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The Palaces of Nevsky Prospekt

 
Belosselsky-Belozersky Palace illuminated at night

On the southern corner of Nevsky Prospekt and the Fontanka river at No.41 is the faded dark red Belosselsky-Belozersky Palace seen here. This was the last private palace constructed on this multi-palatial street and was completed in stages between 1840 and 1848. The prime riverside site having been purchased by Prince Alexander Mikhailovich B-B in 1800.

This unique eye catching elegant rococo building with muscular Atlantes supporting Corinthian columns was the concept of the architect Andrei Stakenschneider, who was born in the nearby city of Gatchina and the son of a German miller.

 
The pseudo-baroque exterior has two front facing façades, west to the Fontanka river, and north to the street. Like many prominent buildings in the city, this palace has recently undergone extensive restoration in preparation for the tricentennial celebrations.
The interior is as dramatic and elegant as the exterior. In the main rooms the architect used an extensive blend of composite materials for the baroque decor. Many of the walls are carved and all of the doors are decorated. Especially interesting are the front stairs in the entrance hall, the large and small Golden sitting rooms, the Purple, the Green and the White Halls and the Great Mirror Hall which is used for concerts.
Extravagant imperial courts reigned here well into the 20th century, when the palace was the residence of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich (Alexander III's brutal brother - assassinated in 1905). In 1905, Grand Princess Elizaveta Fedorovna, having just become a num, willed the palace toher nephew, Grand Prince Dmitry Pavlovich, who sold it in 1917. During the Soviet period the grand palace was used as the party headquarters for the Kuibyshev district of Leningrad, but its interiors were preserved almost intact. Nowadays the palace houses the Wax Museum, an art gallery and a concert hall, which holds regular performances of the folk group Petersburg Mozaik, The Wax Museum collection contains 80+ wax figures, including models of many prominent figures in Russian history such as Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Kutuzov, Alexei, Speransky, Kerensky, various tsars and other members of the Romanov Dynasty. On the wall inside the entrance hall of the former Belosselsky-Belozersky Palace there is a plaque which indicates that during World War I the palace housed the Anglo-Russian Hospital.

On the other side of the Fontanka and separated by Quarenghi's Stalls, is the Anichkov Palace at No.39 Nevsky Prospekt. In the 18th century this was a suburban area and the broad Fontanka river was lined with palaces for the elite that were usually accessed by boat. Which explains why the main entrance to this great building faces the river rather than Nevsky. The palace was named for Colonel Mikhail Anichkov who set up his camp on this site at the time of the founding of the city and whose regiment built the original wooden bridge over the Fontanka, now known as the Anichkov Most.

This palace was commissioned by Tsarina Elizabeth as a gift for her lover, Alexei Razumovsky, between the years 1741 and 1750. In continuing with this tradition after Razumovsky's death, Catherine the Great gave this palace to her paramour, Prince Grigory Potemkin. As an able statesman and military officer Potemkin is famous in his own right for his attempts to deceive Catherine about the squalid conditions of the Russian south. He had fake villages built for Catherine's area tour of 1787. The term "Potemkin village" has come to mean any impressive façade that hides an ugly impoverished interior. Not so the Anichkov Palace, which was originally designed by Mikhail Zemtsov and completed by Rastrelli. Little remains of those early Baroque designs as the building has undergone a number of changes and in the early 19th century, Neoclassical details were added by Carlo Rossi.

After Rossi's alterations the palace became the winter residence of the heir to the throne. However when Alexander III became tsar in 1881, he continued to live there, rather than the customary Winter Palace. After his death, his widow Maria Fyodorovna remained there until the revolution.

Many young princes grew up in this palace and in 1935 the premises were returned to children and it was known as the Leningrad Palace of Pioneers. Today is is still occupied by a children's organization and the Anichkov Lyceum. Exhibitions of their works are regularly held in the palace or grounds, where there is a modern theater and concert hall.

The elegant colonnaded (Quarenghi's Stalls) building overlooking the Fontanka to the east had been another addition to the palace, by Giancomo Quarenghi in 1803-05. Initially this was built as a trading arcade where imperial goods destined for the palaces were stored prior to their delivery. This extension was later converted into government offices and was known as the Cabinet.


The Stroganov Palace at number 17 Nevsky Prospekt

Stroganov Palace in the early 1800sThis pink and white palace replaced an earlier Stroganov palace, which had previously existed on the site and was built for the Stroganov family in 1752-54 by the Royal Architect Francesco-Bartholomeo Rastrelli, who also built the Smolny Cathedral (1748) and the Winter Palace (1754-62). Originally the coloring was orange and white, but for most living memory it has been a two tone green until the present color scheme appeared after recent major restoration work. The first floor held majestic state rooms and that is why the size of the windows are much larger than those on the second floor. Whilst the building has retained most of the original baroque features, there have been some changes. The raising of the street level and the construction of a granite embankment for the Moika in the 1790's reduced the window height considerably and made the palace seem smaller.

In the early 19th century the palace was remodeled for Alexander Stroganov by Andrei Voronikhin (the builder of the imposing Kazan Cathedral). Voronikhin was born of a serf of the Stroganov family and generally believed to have been Alexander's son.

The Stroganoff's fortune was mainly based on the Siberian fur trade. They were a very prominent noble family from which many were important political figures. It was at this palace in St. Petersburg where several generations of Stroganoffs socialized with the most notable artists, writers and composers and they kept an extensive art collection. Sergei was the last known family member to enjoy Beef Stroganoff at the table for which it was created by the family's French chef. He spent most of his life in Italy and France where he died in 1921. The Soviet Government later dispersed the family art collection and minerals across various museums and some vanished without trace. However all that could be recovered was later obtained by the Russian Museum and since 1989 this has gradually been reintroduced on display on the ground floor, whilst the rest of the building is undergoing full restoration. The palace also houses a wax figures exhibition dedicated to the Romanov Dynasty and is open to the paying public every day except Tuesdays.

 

The Rasumovsky Palace

Behind the Stroganov Palace and hidden away from the eyes of most tourists is the former palace of Count Kyrylo Razumovsky (1728-1803). The classic arched front gate for this elegant ensemble is at #48 Moika Embankment and the rear faces towards the Kazan Cathedral.

Construction commenced in 1762, the year Catherine II came to the throne, and many famous architects designed aspects of the complex. These included A.F.Kokorinov, F.B. Rastrelli, J-B Vallin de la Mothe, D. Quadri and P.S. Plavov. All of whom contributed to features which range from baroque to the classic empire style of the front façade. Palace of K. G. Razumovsky

The palace was built for K.G. (Kyrylo, Kyril, Cyril) Razumovsky who was the younger brother of Alexei, the lover of Empress Elizabeth I, and who was known to have had a hand in the separate revolutions which brought both Elizabeth I and Catherine II to power.

From humble peasant beginnings in the Ukraine, K.G. Razumovsky climbed the social ladder by marrying the sister-in-law of the Czarina. In 1746 he was appointed president of the Imperial Science Academy and in 1750 he became Hetman of the Cossack Ukraine. Having played no active part, he resigned from the academy in 1765 to concentrate on a fervent defense of the Cossack rights and this brought about his fall from grace at the Imperial court. He then returned to the Ukraine to live out the rest of his life.

From the end of the 18th century this palace was used to house many honorable institutions that cared for the needy or provided education. Since 1991 is has been the Herzen State Pedagogical University, which now has over 1500 teaching staff.
Prominently sited in front of the main façade is the statue of Konstantin Ushinsky (1824-1870) who was a pioneer of pedagogical ideas and doctrines.  

 

The Vorontsov Palace

On the corner of the intersection with Nevsky Prospekt and Gostinyy Dvor, by the Russian Library at No 37 NP, is Sadovaya Ulitsa, and a little way beyond the library stands the Vorontsov Palace, built in 1749-57 by Bartolomeo Rastrelli for the Vice-chancellor, Prince Mikhail I. Vorontsov who was one of Tsarina Elizabeth's leading ministers.Lithograph by H. Avnatomov, after a drawing by Joseph Charlemagne, 1858

This outstanding town house dates from the time when the district was still not built up, and it stands back from the road in its own grounds like a country mansion. The graceful railings in front of the palace, also Rastrelli's, are one of the earliest examples of Russian artistic wrought-iron work.

In 1798-1800 Quarenghi added the Maltese Chapel for Tsar Paul I, who had become Grand Master of the Knights of Malta. The Maltese warrior monks had been driven from their island home earlier that year by Napoleon Bonaparte and given refuge in Russia. (100 years earlier Peter I had established a close relationships with the Maltese order, and this had continued through a succession of Tsars).

From 1810 the Palace housed the Pazheskiy Korpus (Corps of Pages, Corps des Paiges), the most select military school in the Empire. Alexander I gave the palace to this fine educational institution which graduated officers for the military, civil, or diplomatic services. The departed Knights of Malta had left their chapel and so many Maltese Crosses around the place, the new students believed they were the honorary heirs of the Order and adopted the white Maltese Cross as their insignia. Pestel and a number of other 'Decembrists' studied here, as did Kropotkin,the anarchist philosopher. The building is now one of the Suvorov Military Academies. It is unfortunate that the chapel is inaccessible to the public, because it is regarded as one of the architect's finest buildings.

The Non Palace

Library building seen from the Anichkov Most.This article is for the benefit of all those tourists who lean over Nevsky's Anichkov Bridge, photograph this impressive building and label it "another palace of St. Petersburg". Ironically this is the site of the former Italian Palace (Italianski Dvorets), however that palace has long since disappeared.

Now this address of 36 Fontanka Embankment is The Central Public Library and building number 2 of four belonging to the Russian National Library which has its main building at the intersection of Nevsky Prospekt and Sadovaya ul.

Originally, on the spot of the building you see in the picture stood the Italian Palace ( built on the orders of Peter I for his daughter, Anne (Anna), in 1711). The palace remained empty until 1743, when it became something of a residential complex for the servants of the royal household (on another account it became a slum and vagrants dwelled in it). In 1798 the Italian Palace became an orphanage for orphaned children of military personnel, and in 1800 it was transferred to an educational institution for women, Ekaterininskij or Ekaterininski Institut (or Catherine's Institute). The old palace was demolished piece by piece from 1799 to 1804, and the new building was constructed between 1800 and 1806 by Giacomo Quarenghi using the old foundation. The three story structures on the both ends of the neoclassical structure were built between 1823 and 1825 by Domenico Quadri (who designed 70 Nevsky Prospekt amongst others). After the Communists enslaved Russia in 1917 the Ekaterininskij Institut was dissolved and its alumni purged. A Soviet secondary school occupied in the building until 1941. The building was then used as a military hospital during war years and it sustained some structural damage from artillery shells. The façade was repaired somewhat in the 1950s and presently the building is occupied by the National Library of Russia.

 

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