St. Petersburg: Catherine's Palace
Catherine’s Palace sits just outside St. Petersburg. This architectural marvel of 18th century Imperial Russia stands as one of the most glorious tourist attractions in the area, yet another palace of fairytale proportions. Visiting Catherine’s Palace will put you in a grandeur mindset, escorting you back into the city with an air of elegance and finery. Like the Winter Palace, the Catherine’s Palace today was not the original building. Deemed too drab for the times, the original palace was demolished and a new Rococo style palace was constructed by order of Empress Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great and Catherine I. Under Elizabeth’s direction the palace became renowned for its lavish decorations, namely on its exterior. More than 100 kilograms of gold were used to adorn the outer walls and twisting columns while statues stood guard over the supposedly pure-gold roof.
Though the palace is associated with the ruler who proceeded Empress Elizabeth, Catherine the Great, it was Catherine who toned down the extravagance of the area. Some of the exterior gold accents were replaced with paint, while the expense of gold statues was rechanneled into more practical uses. By the time of Catherine the Great’s death, the palace had fallen into disuse in favor of Alexander Palace and Pavlovsk Palace.
During World War II German troops ransacked the interior of Catherine’s Palace, thereby requiring a reconstruction that is still underway. One of the most famous rooms in the palace gained its worldwide fame through this unfortunate destruction. The Amber Room, a room made entirely of gold leaf, amber panels, and gilded mirrors, was looted by German soldiers. The original panels were lost in the folds of time, but 1979 efforts to reconstruct this glorious room proved successful when, in 2003, the reconstruction was completed and opened to the public.
A palace of mirrors and light, balls and parties, Catherine’s Palace truly brings to mind the phrase “if walls could talk.” It has seen almost wasteful extravagance, rebirth, new tastes and décor, balls of glittering jewels and all things bright. It witnessed the terror of war and revolution, and survived countless rulers and world events. Not only are its sky-blue walls and whipped-cream accents reminiscent of a time of grandness, but its sheer presence today stands as an example of how far we are willing to go to preserve beauty.