The Alexander Palace was built by the order of Empress Catherine the Great for her favorite grandson, the future emperor Alexander the First. The palace was a gift to Alexander on the occasion of his marriage to Grand Duchess Elizaveta Alexeevna, born Princess Louise Mary Augusta of Baden (1779-1826).
The Alexander Palace was constructed near Catherine Palace which had been created by a talented Italian architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli, the master of opulent baroque style. The project for the construction of the Alexander Palace was carried out in the neo-classical style by another Italian architect Giacomo Quarenghi. The palace is an elongated two-stored building flanked by wings and marked by a splendid colonnade. The Corinthian double colonnade connecting the wings of the palace is reminiscent of the outdoor passageway in the Italian villas of Palladio.
The outlook of this building hasn’t changed too much over the years, but its interiors have been rebuilt several times. The Alexander Palace was used by its first owner while in his Grand Ducal position, but upon ascending the throne Alexander I stayed more in Catherine Palace.
His brother Nicholas I (1796-1855) and successor retreated to the palace from official responsibilities, spending holidays at Tsarskoe Selo with family and close friends. The celebration of the Imperial couple’s silver wedding in 1842 had a series of gala events in the Alexander Palace.
Nicolas’s I grandson, Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich, lived in the right-hand wing of palace before his coronation as Alexander III (1845-1894).
Nicholas II, son of Alexander III also took up residence there and architect Roman Meltser designed new halls, studies and private rooms in Style Moderne for the Russian Emperor and his family.
The period of Nicholas II’s time had the most significant impact on the history of the Alexander Palace. The Alexander Palace, as well as the events that happened in it, played a very important role in the life of the Russian monarchy before its end. The palace was the last home of the last Russian Tsar. It was from here that Nicholas II and his family were moved to their exile place in Ekaterinburg.
Nicholas II was born at Tsarskoe Selo and spent his childhood in the right wing of Alexander Palace. Nicholas II loved this place and moved to Tsarskoe Selo with his spouse a week after wedding. They settled down in the same part of the palace.
Later Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna’s choice to stay in the palace permanently was very much influenced by the birth of an heir to the throne in 1904. Alexey, their son suffered from the fatal disease, haemophilia and it was here where charlatan Grigory Rasputin exercised his hypnotic healing power over the boy. His single word or touch of the hand or an attentive look could relieve Alexey’s most dreadful pain, that’s why the Imperial family kept Rasputin close. Only a small group of courtiers knew about Alexey’s illness, and there was no question of effective traditional treatment. The family’s life was less formal in this palace than at other residences. Very few members of court resided at the palace.
The interiors of the Alexander Palace reveal that the creation of warmth in homemaking was much more important for the family than just the fashionable decoration. The taste of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna reflected their interests in Moderne style (French Art Deco). The desire to spend much of their time together in an informal way guided Alexander Feodorovna herself to supervise the redesigning of all the interiors in the Palace according to convenience and comfort.
The splendid Palisander Room was full of the aroma of lilacs and lilies of the valley, which were delivered to the Palace daily by baskets from the Riviera. The Mauve Room--the Lilac or Mauve Cabinet - would become the favourite room of Alexandra Feodorovna for the family’s evening tea, for musical piano concerts, for the Empress’ library and her often pleasurable activities of needle working, reading and sorting out letters.
The Bedroom had its walls draped in English chintz, which was considered to be very hygienic. An alcove in the niche had a full wall covered with more than 700 icons, miniature icons and crosses. Due to the fatal disease of the long –awaited heir to the throne, Alexey, the devoutness of the Empress increased and icons were presented to her on each occasion from communities, troops and private individuals.
The Empress’s suite also included the Palisander Room with palisander panels at the bottom of the walls draped in French silk. A large beautiful fireplace was also made of palisander. It was the room where dinners for the Imperial family and their friends were served since there was no special room for dining in the Palace.
One of the best examples of interiors of Alexander palace designed in Art Nouveau style was the Maple Room which was divided into several cozy areas where the members of the family would gather and engage in different activities.
The room in Alexander Palace with mahogany panels, fireplaces, the entresol (mezzanine) with marble columns and the ceiling with brass plating was the Emperor Nicholas II’s Cabinet. The famous St. Petersburg furniture factory of brothers R. and F.Meltser manufactured furniture according to the designs of the palace architect.
The Alexander Palace saw an increasing flow of technological innovations such as Ammosov’s heating system and plumbing. Russia’s first telegraph apparatus was installed in Nicholas I’s study in 1843, linking the palace with public offices in Saint Petersburg. The Alexander Palace had electricity during the reign of Nicholas I and in 1899 a hydraulic lift was installed. A telephone system also was accessible for the palace and even documentary movies or features were shown to the family.
But then the Alexander Palace witnessed the shocking and dramatic events of the 20th century.
Following the Imperial Family’s exile to Tobolsk, the first floor of the palace’s central section and left wing were turned into the museum. At the very beginning of WW II the most valuable furnishings were evacuated to a remote part of Russia. The Alexander Palace during the war years was used as headquarters for the German military command.
In 1944, the town of Tsarskoe Selo was renamed Pushkin in honour of the legendary Russian author who had attended the Imperial Lycee there.