The city of Saint Petersburg served for a long time as the home of the Tsars of Russia. The city was named after Peter the Great’s patron saint, the apostle Saint Peter, and was the capital of Russia for more than two hundred years. During a visit to France in early eighteenth century, Peter was impressed by the Versailles and had the similar Great Peterhof Palace built. The Winter Palace, Catherine Palace, and Alexander Palace were among the most beautiful and famous of many imperial palaces in Saint Petersburg.
The Catherine Palace is a Rococo palace located in the town of Tsarskoe Selo, 25 km south-east of St. Petersburg, Russia. It was the summer residence of the Russian tsars. The residence originated in 1717, when Catherine I of Russia engaged a German architect to construct a summer palace for her pleasure. Empress Elizabeth, however, found the residence outdated and incommodious and asked her court architect to demolish the old structure and replace it with a much grander edifice in a flamboyant Rococo style.
It was even rumoured that the palace’s roof was constructed entirely of gold. In front of the palace a great formal garden was laid out. Although the palace is popularly associated with Catherine the Great, she actually regarded its “whipped cream” architecture as old-fashioned. When she ascended to the throne, a number of statues in the park were being covered with gold, in accordance with the last wish of Empress Elizabeth, yet the new monarch had all the works suspended upon being informed about the expense.
When the German forces retreated after the siege of Leningrad, they intentionally destroyed the residence, leaving only the hollow shell of the palace behind. Prior to World War II, the Russian archivists managed to document a fair amount of the interior, which proved of great importance in reconstructing the palace. Although the largest part of the reconstruction was completed in time for the Tercentenary of St. Petersburg in 2003, much work is still required to restore the palace to its former glory. In order to attract funds, the palace’s administration has leased the Grand Hall for such high-profile events as Elton John’s concert for an elite audience in 2001 and an exclusive party in 2005 featuring the likes of Bill Clinton, Tina Turner, Whitney Houston, Naomi Campbell, and Sting.