Italian Palace, Kronstadt

Italian Palace in Kronstadt, Russia is one of the oldest buildings in the city, a majestic 18th-century home located between the southern dock and Obvodny Canal.

Italian Palace is often called Menshikov Palace, in reference to Governor General Alexander Menshikov, under whose directive the mansion was first built to serve as his personal residence.

Construction of the palace started in 1717 under German architect Johann Friedrich Braunstein. He commissioned Italian experts to carry out the work, and the structure soon came to be known as the "Italian Palace". Its architecture and exterior decor were an apt reflection of 18th-century Baroque architecture, and it was the most opulent of Menshikov’s three residences.

Construction of Italian Palace was completed in 1724 and was followed by several Italian-style houses along the embankment, which came to form the main city landscape. Yet shortly thereafter, Menshikov fell from honor and was sent into exile, and under orders of Peter I the embankment houses were distributed among various sea captains. According to a list which has been preserved to this day, Italian Palace was confiscated by the royal family, yet there is no evidence that Peter I ever stayed in the home.

In 1771, by decree of Empress Catherine II, the building was placed at the disposal of the Naval Cadet Corps and changes were made to its layout to accommodate its new educational function. When the Naval Cadet Corps relocated to St. Petersburg, Italian Palace passed into the hands of the newly established Navigator's School, which in 1843 relocated due to reconstruction which had begun on Italian Palace. Around this time the mansion also served as a port customs office.

The mansion’s appearance was soon altered to reflect a more classical style, with additional three-story buildings and an octagonal wooden observation tower added to the north and west wings. In 1898, a new stage of reconstruction began, and by 1900 there were two new buildings, one of which was a continuation of the southern wing, and the second which stretched along Obvodny Canal.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Italian Palace passed from one organization to another and was twice damaged by fire. It played a central role in the Kronstadt Rebellion of 1921, and in 1925 some of the buildings were completely demolished as part of yet another extensive renovation process. The following year, a branch of the Red Army, the headquarters of the Russian Navy’s Baltic Fleet and the local military and political school were relocated to Italian Palace.

During World War II, Italian Palace continued to serve as the headquarters of the Baltic Fleet. Throughout the 20th century it housed various offices, and today the Central Naval Museum is located inside Italian Palace in Kronstadt, an important historical marker which visitors to the city will not want to miss.