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Archive for June, 2011


Within a year of founding St Petersburg, Peter – desirous of protecting his new Baltic toehold – started work on the fortress of Kronshtadt on Kotlin Island, 29km out in the Gulf of Finland. Kronshtadt (population 45,100) has been a pivotal Soviet and Russian naval base ever since and was closed to foreigners until 1996.
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One completely refreshing day trip from St Petersburg takes you to Russia s most Scandinavian town, little Vyborg (population 81,000) on the Finnish border. This ancient place has a melancholic, rather forgotten feel to it (the atmosphere of most Russian provincial towns in fact), but is still charming with its quietly crumbling old town, winding cobblestone streets and magnificent fortress. Read the rest of this entry »


Anyone interested in Peter the Great’s best friend and oft-rumoured lover, Prince Menshikov, will be fascinated by this testament to Menshikov’s growing vanity and general hubris. While Peter was building Monplaisir at Peterhof, Menshikov began his own palace at Oranienbaum (Orange Tree), 12km further down the coast, a grand enterprise that eventually bankrupted him. Peter was unfazed by the fact that his subordinate’s palace in St Petersburg (the Menshikov Palace) was grander than his own, and likewise Menshikov outdid his master in creating this fabulous place. While not particularly opulent compared to the palaces that Elizabeth and Catherine the Great favoured, by Petrine standards Oranienbaum was off the scale. Read the rest of this entry »


Gatchina palace

The palace estate at Gatchina, 45km southwest of St Petersburg, was originally home to Peter i the Great’s sister Natalya. It changed hands several times after her death until Catherine bought it and gave it to her lover Grigory Orlov for helping her get rid of her husband Peter III. Read the rest of this entry »

Tsarskoe Selo Parks

Pavlovsk Great Palace & Park

Although designed by Charles Cameron between 1781 and 1786, on Catherine the Great s orders for her son, the future Paul I, the interiors of Pavlovsk’s Great Palace were largely orchestrated by Paul’s second wife Maria Fyodorovna. A royal residence until 1917, the original palace was burnt down two weeks after liberation in WWII by a careless Soviet soldier’s cigarette which set off German mines (the Soviets blamed the Germans). Read the rest of this entry »

Catherine Palace

Catherine Palace
As at the Winter Palace, Catherine the Great had many of Rastrelli s interiors remodelled in classical style. Most of the exterior and 20-odd rooms of the palace have been beautifully restored – compare them to the photographs showing the devastation by the Germans. Read the rest of this entry »

Tsarskoe Selo


Few places in Russia are more strongly associated with the country’s history and culture than the palaces at Tsarskoe Selo and Pavlovsk. Read the rest of this entry »

Historical Museum of Wax Figures

Further west is yet another palace, Marly, inspired by a French hunting lodge. To the east of the Grand Palace, an old Orangery houses the Historical Museum of Wax Figures, containing 49 ho-hum figures of big-wigged Russians from the 18th and 19th centuries. Better is the Triton fountain outside, with its 8m jet of water. Read the rest of this entry »

Petergof, St Petersburg


This most visually stunning of the tsarist palaces around St Petersburg was first built by Peter the Great, although it was constantly improved upon over the years by his successors to create the astounding ensemble seen today. Comparisons to Versailles abound and it’s easy to see why – the sheer scale of the main palace and its incredible garden were heavily influenced by Louis XIV’s own summer residence, although the centrepiece, the Grand Cascade, is all Peter’s own work. While Petrodvorets is the most popular day trip from St Petersburg for visitors, it’s still one undiminished by mass tourism and the fact that it’s accessible by hydrofoil from St Petersburg makes it a hugely enjoyable day trip. Read the rest of this entry »

Excursions of St Petersburg

Excursions of St Petersburg

St Petersburg is essential to gain any perspective on Russia: the city has the afcctations of a national capital, even though it has not been one for the best part of a century, and is starkly removed from the provincial reality of the rest of the country. Read the rest of this entry »