Pavlovsk Palace and Park Ensemble is listed among Top 10 Attractions to Visit in Russia
A superb palace and park ensemble dating from the late 18th century, Pavlovsk began as the summer residence of the Russian Tsar Paul I and his family. Located near Tsarskoye Selo and the Catherine Palace, the home of Paul’s mother Catherine II the Great (but built for the earlier Catherine I, wife of Tsar Peter the Great), the land on which the palace was built had been given by the Tsarevna in celebration of Paul having sired a boy, the future Tsar Alexander I. Originally the site of a rustic wooden lodge called Krik, the land contained beautiful overlooks of the Slavyanka River, a mere four kilometers from his mother.
The palace was the scene of some of the opening rounds of what would later be called “the Battle of the Palaces,” a Romanov family feud begun between Paul and Catherine that would later extend a generation down to Alexander. The original designer of the Pavlovsk palace was Catherine’s favorite architect, Charles Cameron, a Scotsman with a flare for neo-classicist buildings. He started to build in 1781 something like the Villa Trissino, a 16th century structure designed by Andrea Palladio (an architect whose Villa la Rotonda inspired St. Isaac’s Cathedral), but after the future Tsar returned from his travels in Europe (he and his wife Maria had toured incognito as the “Count and Countess of the North”), he decided that he wanted a wholly different palace, something that differentiated his home from that of his mother’s palaces. Naturally, Cameron felt somewhat insulted and left, shortly after the completion of Pavlovsk’s Greek Hall.
Italian Hall in the Palace of Pavlovsk was designed by Italian architect Vincenzio Brenna
Paul immediately promoted his interior decorator, Vincenzo Brenna, to lead architect of the palace. The son of Catherine the Great spared no expenses in the building’s construction, particularly after his mother passed away in 1796. As the architect of not only Pavlovsk, but also Gatchina, the third St. Isaac’s cathedral (later replaced by the current golden-domed cathedral), and St. Michael’s Castle, Brenna became well-known for inflating estimates and then pocketing the difference between his estimated and actual costs. As such, when Tsar Paul was assassinated in his newly completed St. Michael’s Castle (a creation that likewise can be attributed to the “Battle of the Palaces” - its materials came from the Pella, a grand palace originally given by Catherine to her grandson, Alexander, but which was destroyed on orders from Paul shortly after he succeeded her), the architect quietly fled Russia for a quiet existence in Saxony.
Another designer who quietly left Russia was neapolitan designer Carlo Rossi, who spent a couple years studying in Italy before determining it was safe again to return to Russia. His mark on the palace rests within its library (which houses more than 20,000 volumes), the Lavender Room, and the Corner Salon (the latter of which served as a reception hall for the first U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Quincy Adams).
A couple years into the reign of Alexander I, however, a faulty chimney caused the Pavlovsk palace to catch fire, creating the need for extensive reconstruction. As a result, Andrey Voronikhin, a former serf who studied to become an influential classicist architect, became the chief designer of its restoration. Working under him was Giacomo Quarenghi, later described as “the last of the great architects of Italy” who worked in Russia. The interior design work was still quite early in Quarenghi’s career, and the quality of his work led to further great commissions, such as the Alexander Palace, the Hermitage Theater, the English Palace at Peterhof, and additions to the Yusupov Palace.
Naturally, when the Germans came in World War II, they left the structure a burning wreck. However, the antiquities that were hidden in its basements were never found, despite the building serving as barracks for several units laying siege upon Leningrad. As with a number of the St. Petersburg area palaces that were destroyed by the Nazis, the restoration of Pavlovsk was a labor of national pride.
The landscape park of Pavlovsk, one of the largest in Europe, covers an area of 600 hectares, the extent of the original grant given by Catherine the Great, and is designed in a concept of a classic English landscape garden, an idealized landscape filled with picturesque pieces of classical architecture. It features elements of different European parks of the 18th century Paul I and his wife had seen when traveling incognito through Europe. Like the English landscape garden, it took much its inspiration from the romanticized landscape paintings of Hubert Robert, and twelve of his works are now displayed in the gallery of Pavlovsk.