A Wedding Gift for a Prince
From Father to Son
Emperor Nicholas I
Emperor Nicholas the 1st gave each of his sons a palace in St. Petersburg for their wedding and had Nicholaevsky Palace built between 1853-61 for his 3rd son as a wedding gift to him and his new bride, Alexandra.
The location was chosen for the palace because the first permanent bridge across the Neva was recently built nearby.
A competition was held to choose the architect for the job, and a young architect (Andrei Stackenschneider) was chosen. He also assisted with the design of St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the Moskovsky railway station.
He designed the palace with two courtyards which allows a lot of natural light into the palace during the day.
The palace came with running water, sewage, telegraph communication and a hydraulic elevator. There was an adjoining barn and 5 story building for servants built onto the property.
The First Floor
They had two kids together, Nicholai (the younger) and Peter, who occupied their own wing of the palace on the first floor. Also the teacher’s rooms and spare rooms as well as sport rooms were located on this floor.
Today these wings are rented out to companies as offices. Sadly we weren’t allowed to see many rooms here or take many pictures.
The Second Floor
The Palace Temple
It’s said that in 1850, Nicholai visited a house in Rostov that had a temple inside which lead to his decision to recreate this in his palace. Stackenschneider was hired again to design it. A German church painter was hired to paint murals on the walls. These are still there today thanks to the crushed glass he added to the paint which protected the murals from the plaster of the soviet era.
In 1863, a temple (which could accommodate up to 60 people) was added to the palace and was built directly across the entryway into the palace so that anyone who wished could come and visit it. Alexandra’s confessor (Vasili Lebedev) was the priest of the temple.
There’s a crypt underneath the temple, but because this is a royal residence no one has ever been buried.
One interesting fact about the palace décor is that the door handle designs have the eagle’s paw which was a symbol of the Russian Empire. The handles were installed in 1861 and similar door handles can also be found in the Winter Palace and at the Marinskii Theater.
The Dance Hall
Previously, the best military orchestras played upstairs and this room was used for dancing as Nicholai and his brother (Mikhail) frequently enjoyed dancing with various ladies of the court here.
The stage and chairs were recently added to this room to accommodate the meetings of the trade unions that make regular use of this space.
Now this is the main meeting hall for the trade unions and other events are held here as well such as concerts, New Year’s events, conferences and workshops.
The Music Hall
Alexandra didn’t like and didn’t usually attend these concerts and dancing events. She later transformed the music hall into a hospice.
The Small Dining Room
Nicholai ate breakfast here at 12 o’clock every day.
The House of Labor
The palace was sold after Nicholai’s death. In 1894, it was transformed into a woman’s institute with 350 students. The school specialized in bookkeeping and needlework. However, at the start of the Soviet Union, Lenin gave the palace to the Trade Unions.
The temple was damaged during the Soviet Union when the frescoes were covered with plaster and images of Soviet Union heroes were hung inside, but they are now located on the 2nd floor in a gallery. In the 1990s, the temple was given back to the Russian Orthodox church, who is now repairing it.
The government wanted to take the palace back from the trade union, but in order to do this, they would have to go against Lenin’s decree which stated that he gave it to the trade unions. No one could not bring themselves to destroy one of Lenin’s last remaining decrees. This historical document has been the safeguard of this palace, keeping it in the firm hands of the trade unions. Our tour guide lovingly referred to Lenin as “their fairy, who protects them from above”.
During the Great Patriotic War, a hospital was located here. The building was badly damaged with bombing and was restored in the early 1950s and the Trade Unions returned.
Inside the palace, the marble floors were made from the leftovers of St. Isaac’s Cathedral. The marble itself was brought in from Ruskeala – a marble canyon you can visit today near the border of Finland.
Feel Yourself Russian
It’s a bit challenging to get a tour of this palace in English, but you can still visit! The Feel Yourself Russian folk show is held here and with the purchase of a ticket, you can go in and see for yourself!