The apartments in the palace were redesigned for each of the successive emperors without altering the decorations of their predecessors' rooms. By the beginning of the XX century the Gatchina Palace had the largest number of rooms and the richest collections of different works of art among the imperial residences.|
The Gatchina palace was a museum of the history of interior decoration from the middle of the XVIII century up to the beginning of the XX century. In the Arsenal Block alone there were more than two hundred rooms, many of which were shining examples of the Historism style. The talented Russian architect Kuzmin, having redesigned the side wings of the palace and having built the third floor onto them, created suites of rooms, inimitable in their beauty and variety, for the Emperors Nicolas I, Alexander II, their spouses and children. Elements and forms of various European styles such as Renaissance, Gothic, Baroque, and Rococo were employed in the interior decoration.
Numerous drawing rooms, studies, bedrooms, and bathrooms contain an abundance of precious fabrics, mirrors, bronzes, and pictures. The furniture is arranged in such a way that it forms cosy corners in which to work, rest, or receive guests there. The extensive picture gallery is particularly rich in portraits of the royal family and their European relatives.
The rooms whose walls are covered with wax flower-patterned English chintz stand out in particular in the colourful kaleidoscope of successive rooms.
Like his grandfather Paul I, Emperor Alexander III dearly loved his "nice Gatchina" and chose it as his permanent residence.
A passionate collector, Alexander III, like his predecessors, used to acquire first-rate works of art and objects of everyday life of different peoples and ages. The Emperor was particularly interested in contemporary Russian painting. Tall and strong, with a broad and thick beard, he liked wearing simple dresses and eating plain food and always stressed that he was an Orthodox Russian emperor.
In the private rooms of Alexander III's family there were many icons and Easter eggs. The Easter egg with a miniature copy of the Gatchina palace was produced for the widowed Empress Maria Fiodorovna at the Faberge workshop.
Ties of blood, a German wife, and especially the adoration of the Prussian king Friedrich II contributed to the fact that Gatchina during Paul's reign resembled a small German town: towers and spires of small fortresses, guarding the approaches to the town, barracks of "the Gatchina army", striped bars and sentry boxes in the streets, and troops in German uniforms marching on the square in front of the palace.
At the end of the XIX century, Gatchina became a fashionable spot to spend the summer. Many distinguished writers, poets, musicians and painters lived here and dedicated their works to this town.
Under Alexander III who "eradicated all the things German" (as he called everything foreign), Gatchina turned into a cosy Russian town. In the streets of old Gatchina there still remain wooden houses whose facades, windows and balconies are decorated with delicate tracery of woodcarving. Elegant turrets with weather vanes, glazed verandas, and balconies make these parts of the town especially attractive.
A fanciful stone house in the style of the Scandinavian art nouveau, with a spacious garden behind a tall blind wall belonged to the famous caricaturist P.E. Shcherbov. A. Block, V. Bryusov, A. Tolstoy, M. Gorkiy and M.Shalyapin were frequent guests here. The writer Alexander Kuprin, "an All-Russia Gatchina citizen", as he called himself, lived on the next quiet street in "the Green House".
Old and new Gatchina, charming, unusual and indistinguishable, is the embodiment of the labour, talents, and love of many generations of people who were born here, came from other cities and countries, giving their hearts to it, and those who live and work here today. In wintertime, the town lies buried in sparkling snow; in spring, Gatchina`s favourite violet, white, and rose lilacs blossom in its gardens and parks; in summer, it is buried in the greenery of the parks and streets; in autumn, it puts on a kingly goldish-purple attire.
© Author Valentina Fiodorova
© Pictures Galina Puntusova
Translated from Russian by Elena Lvova