The main reason that Matt and I decided to visit Scandinavia is because I have had an obsession with Saint Petersburg for about a year now. When we planned our trip, I knew that we had to see the famous Amber Room- no questions asked. So, when we arrived to Saint Petersburg, we immediately drove to Pushkin to see the summer palace, and let me tell you, you have got to add this to your bucket list.
The city of Pushkin is about an hour outside of Saint Petersburg, and, according to our guide, serves as the site for most conferences that bring business travelers to Saint Petersburg. For this reason, its a very clean and suburban community, with many modern looking apartments and restaurants in the area. When you initially drive through the city, you would never guess that an enormous palace housing hundreds of millions of dollars of art, amber, and gold would live right around the corner. We legitimately walked one block between an apartment complex and the palace.
The palace was initially built by Peter the Great’s wife, Catherine I, and was later completed by their daughter, Elizabeth, who spent enormous amounts of money giving it the ostentatious design that you see above. Rastrelli was hired to reconstruct the palace with refurbishments that included decorating the exterior with over 100kg of gold.
After going through security and being forced to put our coats and bags in lockers (which easily took 45 minutes), we were asked to wear shoe covers and were finally able to enter the palace. It was well worth the wait. After walking up the most extravagant staircase I’ve ever seen in my life, we entered the famous long and narrow gold foil rooms of the Great Hall.
Because the palace was built with relatively lower ceilings, the artist painted pillars on the ceiling, utilizing forced perspective to make the ceilings appear taller. Appropriately, the fresco is titled The Triumph of Russia, and will easily leave you at a loss for words.
The porcelain towers below are actually stoves that served as a heat source during the winter.
The palace was largely destroyed in the Great Fire of 1820. Per Alexander I’s orders, the palace was restored, but small details were left to demonstrate the damage that occurred in the fire, such as the distortion of the angels’ faces pictured below.
The dining room
The portrait of Empress Elizabeth in the Portrait Room
Finally, we approached the Amber Room, where we were warned that photography was strictly prohibited. I knew that I would only be able to get away with taking one shot from my hip (I was not able to aim, or adjust any of the settings on my camera). By the grace of God, the photograph actually looks incredible.
I cannot describe to you how magnificently beautiful the Amber Room was. My fascination with the Amber Room actually originated from its unique history, but in person, you really start to understand why its referred to as the 8th wonder of the world. The gold backed amber panels were looted by the Nazis, along with countless pieces of art, when they invaded the Soviet Union. Within 36 hours, the Nazis had disassembled the room, and carried it off in 27 crates to later be reassembled in Königsberg, Germany. As the allies started to close in on the Nazis, the room was disassembled and moved. Shortly after, bombing raids of Germany destroyed the castle that formerly housed the Amber Room, creating a multitude of conspiracy theories about the amber panels’ whereabouts today. In 1979, Russia voted to recreate the Amber Room, and invested 25 years and $11 Million to create the replica that you see pictured above.
Obviously, you must follow the Amber Room with the next ostentatious theme possible, a room lined floor to ceiling with paintings.
The Green Dining Room (originally destroyed in the Great Fire, later restored)
After we exited the palace, we walked through the courtyard to see the Cameron Gallery, the bath house, and what was originally referred to as “the hermitage pavillion,” or ‘secluded palace,’ for when the tsar felt the need to escape from the massive palace on the other side of the property.
The Hermitage Pavillion
Overall, we were absolutely blown away by all that the summer palace had to offer, and felt that we learned a great deal from our visit. If you plan on visiting, I encourage you to pre-arrange your tour, as visiting Catherine’s Palace requires a guided tour will be in Russian unless pre-arranged.
Thanks for reading,