St. Petersburg: Catherine's Palace
Catherine Palace is a monument to the wealth of the Romanovs. Meaning “High Ground” or “Island” in Finnish, Saari became a gift to Peter’s wife, Catherine, in 1708. A decade later a new Summer Palace “for Catherine’s pleasure” was constructed at Saari, renamed Tsarskoye Selo, or Tsar’s Village. This first structure served Catherine and her niece Anna during their reigns in the first half of the 18th century, but Anna’s cousin, rival, and successor Elizabeth had Bartolomeo Rastrelli replace it. The replacement featured extravagant Rococo exteriors gilded with over 100 kilograms of gold, disproportionate shapes, and long, heavy architectural elements. Elizabeth earned the reputation as the most spendthrift monarch ever, throwing an enormous 1.6 million rubles at her Catherine Palace, rebuilding it six times during its construction.
Elizabeth, though, did retain the Amber Room. Designed by Hamburg architect Andreas Schlüter and crafted by Danish master Gottfried Wolfram for Berlin’s Charlottenburg Palace, the panels were transported to the Catherine Palace as a gift to seal a Russian-Prussian alliance against Sweden. They remained there until World War II, when the Nazis stole them. What happened to this treasure remains a mystery, but a carefully reconstructed Amber Room was opened for the 300-year anniversary festivities for St. Petersburg in 2003, after a quarter century’s work and 3.5 million USD investment.