St. Michael’s Castle, also called the Mikhailovsky Castle or the Engineers’ Castle, is a former imperial residence in the historic centre of Saint Petersburg, Russia. St. Michael’s Castle was built as a residence for Emperor Paul I by architects Vincenzo Brenna and Vasili Bazhenov in 1797-1801. The castle looks different from each side, as the architects used motifs of various architectural styles such as French Classicism, Italian Renaissance and Gothic.
Afraid of intrigues and assassination plots, Emperor Paul I disliked the Winter Palace where he never felt safe. Due to his personal fascination with medieval knights and his constant fear of assassination, the new royal residence was built like a castle around a small octagonal courtyard. The building with rounded corners was surrounded by the waters of rivers and canals, transforming the castle area into an artificial island which could only be reached by drawbridges.
Ironically, Paul I was assassinated only 40 nights after he moved into his newly built castle. He was murdered on 12 March 1801, in his own bedroom, by a group of dismissed officers headed by General Bennigsen. The conspirators forced him to a table, and tried to compel him to sign his abdication. Paul offered some resistance, and one of the assassins struck him with a sword, and he was then strangled and trampled to death. He was succeeded by his son, Emperor Alexander I, who was actually in the palace at the time and was informed of his accession by General Nicholas Zubov, one of the assassins.
After Paul’s death, the imperial family returned to the Winter Palace; St. Michael’s Castle was abandoned. In the early 1990s, St. Michael’s Castle became a branch of the Russian Museum and now houses its Portrait Gallery, featuring official portraits of the Russian Emperors and Empresses and various dignitaries and celebrities from the late 17th to the early 20th century.