The Catherine Palace is a large palace situated in St Petersburg, Russia, that served as a summer residence for the Russian emperor, the Tsar, until the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. Today the palace has become a tourist attraction.

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The original building was constructed on the site in 1717, when the Tsarina Catherine I ordered a summer palace from architect Johann Friedrich Braunstein. Catherine I’s daughter Empress Elizabeth ordered this palace to be torn down in 1752 and replaced with an entirely new residence in the rococo style. This building, the one that still stands today, was completed in 1756.

When Catherine the Great, who resided in the palace, died in 1796, the building fell into disuse. Catherine’s successors preferred to live in the Alexander Palace. They saw it as an impressive monument to Catherine the Great, and generally refrained from altering it in any way.

However, after a large fire in 1820, the Tsar Alexander I ordered a refurbishment which updated the interior style.

During World War II, German forces invaded Russia, and clashed with Red Army forces at the battle of Leningrad (what St Petersburg was then called). The German army failed to overcome the Soviets, but managed to destroy the Catherine Palace during their retreat. The interior was completely gutted, with only the bare structure remaining.

Extensive restoration has continued up until the present day, aided by photos that were taken by the Soviets.

Architecture of the Palace

The palace is 325 metres long. The facade and the statues on the roof required over 100 kg of gold. Empress Elizabeth was in the process of having more statues around the grounds coated with gold when she died; Catherine the Great put a stop to the gilding when she leadned how expensive it had become.

A large garden occupies the space in front of the residence. The centre-piece of the garden is a large blue and white pavilion with a gilded Greek style statue on the roof.

Catherine the Great was a fan of neoclassical art, and hired a Scottish architect, Charles Cameron, to alter the interior of the palace. He added the “agate rooms” which served as her personal quarters, as well as converting one section into a neo-Palladian style which was fashionable at the time. The agate rooms are noted for the extensive use of jasper in their decoration.

The interior is most famous for the sequence of rooms known as the Golden Enfilade. These include the Great Hall (or “Light Gallery”), the portrait hall and several grand dining rooms. One of the dining rooms has walls covered in mirrored false windows to make it seem more spacious.