Russian media provide a first look at the progress of the recreation of the historic interiors in the Alexander Palace

On 7th October, the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Reserve invited Petersburg journalists to the Alexander Palace, where they were shown the progress of the restoration and recreation of the historic interiors of the last residence of Emperor Nicholas II and his family.

Ongoing restoration works have been carried out since 2012, and the palace was closed in the autumn of 2015 to embark on the large-scale recreation of the private apartments of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna in the eastern wing of the palace.

The project was developed by Nikita Yavein’s Studio-44. The restorers relied on amateur photographs taken by members of the Imperial family, autochromes from 1917, and design drawings to recreate the interiors.

In addition, the Tsarskoye Selo and Pavlovsk State Museums had stored original samples of fabrics, which were used to recreate the decoration of some interiors – Chintz (waxed cotton fabric with a printed pattern) in the bedroom, silk in the Lilac office, reps (a cotton or silk fabric formed by weaves) in the Rosewood living room, etc.

During the restoration, elements of the historical interior decoration were preserved, including oak wall panels, coffered wooden shades and ceramic tiles.

NOTE: the following images are from different Russian media sources, and are not in any particular order. They are presented to give you an idea of the tremendous amount of work and dedication which has gone into the recreation of these historic interiors, thus breathing new life into the Alexander Palace – PG 

On 7th October 2020, the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Reserve (GMZ) announced that the opening of the Alexander Palace – originally scheduled for December 2020 – would be further delayed. A press release from the GMZ reported that a total of 15 rooms will now open to the public in 2021, in the Museum of the Russian Imperial Family located in the eastern wing of the palace.

© Paul Gilbert. 8 October 2020

Delays . . . delays . . . and more delays with the opening of the Alexander Palace

It may come as no surprise to any one that the opening of the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo has been delayed yet again.

Eight of the reconstructed private rooms of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna, were due to open in December of this year, however, the opening date of the palace has been further extended..

According to Russian media sources, a total of 15 rooms will now open to the public in 2021, in the Museum of the Russian Imperial Family located in the eastern wing of the palace

“At the moment, the Alexander Palace is our everything. Everything is aimed at its early completion. We have divided the restoration into two stages in order to open the most important rooms to visitors. Fifteen historic interiors of Nicholas II. and his family six months from now,” – said Olga Taratynova, Director of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Reserve.

According to Taratynova, the cost of the work is 2.7 billion rubles. Currently, 1.7 billion have been spent. The balance will go to the second stage of the restoration project.

“The second stage will take another three years. Thus, we will open the entire western wing of the palace,” she added.

© Paul Gilbert. 7 October 2020

The History and Restoration of the Reception Room of Nicholas II in the Alexander Palace

PHOTO: the Reception Room of Nicholas II as it looked in the 1930s

The Alexander Palace served as the home and official residence of Russia’s last emperor from 1894 to the summer of 1917. By the end of 1894, in the eastern wing of the palace, work was alreay underway on finishing the apartments for the young imperial couple, who had married on 27th November (O.S. 14th November). This part of the building was divided by a corridor into two enfilades: the rooms of Nicholas II, facing the courtyard, and the rooms of Alexandra Feodorovna, with windows to the park.

The first room in the Emperor’s half was the Dining Room (later the Reception Room). The renovation of this interior was carried out in 1895-1896 by architect Roman Feodorovich Meltser (1860-1943). For the wall decoration, a “high panel around the room with a seasoned shelf” was installed, above the panels, the walls were covered with printed fabric. On the ceiling there is a “wooden plafond” with a cornice. The interior decoration features a corner fireplace of oak wood, trimmed with dark green marble. The architect decorated the upper part of the two windows with square cathedral (stained-glass) glass.

PHOTO: the Reception Room of Nicholas II as it looked in the 1930s

The furniture was made by F. Meltzer & Co., which included a sofa with two folding tables, a round table for drinking tea, a dining table and 24 chairs, a serving table, and a table “for snacks”. The set of furniture included a fireplace screen, covered with fabric, decorated with mirrored glass with a facet in the upper part.

Subsequently, this room, preceding the Emperor’s Working Study, was used as a Reception Room. Despite the change in the purpose of the interior, its furnishings remained almost unchanged until 1917. Only a few items were added, giving the room a more businesslike character.

PHOTO: This lovely portrait of the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna (1896) by A. Muller-Norden, which originally hung in the Reception Room of the Alexander Palace (seen in the 2nd photo), is currently in the collection of the Pavlovsk State Museum.

It is just one of more than 5,000 items moved to Pavlovsk in 1951. The return of the items to the Alexander Palace remains a bone of contention between the two palace-museums. Click HERE to read my article Controversy over portrait of Empress Alexandra Fedorovna in Pavlovsk, published on 20th August 2019.

Unlike many interiors of the Alexander Palace, the decoration of the Reception Room practically remained intact during the Great Patriotic War (1941-45), which greatly facilitated the current restoration work in this room. Here are preserved wall and ceiling panels, a fireplace and a chandelier, which was installed by Melzer in 1899 and cost 2,275 rubles. Sadly, the furniture, curtains, and cathedral glass windows were all lost.

The interior was restored in the 1950s. In 1997, the exhibition “Memories in the Alexander Palace” opened in the eastern wing of the palace, the museum designated the room as the Reception Room. The room contained corresponding furniture of the late 19th – early 20th centuries from the museum’s collection: two tables, oak chairs, a chest, and a carpet. Memorial items were also exhibited in the Reception Room – in their historical places there was a chandelier and a model of the monument to Peter I by Ivan Schroeder.

PHOTO: the Reception Room of Nicholas II as it looks

In the course of recent restoration work in the Reception Room, the oak walls and ceiling decoration, fabric on the walls, parquet and a fireplace have been beautifully preserved. In the process of working with the fireplace, it was discovered that the monogram preserved on the frieze differs from that recorded in historical photographs. These inaccuracies have been corrected.

During the restoration, the fabrics from the walls were dismantled and sent to the restoration workshops, where a method of dry cleaning of the fabric with its subsequent conservation was developed.

PHOTO: the Reception Room of Nicholas II as it looks today

From the surviving photographs, a built-in sofa upholstered in olive leather, a fireplace grate and an openwork metal mesh of the fireplace insert have been recreated. The restoration of the historic chandelier, the only surviving piece of the Reception Room interior, has also been completed.

At present, work continues on the design based on historical photographs of some pieces of furniture: an oak table and chairs are being made for the sofa, as well as a lattice-stand for banners; the elbows of the sofa will be supplemented with folding table shelves. Subsequently, there are also plans to recreate the stained glass in the Reception Room windows.

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The Reception Room of Nicholas II is one of eight interiors to open in the eastern wing of the palace, scheduled to open in December 2020. The other interiors include: the Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II, Working Study of Nicholas II, Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room, Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir, Imperial Bedroom, Alexandra’s Corner Reception Room, and the New Study of Nicholas II.

In the future, the Alexander Palace will become a memorial museum of the Romanov family – from Catherine the Great to Nicholas II, showcasing the private, domestic life of the Russian monarchs who used the palace as an official residence. The eastern wing of the palace will be known as the Museum of the Russian Imperial Family. The multi-museum complex is scheduled for completion no earlier than 2022.

© Paul Gilbert. 2 October 2020

The History and Restoration of Nicholas II’s Moorish Bathroom in the Alexander Palace

The Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II as it looked in the 1930s

The Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Reserve have announced that the restoration of the Moorish Bathroom – one of the most unique interiors in the private apartments of Nicholas II in the Alexander Palace – is nearing completion.

The Moorish (also called the Emperor’s Toilet, Basseinaya) acquired its original appearance in 1896-1897 when the interior was redesigned by the Russian architect Count Nikolai Ivanovich de Rochefort (1846-1905). The most famous project of Count Rochefort is the Bialowieza Palace, an imperial hunting residence, built in Poland between 1889-1894. His innovative interior included a bathroom with a small bathing pool, which served as a model for designing the Moorish Bathroom for Nicholas II in the Alexander Palace.

The interior harmoniously combined bright oriental-style tiles that adorned the fireplace and walls around the pool, metlakh tiles, which were used for the floor in front of the pool, a coffered ceiling, an openwork maple partition and a Japanese reed mat on the walls. The floor was covered with a colourful carpet. Masters of the Meltzer Trading House made the furniture for the bathroom, which included a sofa upholstered in leather, with pillows and bolsters, two types of Oriental style stools, a table with a trellis, a washbasin on the underframe, a horizontal bar for gymnastic exercises, and stands for walking sticks and hunting rifles.

The main part of the Moorish Bathroom was a bathing pool that could hold 7 thousand buckets of water, and lined with white tiles, which gave the second name to the interior – Basseinaya. Its design in the Alexander Palace featured Charcot shower jets for massage.

For the functioning of the pool, the architect created a complex engineering system, it consisted of water and waste pipes, a water-heating boiler with accessories, three water tanks located in a special room on the ground floor of the palace, located directly under the Basseinaya.

There was also a toilet located outside the door at the edge of the corridor wall.

The Moorish Bathroom’s interior decoration was lost during the Great Patriotic War (1941-45). In the summer of 1997, a permanent exhibition was opened in the eastern wing of the palace dedicated to the imperial family. The former bathroom was used as an exhibition space with parquet floors, painted walls and a white ceiling. Therefore, the restoration of the Moorish Bathroom began practically from scratch.

Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Reserve

In 2017, when dismantling the room, craftsmen discovered the Tsar’s bathing pool under the floor, and in it – a significant number of fragments of ceramic wall tiles, Metlakh tiles, belonging not only to the decoration of the Moorish, but also to other interiors of the residential half of the palace. The fragments provided restorers with the colour schemes of the interior decoration, which were reconstructed from black and white photographs taken in the 1930s. Thanks to this remarkable discovery, the restorers were able to recreate the wall cladding of the with the utmost precision.

Several fragments of the original tiles have been incorporated in the reconstructed Moorish Bathroom’s decoration; while the bathing pool and the steps leading into it have retained some of their historic tiling.

Also found during the restoration, several small fragments of the original frieze were revealed, which made it possible to clarify the colour scheme of the decorative painting, the drawing of which was determined from the black and white pre-war photographs.

In 2018–2019, the architectural elements of the interior decoration were recreated: wooden wall panels and ceiling cladding, wall tiles, a Moorish-style fireplace with decorative niches (they originally contained Faberge lamps, which were transferred to the Russian Museum in 1956), and a carved partition. The decoration of the toilet room has also been recreated. Curtains and a large carpet were made according to the historical documents and photos.

Thanks to the assistance of the Japanese Consulate General in St. Petersburg, an original mat similar to the one that adorned the walls of the Moorish Bathroom will soon be purchased in Japan.

At the moment, on the basis of existing museum inventory descriptions of 1938-1940, the design of non-preserved pieces of furniture and plumbing equipment (taps and mechanisms for introducing water into the pool) is currently underway.

Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Reserve


Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Reserve


Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Reserve


Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Reserve

Click HERE to read my article Reconstruction of Nicholas II’s bathroom in the Alexander Palace + 13 PHOTOS, published on 16th June 2019

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The Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II is one of eight interiors to open in the eastern wing of the palace, scheduled to open in December 2020. The other interiors include: the Reception of Nicholas II, Working Study of Nicholas II, Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room, Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir, Imperial Bedroom, Alexandra’s Corner Reception Room, and the New Study of Nicholas II.

In the future, the Alexander Palace will become a memorial museum of the Romanov family – from Catherine the Great to Nicholas II, showcasing the private, domestic life of the Russian monarchs who used the palace as an official residence. The eastern wing of the palace will be known as the Museum of the Russian Imperial Family. The multi-museum complex is scheduled for completion no earlier than 2022.

© 16 September 2020. Paul Gilbert

Reopening of the Alexander Palace now delayed to end of 2020

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Curtains featuring a pattern of pink ribbons entwined with green wreaths set
with flowers on a white background have been recreated for the Imperial Bedroom

The Director of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Olga Taratynova, announced in Russian media yesterday, that the long awaited reopening of the Alexander Palace has been further delayed due to restrictions made by the coronavirus. Russia remains one of the hardest nations hit by the pandemic with more than 362,000 cases reported to date.

The Alexander Palace, the last residence of Emperor Nicholas II, was scheduled to open to the public on 20th August, however, Taratynova has now confirmed that the reopening of the palace to the public has been delayed until the end of 2020 – although the exact date has yet to be confirmed.

“As for the Alexander Palace, unfortunately, there is a ban on restoration work, including the transfer of museum items during the quarantine. At first we thought that we could open the first eight restored rooms in the summer months, unfortunately, however, work has come to a standstill due to strict quarantine measures. The recreation of the historical interiors is done, but we now need to prepare each room for the exposition. Once our experts have decorated the rooms with objects of applied art, the interiors can then be showcased to visitors in all their glory,” said Taratynova.

The Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo was built by the Italian architect Giacomo Quarenghi on the orders of Catherine II for her eldest grandson Alexander, the future Emperor Alexander I. From 1905, it became the permanent residence of Emperor Nicholas II and his family. It was from the Alexander Palace that the Imperial Family were sent into exile to Tobolsk on 14 August (O.S. 1), 1917. After the October Revolution, the palace housed a sanitarium for NKVD employees and later an orphanage. In 1951 the building was transferred to the Navy of the USSR, and the palace collection was transferred to Pavlovsk Museum. In 2009, the palace was transferred to the authority of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve.

The palace has been undergoing restoration since 2011, which includes reconstruction work, the installation of internal engineering networks, and restoration of interiors. The Pavlovsk State Museum  have agreed to return “some items” for the exposition; while furniture for the halls has been recreated according to original samples and archival materials.

The first eight interiors to open in the eastern wing of the palace include: the Reception of Nicholas II, Working Study of Nicholas II, Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II, Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room, Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir, Imperial Bedroom, Alexandra’s Corner Reception Room, and the New Study of Nicholas II.

In the future, the Alexander Palace will become a memorial museum of the Romanov family – from Catherine the Great to Nicholas II, showcasing the private, domestic life of the Russian monarchs who used the palace as an official residence. The eastern wing of the palace will be known as the Museum of the Russian Imperial Family.  The multi-museum complex is scheduled for completion no earlier than 2022.

Click HERE to review more articles, news, photos and videos of the history and restoration of the Alexander Palace

© Paul Gilbert. 26 May 2020

20th March 1917 – Provisional Government decrees that Nicholas II and family should be held under house arrest in the Alexander Palace

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

On this day – 20th March (O.S. 7 March) 1917 – the Provisional Government decreed that Emperor Nicholas II, his wife and five children should be held under house arrest in the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo.

The Tsar joined the rest of the family there two days later, having travelled from Stavka at Mogilev. He was addressed by sentries at the gate of his home as “Nicholas Romanov”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the morning of 14 August (O.S. 1), 1917, the former Tsar and his family left the Alexander Palace for the last time. They exited from the Semicircular Hall of the palace, and travelled by car to the Alexandrovskaya Station where they were sent into exile to Tobolsk. 

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

© Paul Gilbert. 20 March 2020

Tender issued for next stage of reconstruction of the Alexander Palace

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The western wing of the Alexander Palace

The Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve has issued a tender for the next stage of reconstruction of the Alexander Palace, the initial (maximum) price of the contract was announced at 778 million rubles ($11.6 million USD).

The project in two phases are envisaged for the western wing of the palace. Note: the restoration of the private apartments of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna, are located in the eastern wing of the palace.

The list of works includes, general construction work, restoration of floors, doorways and facades, installation of engineering networks, installation and commissioning of security systems and other equipment, including elevators, installation of plasterboard walls inside the building and the installation of a terrace.

The contract requires that work must be completed before 1st December 2021. The funding of 778 million rubles will come from the federal budget. Applications for participation in the tender will be accepted until 23rd March, consideration of proposals is planned for 25th March and 2nd April 2020.

The Alexander Palace was built in 1792-1796 near the Catherine Palace and was intended for the grandson of Empress Catherine II – Alexander Pavlovich (future Emperor Alexander I). It became the permanent residence of Emperor Nicholas II and his family in 1905. The restoration of the palace began in 2012, and has been closed to visitors since autumn 2015.

The first 8 of total of 14 rooms, which will be known as the Museum of the Russian Imperial Family are scheduled to open on 18th August 2020.

Upon completion of the restoration work – sometime in 2022 – the Alexander Palace will become a multi-functional museum complex, which will include exhibition halls, temporary exhibition halls, rooms for research and conferences, as well as a library and a children’s center. On the ground floor there will be a cafe, lobbies with ticket offices, a coat check, a tour desk, a museum store, as well as technical and auxiliary rooms.

© Paul Gilbert. 28 February 2020

Alexander Palace will officially open on 18th August 2020

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The Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve announced today, that the Alexander Palace will officially open on 18th August 2020.

They note that Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend the opening. Also, effective 19th August 2020, the museum will charge a separate entrance fee to tour the Alexander Park.

Eight rooms of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna, located on the first floor of the east wing of the Alexander Palace will open to visitors – the result of almost five years of work, including the Reception of Nicholas II, Working Study of Nicholas II, Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II, Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room, Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir, Imperial Bedroom, Alexandra’s Corner Reception Room, and the New Study of Nicholas II.

A total of 14 rooms will be restored in the eastern wing of the Alexander Palace, which will be known as the Museum of the Russian Imperial Family in the Alexander Palace. All work in the palace will be completed by 2022.

Click HERE to review 15 additional articles on the history and restoration of the Alexander Palace, which include more than 110 photos + 2 videos

© Paul Gilbert. 22 February 2020

Cossacks visit the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral in Tsarskoye Selo

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Members of the Cossack Convoy of the Holy Tsar Passion-bearer Nicholas II at the
Monument to Nicholas II on the grounds of the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral
© Духовно-просветительский центр

On 8th October 2019, members of the Cossack Convoy of the Holy Tsar Passion-bearer Nicholas II organized a tour of St. Petersburg and Tsarskoye Selo.

Among the places visited by the Convoy was the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral, which is situated near the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo. The 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.

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Russia’s first monument to Nicholas II by the sculptor V.V. Zaiko
© Духовно-просветительский центр

The Cossacks also visited Russia’s first monument to Nicholas II, which was established on the grounds of the Cathedral on 19th May 1993, and consecrated on 16th July 1993. The bronze bust was created by the sculptor Victor Vladimirovich Zaiko (born 1944).

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Trees planted by the Emperor and his family in 1909
© Духовно-просветительский центр

The bust was installed near a group of trees, planted by the Emperor and his family in 1909. Of the seven trees planted, only four have survived to the present day.

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Icon of the Holy Royal Martyrs
© Духовно-просветительский центр

The Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral was closed from 1933 to 1991. When the building was transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church in the spring of 1991, it was in a terrible state of neglect and disrepair. It took more than 20 years to restore the Cathedral to its historic original, including the magnificent iconostasis in the Upper Church, and the Lower Church, where the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna came to pray.

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Members of the Cossack Convoy of the Holy Tsar Passion-bearer Nicholas II
© Духовно-просветительский центр

© Paul Gilbert. 20 January 2020

Seven Letters from the Past

Back in July 2018, the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral in Tsarskoye Selo hosted a unique exhibition Seven Letters from the Past timed to the 100th anniversary of the murders of Emperor Nicholas II and his family. 

The highlight of the exhibit were seven portraits of the Imperial family by the St. Petersburg artist Alexander Kondurov. 

The artist depicted the faces and figures of members of the Imperial Family through the mutilated walls of the shooting room of the Ipatiev House, where they were all brutally murdered on 17th July 1918.

Each composition includes a facsimile passage from a letter written by the family member during their captivity in the “House of Special Purpose’ and the outline of a black window frame in which a cross is clearly seen.

Exhibitions showcasing Alexander Kondurovs’ paintings have been held in Russia, USA, Germany, Finland. The artist’s works are in museums and private collections.

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The Murder of the Imperial Family. 2018
by Alexander Kondurov. Private collection

© Paul Gilbert. 13 January 2020