The Winter Palace is one of the most prominent buildings in Russia, located in the heart of St. Petersburg since the beginning of the eighteenth century. Extending from the structure of the royal building to its architectural exterior, the Winter Palace has been represented as a symbol to the citizens of Russia and the rest of the world. Projecting not only its historical importance but the social and political influence the building has to this day as well. 

The Winter Palace falls under the term “represent” about power, as the initial journey of the definition goes back to the mid-eighteenth century when Catherine the Great took over by dethroning her husband, after a bloodless coup. The act of parading her son and entering the palace made it clear on a national and international status that she is in absolute possession of political and civil authority. Thus the palace became a symbolic sign that extends from the tsar to his power, as the building housed the tsars, tsarinas, and their families that ruled Russia for a significant number of years. The symbolism of the palace has been derived from the historical events that the building witnessed from: grand balls, imperial court, sending soldiers off to war, to the Bloody Sunday massacre, and revolutions. In consideration of the representation the building insinuates: it has social and political influences that have been later shown on the façade of the palace before and after reconstruction.  

Winter Palace, St. Petersburg, Russia: The baroque style pastel-green Palace- sheet1
©wikipedia

Social Influence 

Upon what history has written, the Winter Palace has been a source of control and ownership of institutional authority on a national level. The Bloody Sunday Massacre is a prime example of an event that the building witnessed where it shows and enhances the power of the tsar over the citizens, leading to the beginnings of renegade and rebellious acts, hence the incite of revolutions. The people of Russia realized that the tsar held supreme authority, releasing autocratic verdicts and government proceedings from his throne, leaving many with a sense of degradation and lack of basic civil rights. Such recognition gave the citizens a reason to deliberately find their way to the palace, determined to address a petition that could change their lives, considering the despotic supremacy of the tsar. Although, because the tsar was unable to hear the petition at the time, individuals from the higher government reacted misjudging the state of the situation to send troops to calm the citizens, however, the troops were not always capable of keeping the peace, as the crowd increased in front of the palace, they set fire on them killing around 200 citizens that were asking for their basic liberties (Hosking, 336). Whereas, the Winter Palace has different views of being socially influential, as it is the main residence of the Russian monarchy and their power. The palace hosted different events, including grand balls, imperial courts and even sending off soldiers to duty. 

Political Influence   

Russia’s Winter Palace represents institutionalized authority over its citizens, including its Imperial and Soviet nation, since 1917. Such political power was embedded through the Provisional Government, although the authority changed over time. After the 4th reconstruction of the palace, it no longer became the governing residence; however, it became a symbol of the governing body in Russia. The October Revolution is one of the important historical events, which the palace witnessed, with the role of enhancing the political and Provisional Government authority in the country, even after a month of the start of the revolution, the Red Army took down all the government buildings in St. Petersburg where Provisional Government was running, although, the Winter Palace remained as a political icon of being the only building standing with such government. During November of the same year, Vladimir Lenin, the commander and founder of the Bolsheviks party, has seen the importance of the Winter Palace and its representation, impacting his decision of waiting until his party takes over before exposing his revolutionary verdicts. It was important for Lenin to control the symbol of political power and authority in Russia, before declaring the country itself and its government.

The Structure

Winter Palace, St. Petersburg, Russia: The baroque style pastel-green Palace- sheet2
©britannica

The palace is situated in the middle of St. Petersburg being one of the main features dominating the palace square, illustrating a symbol of dominance and authority as the contrast suggests a sense of diminutiveness and subjugation between the size of individuals in the square and the building itself. The palace’s shape is derived from an elongated rectangle with numerous courtyards; it was initially built by the Italian architect, Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli, (1754-1762) in a Baroque style as ordered by Elizabeth Petrovna. However, during the last years of Elizabeth’s reign (1763), Empress Catherine II claimed her position to be the royal mistress of the palace, hence a new construction took place according to Catherine the Great’s orders, she was in awe of the new style of architecture replacing the Baroque style with Neoclassical. Though after the neoclassical look was completed, as one of the initial cities in Russia that have a European style architecture, St. Petersburg illustrated the connections and involvement with Western Europe that “convey the image of great European power”, (Brumfield,5,15). However, many new styles and designs were introduced later, with the faintly damaged exterior, following Rastrelli’s floor plans, painted several times with different colors over the years, settling with the current colors of white and green. Whereas after the Russian Revolution of 1917, having Nicholas II being overthrown, the Winter Palace shifted from being the main residence of the royal family to become a museum with many historical Russian Values for both nationals and tourists, showing what once represented ‘power’ in Russia. 

References

Brumfield, William. “St. Petersburg and the Art of Survival”. Preserving Petersburg: History, Memory, Nostalgia. Ed. Helena Goscilo and Stephen Norris. Bloomington: Indiana UP. 5,15.

Hosking, Geoffrey A. Russia, and the Russians: A History. Cambridge: Belknap of Harvard UP, 2001. 336.   

Author

An Architecture BA graduate that aims to leave her mark by offering her skill-set and knowledge of architecture to the rest of the world, BaheyaSarhan is strongly passionate about sustainable designs and model making. She is currently interning at an architectural practice based in Bahrain.

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