Pavlovsk, Saint-Petersburg Suburbs

Pavlovsk, Saint-Petersburg Suburbs

Pavlovsk, Russia is a name well-known among Russian history buffs and anyone with a fondness for 18th-century architecture. While this small town is associated with the 18th-century reign of Paul I and the construction of a royal palace which has amazed visitors for more than 200 years, Pavlovsk’s intriguing history started long before then.

History of Pavlovsk

The first known inhabitants of present-day Pavlovsk were the Ilmen Slavs and Finno-Ugric tribes, who likely migrated here in search of food and water around the 4th century BC. Their first settlements, Lynn and Seppel, were built along the Slavyanka River.

In medieval times, the area fell under the administrative division of the Novgorod Republic, was subsequently annexed to Sweden and finally claimed for Russia by Peter I in the early 18th century.

Catherine the Great loved to hunt in Pavlovsk during her reign from 1762-1796, often stopping here on her way from St. Petersburg to Tsarskoye Selo, where she would retreat to Catherine Palace. She eventually gifted Pavlovsk to her firstborn son, Paul I (Pavel Petrovich).

While December 12, 1777 is the official founding date of Pavlovsk village, it did not become a city until 1796, when Paul I became emperor and declared it one of his residences. The city was primarily populated with those tasked with constructing and maintaining Pavlovsk Palace. After the death of Paul I, the Pavlovsk residence was bequeathed to his wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna. The palace and park reached their peak under her direction.

In 1836, the first rail line in Russia was laid between Pavlovsk and Tsarskoye Selo. The statesmen of St. Petersburg were doubtful as to whether the local population would even use the railway and decided an incentive was needed to convince citizens to patronize the newly constructed line. Thus, a concert hall was built next to the Pavlovsk station, which gained the nickname ‘musical’. Famous musicians and symphony orchestras regularly performed in the concert hall, including German composer Richard Strauss, and eventually the hall became the first music conservatory in Russia. Around this time, Pavlovsk became the most fashionable summer destination for the bohemian elite of St. Petersburg.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Pavlovsk was renamed Slutsk, a name which it retained until World War II, when it reverted back to Pavlovsk. After the war, citizens rebuilt damaged structures and refurbished what monuments they could, although most statues were never recovered. Quaint wooden houses in Pavlovsk were replaced by standard multi-story buildings, yet the atmosphere of the city has remained vibrant and attractive even to this day.

Pavlovsk, Voronezh Oblast’s regional capital, offers visitors a wealth of history and natural beauty. Without a doubt, the greatest attractions for visitors today are the Grand Pavlovsk Palace and Pavlovsk Park, both of which share an overlapping history closely intertwined with the Russian imperial family.

Grand Pavlovsk Palace

The Grand Palace in Pavlovsk, created at the behest of Empress Catherine the Great, is a white-columned wonder undertaken by her beloved architect Charles Cameron. Cameron himself was fascinated by the area near the Slavyanka River, whose landscapes reminded him of his native Scotland.

According to Cameron’s vision, the palace was to reflect traditional architecture of 18th century Russian estates. He wished to construct it on a high bank with a beautiful view, yet searched in vain for such a hill along the riverbed. After scouring the entire district, he finally selected a place which required a complete transformation before it could be suitable for his plans. To complete the task, an army of diggers manually cut down the banks of the river and the soil, with the help of winches, was hauled up the hill. Thus, the artificial hill so essential to Cameron was finally created.

Although the land had been gifted by Catherine the Great to her firstborn Paul I, the construction of the palace was directed by the empress herself. Many historians believe that Paul I did not agree with the decisions made by his mother and was displeased with the lavish project.

In 1781, the prince and his wife, Maria Feodorovna, set out on an extended tour of Europe, during which time Cameron began construction of the palace. The architect tactfully hinted to the royal family that it would be fitting to decorate the palace interior with pieces of ancient European art. When Paul I returned from his travels in the fall of 1782, however, only the walls of the first floor had been completed.

Pavlovsk Palace was finished in 1784, a quadrangular building with sixty-four columns supporting a crown of galleries, which formed a half-ring covering a round courtyard that led to two side wings. The hallway of the front suite cut through the building, so that the front alleyway seemingly entered the house and passed through its halls before ending down at the river.

Both Cameron and Catherine the Great loved modest interior designs, which did not quite suit the tastes of the young royal couple. After their European travels, Paul I and Maria Feodorovna considered themselves connoisseurs of palace designs and longed to design the interior of their summer residence themselves.

Yet Cameron, with the support of Catherine, disregarded the construction manager, the attorney of Paul I and the heir himself. Relations worsened, and Paul I lost interest in the palace after receiving lands in Gatchina, Russia as a gift. He proceeded to start his own building project in that city, the great Gatchina Palace.

The prince eventually presented Pavlovsk to his wife as a gift who, recalling their long-standing grudge against Cameron, transferred oversight of the palace interior to the Italian architect Vincenzo Brenna, who had initially worked as Cameron's assistant.

Brenna completed the palace interior in 1794. After the death of Catherine II, he was promoted to chief court architect and ordered by Paul I to begin reconstruction of Pavlovsk Palace as soon as possible. Brenna built additions to Cameron’s one-story wings, adding semicircular galleries above the colonnade, which end with square buildings onto which Brenna built an additional two wings. This technique allowed for a spacious front yard befitting an imperial residence. The completed palace imbued an impressive and solemn air.

The largest room in Pavlovsk Palace is the throne room, with a height of 8 meters and an area of 420 square meters. In the spacious two-room hall, an art gallery filled with objects from the couple’s European tour was created around marble pilasters installed by Brenna.

Brenna realized that Paul I desired his palace to match its European counterparts, and so the architect designed the master bedroom to resemble the royal bedrooms of France. The result is one of the most luxurious rooms in the entire palace: Its walls are covered with silk panels with Dutch-style paintings, while the ceiling artwork portrays a triple gazebo entwined with flowers and colorful peacocks staring down at visitors. The centerpiece of the bedroom is a large gold-plated bed.

Brenna’s personal source of pride was the Greek-style front lobby, his first project in the palace. Its walls are decorated with high reliefs, the ceiling ornately designed and false mirrors installed to enhance its feeling of spaciousness. To this day, the hall is considered a Russian classical masterpiece.

Another notable room is the Raspberry Study, decorated with paintings of Pavlovsk by the greatest landscape artist of the time, Semyon Shchedrin, who was specially commissioned by Paul I for the task. A large floor clock, designed by the German engineer Rontgen, was also commissioned by the emperor. In addition, Raspberry Study holds a gift from Pope Pius VI, a mosaic of a colosseum. Maria Feodorovna, an artistic person herself, created many stone and amber objects to add to the palace collection.

Sadly, Paul I was killed in 1801 before he even managed to settle in his Pavlovsk summer residence. Further tragedy struck in 1803, when Brenna's work was nearly destroyed in a fire. Restoration efforts, led by the architect and painter Andrei Voronikhin, quickly ensued.

After the death of Maria Feodorovna, the palace was inherited by their youngest son, Mikhail Pavlovich. It was then bequeathed to Konstantin Nikolaevich, who opened an art gallery and a museum of antiquities inside and allowed scientists to visit its large library, which had been added in the 1820s. A statue of Paul I appeared on the Palace Square in 1872.

The last owner of the palace was John Konstantinovich Romanov, who vacated the premises during the Russian Revolution of 1917 and ordered the palace be turned into a museum.

Pavlovsk Palace, along with Peterhof Palace and other famed strongholds of Russia, was captured by German troops at the beginning of World War II, yet museum curators were able to save most of the palace exhibits by evacuating them before the takeover. The palace was set ablaze during the Nazi retreat in 1944, but fortunately its interior was not badly damaged. The first halls of the museum were re-opened in 1957 and complete restoration was finished in 1978.

Currently, 45 halls of Pavlovsk Palace are open daily from 10am to 6pm, with visitors admitted until 5pm.

Pavlovsk Park

Pavlovsk Park, whose construction was concurrent with the building of Pavlovsk Palace, is an amazing example of late-18th century landscape design. It spreads over 600 hectares and is divided into seven regions, each with a unique layout.

The park’s territory was originally the hunting ground of the imperial family. Catherine the Great presented the land to her son, Paul I, and proceeded to have two wooden palaces, Paulust and Mariental, built for him. The structures were flanked by small gardens designed along the banks of the Slavyanka River.

In 1778, construction of Pavlovsk Palace began, of which the park was to play an integral role. Lead architect Charles Cameron created a system for zoning the park and designed the garden’s main buildings. Triple Linden Alley, one of the park’s main pathways, became the main walkway to the palace.

Upon Cameron’s suggestion, the Apollo Colonnade, the Aviary, the Temple of Friendship and the Pavilion of the Three Graces were built on the palace grounds.

The Temple of Friendship was one of the first buildings completed in the park in Pavlovsk. Russia’s royal couple built the pavilion as a gift for Catherine II, and today it is one of the most recognizable attractions of the complex. Near the Temple of Friendship is a lattice bridge spanning the Slavyanka River.

The Greek-style Pavilion of the Three Graces completed the design of Triple Linden Alley. The central sculpture of the pavilion, presented in 1803 by Alexander I to his mother, Maria Feodorovna, is carved from a single piece of marble.

One of Cameron’s main creations in Pavlovsk Park was a home garden situated at the southern end of the palace. The garden, which was designed in a Dutch geometrical fashion to resemble a carpet of fresh flowers, could be accessed directly from the halls of the palace through a side door.

By order of the young Maria Feodorovna, Cameron built a pavilion, which later became known as the Monument to the Parents. The empress built it in honor of her deceased sister, yet soon afterwards her parents and brother also perished. The memorial, built in the form of a small Roman temple, was frequented by the empress who accessed it by way of a small pathway dubbed the Philospher’s Path.

After the death of Catherine II, when construction of the palace and park were transferred from Cameron to architect Vincenzo Brenna, the newly appointed foreman wasted no time in creating the bright floral beds known as the Great Circles. The central of the three circles is a raised terrace, beyond which a wall of dense greenery forms an enclosed space that appears as a continuation of the palace halls. In the center of the Great Circles, intended as a summer garden, Paul I erected the statues of Peace and Justice.

Brenna also created Old Silva, an Italian staircase that leads from the palace to the riverbank, from which one of the most beautiful views of the river valley can be enjoyed. Leading up to Old Silva is the Twelve Paths, an alley lined with statues created from antique originals whose casts were safeguarded at the Academy of Arts. One of the paths leads to a small Greek amphitheater at the bank of the Slavyanka River.

Originally, the park ended at Triple Linden Alley, which was marked by a stone column and was referred to as “The End of the World”. After expansion of the park, the newly constructed area became known as New Sylvia. On the border between Old and New Sylvia, Brenna arranged a cascade of stone vases and lion sculptures.

Paul I gave Brenna a piece of land on the border of New Sylvia. The Rossi family became neighbors of Brenna, and the future architect Carl Rossi became Brenna's apprentice and assistant. Long after Rossi became the chief architect of the imperial court, he continued to design Pavlovsk Palace and Park.

The Family Garden in Pavlovsk Park was the brainchild of Maria Feodorovna, who decided to plant a tree in honor of the birth of each of her children. After the assassination of Paul I in 1801, Maria Feodorovna erected the Mausoleum to a Husband and Benefactor Pavilion, a majestic building which gives the impression of an ancient Greek temple. Its steps lead to a small temple where a sculpture of a woman with a funeral urn can be found. The mausoleum’s architect was not Brenna, but Tom de Tomon.

After the death of Maria Feodorovna, the park was left unfinished. Subsequent generations of rulers failed to pay due attention to its upkeep, and it remained semi-desolate until the railway was laid through Pavlovsk. People again were drawn to the city and although restoration efforts were begun, it never quite reached its former state of grandeur.

In 1914, a monument to Maria Feodorovna was erected next to Triple Linden Alley. In November 1917, the park was parceled up and parts of it were leased out, and in 1918, after the palace and park were nationalized, public tours were offered for the first time.

During German occupation of Pavlovsk from 1941 to 1944, the park was badly damaged. Roughly 70 thousand trees were cut down, bridges blown up and pavilions destroyed. Immediately after the Nazi surrender, restoration of the park ensemble was launched and still continues to this day.