Pavlovsk Palace: Not so Much a Palace as a “Home, Sweet Home” of Russian Emperors

The Greek Hall of the Pavlovsk Palace, Pavlovsk, Russia.

The Greek Hall of the Pavlovsk Palace, Pavlovsk, Russia.

On September 3, 1941, the first Nazi tank was entering Pavlovsk from the west. The last Soviet tank was leaving the city, desperately shooting back with covering fire for three trucks. There were a driver and a woman in a lilac beret in the last truck. She was carrying a treasure that an uninformed person could have mistaken for a pile of garbage, just junk. But she knew better. She was sure the Pavlovsk Palace would be demolished by Nazis. She was also sure she would come back with Russian tanks, retake the former residence of Russian emperors and empress, and restore it down to the smallest detail. And this “garbage” would help her to do it.

The Pavlovsk Palace, Pavlovsk, Russia.

The Pavlovsk Palace, Pavlovsk, Russia.

The Russian empress, Catherine the Great, was so happy about the birth of her first grandson, Alexander (the future Emperor Alexander I of Russia), in December, 1777, that she presented to her son Pavel and his charming wife, Maria (her maiden name was Sophie Dorothea Augusta von Wurttemberg), one thousand acres of “woodlands, ploughed fields, and two villages with peasants” four miles from her summer residence, Tsarskoe Selo (in English – tsar’s village). It was the founding date of the village of Pavlovskoye, later the city of Pavlovsk. At first, on the high bank of the Slavyanka River, two houses were built: Paullust (from German – the joy of Pavel) for Pavel Petrovich and Marienthal (from German – the valley of Mary) for Maria Feodorovna. In May, 1780, Charles Cameron, a Scottish architect invited by Catherine the Great to build a new palace on the site of Paullust, started his work.

In September, 1781, Pavel and Maria traveled to western Europe under the names of the Count and Countess Severny (“severny” means “from the north” in Russian). Of course everyone knew who those young people were. Pavel and Maria had never been abroad and intended to visit Austria, Italy, France, Belgium, Holland, and Germany. They were young. They were in love. They had money. (Well, their mother had money.) Their home, sweet home was being built in Pavlovsk, Russia. What could be better? And they were happy.

They were greedily absorbing all the achievements of European civilization in art, culture, music, and production methods. In every city, they visited local historical sites, art galleries, museums, and, of course, antique shops. It’s hard to imagine how many merchants, artists, and artisans they made happy with their purchases. Their “shopping” went down in history. For example, visiting a pottery manufacture in Sèvres, Hauts-de-Seine, France, they bought porcelain goods for the unbelievable sum of 300,000 livres (about 100 kg of gold, if I am not mistaken). Everywhere, they were buying statues, paintings, tapestries, furniture, bronzes, fabrics, and glass, and numerous caravans were transporting all this to Pavlovsk, Russia, giving architects and decorators new ideas for the interior of the palace.

The Carpet Study. The Pavlovsk Palace, Pavlovsk, Russia.

The Carpet Study.

The Hall of War. The Pavlovsk Palace, Pavlovsk, Russia.

The Hall of War.

The Library of Maria Feodorovna. The Pavlovsk Palace, Pavlovsk, Russia.

The Library of Maria Feodorovna.

As the princess Maria Feodorovna wrote later, during that 14-month trip, they thought only about their cozy family nest in Pavlovsk. Eventually, the Pavlovsk Palace indeed turned out to be very cozy. During her life, Maria Feodorovna gave birth to ten children and became a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, great-great-grandmother, or great-great-great-grandmother of all the subsequent emperors of Russia. Every one of them was raised in Pavlovsk.

In 1803, after a fire in the Pavlovsk Palace, an architect, Andrew Voronihin, rebuilt the structure; however, the most awful thing awaited the Pavlovsk estate in 1941.

The Pavlovsk Palace, Pavlovsk, Russia.

The Pavlovsk Palace today.

The Pavlovsk Palace after the Nazis in 1944. Pavlovsk, Russia.

The Pavlovsk Palace after the Nazis in 1944.

On September 3, 1941, the first Nazi tank was entering Pavlovsk from the west. The last Soviet tank was leaving the city, desperately shooting back with covering fire for three trucks. The red-haired 28-year-old woman in one truck was Anna Zelenova, a director of the museum of the Pavlovsk Palace. Two weeks earlier, she and her colleagues secretly started to evacuate and hide the most valued museum items which could be safely buried in the ground—statues, chandeliers, porcelain, and glass—in the park and forest. But she had not the opportunity to evacuate all the rest, therefore she did a great thing.

She took one item from everything that was in the palace: one chair from every set; one sofa; one item from every dinner, tea, and coffee service—one spoon, one fork, one knife; one piece from every wallpaper, silk and parquet from every hall and room; one example of stucco decoration from every ceiling; a piece of marble from every staircase. Nothing was forgotten. Everything was photographed, described, packaged, and transported to St. Isaac’s Cathedral in Leningrad (St. Petersburg today).

In two and a half years of occupation, the Nazis destroyed the park and palace. They chopped down all the 200-year-old trees in the park. It had been 600 hectares of one of the best landscaped parks in Europe. About 70,000 trees were destroyed. The Aryans burned all wooden furniture, floors, roofs, everything that could be used as fuel during the cold Russian winters. About 40% of the exhibits were stolen. In February 1944, before leaving, Nazis lit the palace on fire, and it burned for three days. The whole property of the estate was laid with landmines.

The Italian Hall. The Pavlovsk Palace, Pavlovsk, Russia.

The Italian Hall.

The Italian Hall after the Nazis in 1944. Pavlovsk, Russia.

The Italian Hall after the Nazis in 1944.

The Knights Room today. The Pavlovsk Palace, Pavlovsk, Russia.

The Knights Room.

The Knights Room after the Nazis in 1944. Pavlovsk, Russia.

The Knights Room after the Nazis in 1944.

The Rossi Pavilion - Monument to Empress Maria Feodorovna. The Pavlovsk Palace, Pavlovsk, Russia.

The Rossi Pavilion – Monument to Empress Maria Feodorovna.

The Monument to Empress Maria Feodorovna was not damaged by the Nazis.

The Monument to Empress Maria Feodorovna was not damaged by the Nazis.
Was this because she was born in Germany as Duchess Sophie Dorothea of Wurttemberg?

When Pavlovsk was freed by the Soviet Army, the government of the Leningrad region decided not to restore the palace. They thought it was not possible, but Anna Zelenova thought differently. She went to Moscow (people say she even spoke with Stalin) and obtained permission to start restoration work on the Pavlovsk estate. The first hall was restored and opened for visitors in 1957. All in all, the restoration took 33 years. Halls opened gradually, one by one, and from 1977 on, the museum already worked at full capacity.

Restorers are digging hidden from the Nazis statues out.. The restoration of the Pavlovsk Palace after WWII, Russia.

Restorers are digging hidden from the Nazis statues out.

Restorers are digging hidden from the Nazis statues out. The restoration of the Pavlovsk Palace after WWII, Russia.

The Pavlovsk Palace today. Pavlovsk, Russia.

Today, it is the same home, sweet home as it was in the times of Pavel and Maria Romanov, the Emperor and Empress of Russia. When you take a trip to Russia and visit Tsarskoe Selo and Pavlovsk, re-read this post to feel how much love has been put into the Pavlovsk Palace in the 18th century and again in the 20th century. And don’t forget to visit the memorial room of Anna Zelenova on the 1st floor of the left wing of the palace to remember that great woman who saved one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites for us.

The Library of Maria Feodorovna. The Pavlovsk Palace, Pavlovsk, Russia.

The Library of Maria Feodorovna.

The Knights Room. The Pavlovsk Palace, Pavlovsk, Russia.

The Knights Room.

The State Bedroom. The Pavlovsk Palace, Pavlovsk, Russia.

The State Bedroom.

A vase. The Pavlovsk Palace, Pavlovsk, Russia.

The Pavlovsk Palace, Pavlovsk, Russia.

The website of the State museum of Pavlovsk.

The Centaurs Bridge, the Pavlovsk Park, Russia.

The Centaurs Bridge.

The Temple of Friendship Pavilion, the Pavlovsk Park, Russia.

The Temple of Friendship Pavilion, the Pavlovsk Park, Russia.

The Appolo Colonnade, the Pavlovsk Park, Russia.

The Appolo Colonnade, the Pavlovsk Park, Russia.

The map of the Pavlovsk Park, Pavlovsk, Russia.

The map of the Pavlovsk Park, Pavlovsk, Russia. Click to enlarge.

More about Russia:

Unique Abandoned Russian Church in Yaropolec
Russian Castle Muromtsevo: An Almost Buried Wonder
Kizhi Island. The Church Built Without a Single Nail 300 Years Ago!

28 Responses to “Pavlovsk Palace: Not so Much a Palace as a “Home, Sweet Home” of Russian Emperors”

  1. Katherine Clune Says:

    What an amazing story and the way you told was fascinating.
    We have visited the Peterhof, but it left us a bit cold and we were not allowed to stop in the rooms.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. newsferret Says:

    Nyet not for me!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. magithehat Says:

    What an amazing story. Thank you so much

    Liked by 3 people

  4. wordsfromanneli Says:

    It’s just awful what war can do. The photos are most interesting – especially before and after the war damage, and then again when it was restored. I like how you add the history to the photos. It gives us a much greater understanding of the place. Who lived there, and the circumstances that were involved in its building and rebuilding. It humanizes history. Great job.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Andrew Petcher Says:

    A really good post. War damage is so distressing. I remember similar stories from my visit to Peterhof.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Terry Says:

    Great story, what love she had and what dedication to keep fighting for restoration of this palace. Thank you for sharing this.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Rajiv Says:

    I would love to travel to Russia some day

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Bama Says:

    Multiple wars have destroyed so many great palaces, impressive edifices, and beautiful temples all around the world. But thanks to people like Anna Zelenova not all is lost. Such an interesting read, Victor!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. strathdontours Says:

    Great post, thanks Victor. It helps us feel a little less upset about the horrors of war when you discover the work of persons like Anna Zelenova

    Liked by 2 people

  10. marketingtohrajourney Says:

    Like the way you have penned down details.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. BBQboy Says:

    That is an incredible history Victor.Looking at those old photos you can’t help but think “why bother?”. The amount of work it must have taken to restore this palace. The Nazis sure went to a lot of trouble to try to ensure this place would never exist again. Incredible.
    Very impressive post, what a beautiful place.

    Liked by 2 people


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