The southern imperial village of the Romanov tsars was their residence for two centuries until the communist revolution. Both names, Pushkin and Tsarskoe Selo, are used to describe this place with the beautiful palace and park ensemble.
It started with the small estate in the 18th century for the wife of Peter the Great, Catherine (Yekaterina). The settlement became the town of Tsarskoe Selo. From 1811-1817 the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin spent his younger years in the Emperor’s Lyceum in Tsarskoe Selo - or the Royal Village. It was renamed Pushkin following the communist revolution in honour of its famous resident, Alexander Pushkin.
Catherine’s small palace in Tsarskoe Selo was enlarged by Italian architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli for Catherine’s and Peter’s daughter Elizabeth. Built over two hundred years ago the Catherine Palace is the compositional centre of the ensemble. The magnificent blue and white palace takes everyone back to Elizabeth and Empress Catherine II’s time, full of dignity and perfect beauty. The epoch of the growing international prestige of Russia and of flourishing science and culture inspired the architect to embody the concept of Russia’s might in his creations. The Catherine Palace décor took its final shape in 1756.
Later, some of the interiors of Catherine Palace were rebuilt to the designs of architects Ch.Cameron, V.Stasov, and I.Monigetti. Thanks to the complexity of the interiors, which encompass 18th and 19th century design, the development of architectural styles can be traced throughout Catherine Palace. The palace housed a large collection of paintings, sculptures, porcelain, carpets and Chinese objects d’art. The façade is lavishly adorned with columns, pilasters, sculptures. All these decorations were coated with gold. About 100 kilograms of gold was used to gild the exterior and interior ornaments of Catherine Palace. Until 1941 fifty-five interiors in the Catherine Palace were well preserved but it was badly damaged during WW2.
One of the most precious parts of Catherine Palace was the famous Amber Room. Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm the First presented mosaic panels and carvings of amber to Russian Emperor Peter the Great in 1716. This Amber Room disappeared when the Nazis retreated in 1944.The mystery of its disappearance is the most dramatic in the history of art.
Due to its colour, amber is called the sun stone but in fact the structure of amber is the structure of resin and petrified from specific trees. Prussian King Frederick the First used his Amber study in Berlin City Palace to highlight his reign at the end of the 17th century. By creating this unique masterpiece from material never before used for interior decoration the beauty of his Berlin Palace, with its Amber study, would be unattainable for other royals.
The original project using amber was assigned to A. Schluter, the chief architect of the Prussian Royal Court in 1699 in order to complete one of the rooms in the castle. After the death of Frederick the 1st work on the Amber study was suspended. All of the amber room components and architect’s drawings were taken to the Berlin Zeighaus and kept until 1716 when the Russian tsar Peter the Great visited the new Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm the 1st. The Amber Room passed to Peter the Great as a gift and confirmation of the alliance between the two monarchs.
It took two and a half months to transit 18 containers of amber to Saint Petersburg in Russia. It was not until 1746 that the Amber Room was collected together and served first in the Winter Palace for official receptions. Empress Elizabeth wanted to move the room from the Winter Palace to the Summer Catherine Palace in Tsarskoe Selo. The architect B.Rastrelli reassembled the parts of the study by interspersing the amber panels with pilasters and mirrors then decorated the space with carved, gilded sculptures as the new home for the Amber Room. It was bigger, having 96 square meters instead of 36 when the Amber Room was presented to Peter the Great. In 1763 Empress Catherine the Great ordered the painted panels to be replaced with real amber panels. Over the period of four years 450 kilograms of amber went into the project. The Amber Room was completed by 1770 whereby the room attained the state in which it is displayed in old photographs.
Temperature changes and stove heating damaged the amber panels and they needed major restoration by the beginning of WW2. The German troops entered the town of Tsarskoe Selo in September of 1941 and very soon discovered the amber panels had been covered with paper, gauze and cotton on the walls in the palace. The Amber Room was removed and taken to Koenigsberg, then the capital of the German Province of East Prussia, which is today called Kaliningrad. The panels taken away were shown in the Koenigsberg Castle Museum on a big scale. On its first arrival in Russia it became three times larger, was redesigned and redecorated by architects and artists in Russia.
The dismantled amber panels had been packed in crates before the Red Army captured Koenigsberg in April of 1945. That was the last time the amber panels were seen. What happened next is a mystery. Since that time the Amber Room has officially been lost, but a few parts of it were found and returned to Russia.
In 1979 the Council of Ministers of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic decreed that the Amber Room of the Catherine Palace be reconstructed. The work didn’t have a precedent in the world of restoration practice. The amber, of which more than 6 tons was needed was delivered to Pushkin from the quarry in the Kaliningrad region. Five hundred thousand pieces of amber were assembled together as a huge jigsaw puzzle.
The cost of the reconstruction of the Amber Room was partly funded by German gas giant, the Ruhrgas AG company.