Home to a royal ensemble of parks and palaces, Pushkin is a municipal town south of the St.Petersburg city-centre in Russia. Having been officially founded in 1710, the town attracts attention for its 18th century UNESCO protected museum complex. Recently renamed Pushkin in 1937 after Alexander Pushkin, jewel of Russian literature, the original name ‘Tsarskoye Selo’ means ‘Tsar’s village’ reflecting the historical identity and royal heritage of the city.
Architecture is not just about the buildings but the life and culture it sustains. Encapsulated within the Tsarskoye Selo is not just a monumental collection of royal buildings but an elegant era of Russian history. With the Russian royals exhibiting a delightful taste for art and architecture, the Pushkin collection is a mosaic of global styles conceived in great minds. Having survived disastrous circumstances, most of these monuments have been restored and so visiting Pushkin has something for everyone from classical enthusiasts to restoration architects, from sculpted interiors to scarred ruins. Below are some highlights that give an overview of what awaits architecture enthusiasts at Pushkin.
1. Catherine Palace
Initiated in 1717 by Empress Catherine I and designed by the German architect, Johann-Friedrich, this royal summer residence is a living memorabilia of the Russian monarchy. Having undergone Elisabeth 1’s Rococo style makeover under Bartolomeo Rastrelli and Catherine II’s Neo-Palladian refurbishment under the Scottish architect, Charles Cameron, the palace exhibits the glory and majesty of the Tsar dynasty. Being refurbished after 1880’s Great Fire and recovering from the World War 11 destruction, the structure has proved its resilience and earned its place as the historic icon of Pushkin!
2. Amber Room
Designed by Andreas Schluter, a German sculptor and Gottfried Turau, a Danish Amber craftsman, this ‘room’ was once considered the eighth wonder of the world. A political alliance moved this royal display at Prussia’s Berlin City Palace to Russia where it underwent a decade-long artistic reformation before being re-captured to Prussia during WW11. Subsequently disappearing in the Soviet shelling of its final known home – the Konigsberg Castle in East Prussia, this mysterious marvel was revived by historical re-construction over 24 years by 40 experts!
3. Alexander Palace
Commissioned by Catherine II and serving many Romanov generations, this palace with dedicated rooms for his children became the favourite and permanent residence of Nicholas 11 – the last Russian Emperor who was exiled during Soviet reign. Famously known as ‘The Home of the Last Tsar’, it became a state forum for political associations, then a military base during WW11 and finally an art depot after the war. Primarily designed by D.Quarenghi to classical standards and bearing the mark of specialist expertise in carpentry and decorative painting, it is currently undergoing restoration expecting a mid-2020 opening.
4. Catherine Park
Situated to the south of the Catherine Palace, the park is the open space extension of grandeur in landscape form. Comprising of two distinct portions, the park flows from the built spaces of the palace through the semi-open pavilions and grottos to the airy open grounds. The formal gardens were fashioned after the Dutch landscaping style with three parterres and reflecting pools while the other part is designed after the English style. Popular in the summer season, the park also has attractive seasonal characteristics.
5. Alexander Park
In contrast to the Catherine Park, this is a natural park overgrown with pine trees and conifers made mysterious further by the link to the beloved last Tsar. Though it commences as a canal bordered square designed with complex geometric patterns, nature reigns supreme with water bodies crisscrossing the wild forest-like landscape offering a refreshing drink at Pushkin’s famous natural spring. Loaded with history, in a unique manner, the 200 hectare park exudes the essence of a royal home with the personal touch of the surviving royal heritage.
6. Hermitage Pavilion
This azure-and-white Russian Baroque styled pavilion in Catherine Park features a dumbwaiter mechanism which caused the floors to open, bringing up five neatly laid dining tables. Originally conceptualised by Mikhail Zemtsov and embellished by Bartolomeu Rastrelli, it served as a social and official entertainment venue from the Romanov times to the 19th century. Being part of the Catherine Palace and Park complex, it is attractive for its unique architectural technology and beautifully aged interiors.
7. Grotto Pavilion
With a prime location on the shores of the Great Pond in Catherine Park, the Pavilion is currently employed as an exhibition space. Carrying forward the true spirit of the place, the pavilion attracts family crowds to experience the unique historical heredity while providing a water play opportunity in the summer months. Reflecting the Russian Baroque style, this royal summer house has been restored in a stunning blue that works together with its green surroundings creating a sense of peace and tranquillity.
8. Turkish Bath Pavilion
One of the buildings bordering the Great Pond in Catherine’s Park, the bath held a position in the royal families’ daily routine. Replicating Turkish architectural symbolisms of the gilded dome, mosaic art and white marble detailing, the pavilion commemorates the Russian victory in the 1928-29 Russo-Turkish War.
9. Creaking Pagoda
Designed by Georg von Veldten in the late 1700’s, this landscape feature is named after the exclusive sound heard when the wind gets in contact with a metal banner on top of the pavilion. With Chinese motifs and dragon depictions, the monument stands testimony to the monarchical taste for Chinoiserie architecture. Lying between the two spectacular ponds, the pavilion proves to be a warm welcoming entre to the Chinese Village towards the north.
10. Granite Terrace
Having evolved from a fun coasting hill to a majestic 32-column gallery to the current Granite Terrace, the astounding array of life size statuesque figures frozen in time depict life in the eighteenth century. Instilled by architect Luigi Rusca in the Catherine Park, the terrace intersperses with flowering landscaped areas providing picturesque vistas even beyond the Great Pond. While the reconstruction is relatively modern, it blends in well within the royal heritage with its bold lines further enhancing the splendid natural views of the park.
11. Chesme Column
A war memorial to felicitate the naval forces of Russia, this composite structure by Italian architect Rinaldi graces the famous Catherine Park. Emulating the classical Greek architectural style, the Doric column made of pink and white marble stands on a grey marble pedestal resting on a granite stylobate. While the bronze capital of an eagle stamping over a crescent symbolizes Russia’s victory over Turkey, bas-relief work on the pedestal picturizes the naval victories. Further emphasis on the naval perspective is placed by the literal depiction of ship bows sticking out of the column.
12. Canal Bridges
Over the various rivulets and canals in the two grand parks, are beautifully designed bridges each with unique characteristics. The Marble Bridge is a composition of granite and Ural marble reflecting the Palladian style with its granite ionic colonnade. The Krestovy Bridge is an octagonal pavilion raised gracefully above the water by flights of granite stairs. The popular Dragon bridge emphasises the passion for Chinese architecture with its winged dragon sculptures on granite pedestals. More bridges await to surprise and welcome visitors.
13. Imperial Pavilion
A classic example of ruins speaking volumes, this exclusive royal station for the Imperial family and foreign ambassadors on official visits was built by Nicholas 11 as a small wooden structure adjoining a covered platform. Over the years, having undergone an extension, a fire, a world war and pipeline plans for restoration, the station currently stands in ruins. The Russian Revival structure bleeds history through the remaining stone carvings on the facade, vault murals in front porch and few Moscovite imitation frescoes in the interiors with WWII scars of bullet and shrapnel holes.
14. Cameron Gallery
Designed and named after Catherine the Great’s favourite designer, this gallery is a classically designed colonnade intentionally designed for a meaningful stroll with strategic views across the park. Mounted on a visually heavy base, the airy terrace showcases 44 ionic columns with bronze antique busts. Presently housing temporary exhibitions, the building features a majestic entrance staircase which is itself a work of art.
15. Russia in the Great War Museum
A less known exhibit in Pushkin’s royal artillery is this Martial Chamber turned War Museum. Commemorating the World War 1 scenario from the rare Russian perspective, this unique museum goes beyond the appreciative expectations of armoury, medallions and war-time transport to incorporating the social context of the time. With a range of artistic and multimedia tools, the Russian narrative of the significant global event is effectively communicated.