between 1909 – 1912 by order of Emperor Nicholas II, to serve as the regimental church of His Imperial Majesty’s Own Convoy. In addition, the cathedral served as the house church for the Imperial family, while they were in residence in the Alexander Palace.

Construction of the Cathedral began in 1908, financed by Emperor Nicholas II, who contributed 150,000 gold rubles, a considerable sum, from his own personal funds.

On 2nd September (O.S. 20th August) 1909, Nicholas II laid the first foundation stone. The solemn Divine Liturgy was performed by His Grace Theophan, Bishop of Yamburg, attended by the Emperor and members of his family. The Cathedral was built in the old Russian style. Three years later, on the same day in 1912, the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral was consecrated.

An alley lined with fragrant linden trees ran from the cathedral to the Imperial Railway Pavilion nearby. Sadly, in the 1950s, the largest lime trees were transported to the replanted on Nevsky Prospekt in Leningrad [St. Petersburg].

PHOTO: Emperor Nicholas II, his family and retinue planting seven oak trees on the square, of the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral at Tsarskoye Selo, 1913

The Imperial Family plant oak trees on the grounds of the Cathedral

On 4th May (O.S. 21st April) 1913, Emperor Nicholas II and his family planted a group of oak trees on the grounds of the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral. It was one of many events marking the 300th anniversary of the Romanov Dynasty, held that year throughout the Russian Empire, in which the Tsar and his family took part. A total of seven trees were planted that day, with each member of the Imperial Family, beginning with the Tsar, planting a single oak tree each.

The trees were planted on the grounds of the square, which is situated on the southern facade of the Cathedral. It was through this square, that the Imperial Family arrived at the Cathedral, entering via the Royal Porch. During the winter months, when the days saw little daylight, the square was illuminated with lanterns, giving it a serene ambiance.

Of the seven trees planted, only four have survived to the present day, the other three were cut down during the Nazi German occupation of Pushkin [Tsarskoye Selo, 1941-44].

The four oaks can be seen behind a bust-monument to Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II – the first to be installed in post-Soviet Russia. A stone marker and plaque [see photo at the end of this article] mark the spot, where they were planted more than a century ago. It is nothing short of a miracle that they have survived.

PHOTO: Russia’s first monument to Nicholas II was consecrated on 17th July 1993, on the grounds of the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral at Tsarskoye Selo

The first monument to Nicholas II in post-Soviet Russia

Situated in the garden [square] behind the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral at Tsarskoye Selo, is a bust-monument to Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II, the work of St. Petersburg sculptor Victor Vladimirovich Zaiko (born 1944).

Installed and consecrated on 17th July 1993, it was the first monument to Nicholas II to be erected in Post-Soviet Russia. Since its installation nearly 30 years ago, more than 100 monuments, busts and memorials to Russia’s last Tsar, have been installed across the Russian Federation.

As previously noted, the bust-monument stands in front of the four surviving oak trees, seen in the background, which were planted by Nicholas II and his family on 4th May (O.S. 21st April) 1913.

The monument was consecrated on 17th July 1993, the day marking the 75th anniversary of the death and martyrdom of Nicholas II and his family.

PHOTO: view of Russia’s first monument to Nicholas II and the remaining oak trees which he and his family planted in 1913, on the grounds of the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral

PHOTO: a wider view of the four remaining oak trees, planted by Nicholas II and his family in 1913, on the grounds of the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral

PHOTO: a stone marker reads [translation]: 21 April / 4 May 1913. On this spot the Holy Royal Martyrs Sovereign Emperor Nicholas II, Sovereign Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, Tsesarevich Alexei and Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia planted seven memorial oaks.

© Paul Gilbert. 25 October 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

On this day – 2nd June 1868 – the future Emperor Nicholas II was baptised

PHOTO: the baptism of Grand Duke Nicholas Alexandrovich [future Tsesarevich and Emperor] on 2nd June (O.S. 20th May) 1868, by Mihály Zichy (1827-1906). The watercolour depicts four baptismal scenes, and two of them show Alexander II holding his grandson in his arms.

Two weeks after his birth, on 19th (O.S. 6th) May 1868, His Imperial Highness Grand Duke Nicholas Alexandrovich was baptised in the Church of the Resurrection of Christ in the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo. The baptism was performed by the Imperial family’s confessor Protopresbyter Vasily Bazhanov (1800-1883).

The infant’s grandfather Emperor Alexander II, took a very active role in this historic ceremony. He clearly understood that not only was this his first grandson, but also that a future Emperor was being baptised. It is noteworthy that during the baptism, both Alexander II and his son, Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich [future Alexander III], acted as assistants to the lady of state. The fact that the father, breaking tradition, took an active part in the baptism[1], apparently, was due to its historic significance. Two emperors, current and future, held their successor in their arms, strengthening the foundation of the infant’s legitimacy.[2]

As for the mother [future Empress Maria Feodorovna], she did not have the right to be present at the baptism of her baby at all [in accordance with a tradition that originates in the Old Testament]. However, even if Maria Fedorovna wanted to break the custom, she could not do so, due to the fact that her doctors advised her not to walk following the birth of her son, and instructed her to rest on that eventful the day. [3]

It was Alexander II and Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, who carried the baby to the font for baptism. In addition, Nicholas Alexandrovich’s godparents, his Danish grandmother and uncle, Queen Louise and Crown Prince Friedrich took part.

Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich described the day’s events as follows: “The entrance was magnificent, and there were a lot of people in the palace and also in the garden. The little one was transported in a golden carriage with much pomp and ceremony, accompanied by an escort on horseback. During the ceremonial procession through the halls of the Grand Palace at Tsarskoye Selo, the newborn was carried to the palace church by the lady of state Princess [Alexandra Aleekseevna] Kurakina (1840-1919), supported on the one side by the State Chancellor Prince [Alexander Mikhailovich] Gorchakov (1798-1883), and on the other by Field Marshal Prince Alexander [Ivanovich] Baryatinsky (1815-1879) – both old and lame, but they endured excellently and helped as much as they could. The field marshal walks very decently, although with a cane. Tsarskoye Selo was unrecognizable that day; the streets were full of people and carriages, the whole city is celebrating. At 5 o’clock, a large banquet was held in the Great Hall, which was lit splendidly by the sun. It’s been a very tiring day, and poor Mama [Empress Maria Alexandrovna] is very tired. After the baptism, the entire family gathered at my place [the Alexander Palace] to congratulate Minnie [Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna], and all little ones were there too. An excellent breakfast was served, and then everyone went home.”

Nearly 13 years later, in March 1881, Grand Duke Nicholas Alexandrovich became the Heir Tsesarevich, and in October 1894, he became Russia’s last Emperor and Tsar.


[1] According to Orthodox tradition at that time, the father was required to leave the church at the time of the baptism of his child, giving way to the godfather. Emperor Nicholas II was not in the church when his son Alexei was baptised in August 1904.

[2] Zimin, Igor Viktorovich. Children’s world of imperial residences. Life of monarchs and their environment. Baptism of children. 2010

[3] Ibid.

© Paul Gilbert. 2 June 2022

Virtual Reality journey in the Imperial Train

PHOTO: poster the VR project Journey in the Imperial Train in the Alexander Palace

Visitors to Tsarskoye Selo now have an opportunity to experience a journey in the Imperial Train.

In October 2021, the VR project Journey in the Imperial Train opened in one of the halls on the ground floor of the Alexander Palace. Wearing special goggles, visitors can know look inside the luxurious rail carriages that served the Russian emperors: Alexander II, Alexander III and Nicholas II. With the help of modern technologies in virtual reality, the historical interiors of the carriages of one of the first trains of Imperial Russia have been recreated in great detail.

This joint project of the Tsarskoye Selo Museum-Reserve and the Museum of Russian Railways was implemented with the technical support of the Infomedia Bureau of Creative Initiatives company.

The exhibit offers two options for visitors:

Ticket No. 1: Virtual Journey in the Imperial Train introduces guests to the history of the Imperial Train. Duration: 15 minutes – 250 rubles.

Ticket No. 2: Virtual Quest in the Imperial Train offers a thematic quest in the setting of the Imperiaal carriages, interacting with various objects and internal elements. Duration: 60 minutes – 500 rubles.

The history of Russian railways is closely connected with Tsarskoye Selo and the Alexander Palace. During the reign of Emperor Nicholas I in 1837, the first public railway in the country connected St. Petersburg with Tsarskoye Selo and quickly became a favourite way for members of the Imperial family to travel from the capital to their suburban summer residence.

During the reign of Emperor Nicholas II, several branches of the railway line were built not far from the Alexander Palace, which made it possible to get from Tsarskoye Selo to the most remote regions of the Russian Empire without changing trains.

After the outbreak of the First World War, Nicholas II regularly travelled from the nearby Imperial Railway Pavilionincludes 20 photos – to headquarters in Mogilev, while visiting foreign dignitaries were personally greeted by the Emperor, who awaited their arrival on the pavilion’s platform.

On 1st August 1917, it was also by train that the Imperial family were sent into exile from the Alexandrovsky Station to exile in Tobolsk.

By 1902, the imperial fleet consisted of eight trains. Following the 1917 Revolution, the fate of the wagons were utilized in different ways: some were used by representatives of the new Provisional government, others were rebuilt and adapted for passenger traffic, and the two wagons from Nicholas II’s Imperial Trainincludes 8 photos – were installed in the Alexandria Park in Peterhof – were destroyed during the Great Patriotic War.

© Paul Gilbert. 26 April 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