Our mini bus was already waiting for us with our guide Olga and driver Alexander in it. Along with me, there were six other individuals who were a part of the group.
Our guide, Olga was extremely knowledgeable about the history of Saint Petersburg and she started our trip by welcoming us on the bus. I was extremely excited to rediscover the city I love so much and know more about its past. Being a history student it is even more pleasurable. She told us about the National library of saint Petersburg, the famous bridges and the theatres of the city. The passengers keenly looked outside the windows witnessing the marvellous buildings while listening to the information provided by our guide. She told us about the different architectural styles during the imperial and soviet period in various parts of the city and how several buildings where constructed for a certain purpose but was never fulfilled. Our bus moved through many important streets like the Moscovsky prospect and Nevesky prospect while proceeding towards Tsarskoye selo. It is interesting to note that the place got the name of Pushkin which is more common because the famous Russian poet Pushkin received his education there. The town is thus known by the name of Pushkin in his memory. It also must be mentioned that trip was conducted in two languages to cater the needs of the tourist i.e. in Russian and English. This was single handedly done by Olga was a true master of her profession as a guide. It is great to see that Eclectika has such wonderful and capable staff working with them.
We reached Pushkin around 3pm and was amazed to see the golden domes of the Catherine Palace shining brightly. Just outside the palace there is a small market which sells souvenirs at cheap prices for the tourists. On the left-hand side, large shops consisting of cafes, amber products, souvenirs attracted our attention. We left our cloaks in the cloakroom and proceeded to enter the palace. The interiors reflected many artistic styles and intricate architectural works. The palace itself is 300years old. However, this beautiful historical monument was utterly destroyed during the Second world war. Many of the treasures inside where either lost and sold off somewhere in Europe. Out of 58 halls, conservationist have been able to restore 32 halls to their former glory. But once you step inside you will not be able to distinguish the fine work of restoration.
Our guide Olga started narrating the history of the palace to us in great detail. In 1717, while St Petersburg was being created on the banks of the Neva, the architect Johann Friedrich Braunstein started supervising the construction of the first masonry royal residence at Tsarskoye Selo that has gone down in history as the stone chambers of Catherine I. During the reign of Empress Elizabeth (the daughter of Peter the Great and Catherine I) in late 1742 or early 1743 it was decided to enlarge the building. From late 1748 until 1756 the construction of the Tsarskoye Selo residence was directed by Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli (1700–1771), the chief architect of the imperial court. On 10 May 1752 Empress Elizabeth signed a decree on the complete reconstruction of the old building and on 30 July 1756 Rastrelli was already presenting his new creation to his crowned mistress and foreign ambassadors.
The next stage in the decoration of the state rooms and living quarters came in the 1770s. The new mistress of the residence, Empress Catherine II, was fascinated with the art of the Ancient World and wanted to have her apartments finished in keeping with current tastes. She entrusted the task to the Scottish architect Charles Cameron (1743–1812), an expert on ancient architecture. The interiors that he created in the Zubov Wing and the North Part of the Palace are marked by refined beauty, austere decoration and especially exquisite finishing. In 1817, on the orders of Emperor Alexander I, the architect Vasily Stasov (1769–1848) created the State Study and a few adjoining rooms that are finished in a commons style – all these rooms were devoted to extolling the brilliant victories that the Russian army won against Napoleon in 1812 and afterwards. Thus, the entire palace took several years to finish.
The huge halls are decorated with furniture, lavish portraits, royal utensils, dining spaces, ball room and private hall. We also saw the exhibition of the royal dresses which were a replica of the garments worn by the tsars and tsarinas during the imperial period. The huge ball room shining with the golden reflection brings historical essence to the palace. A large quantity of Chinese vases and cutlery decorate the various rooms. But nothing comes close to the glamour and aura of the mystifying amber room. The amber room is the crown jewel of the palace and it was entirely destroyed during the war. The panels were lost and never recovered. Billions of dollars were spent to restore the amber room to its former glory and it is a treat for tourist around the world. As a student, I realised that the palace and museum plays a critical role in showcasing the glorious past of Russia.
Soon our tour within the museum complex ended. I was extremely fortunate to have been a part of this wonderful informative excursion. After a 20-minute break to replenish our energy with some food and photography, we sat in our bus and began our journey back to st Petersburg. Pushkin was left far behind and Nevesky prospect approached again but the memories of the day will remain with me for a long time.