Oranienbaum – The Suburban Palace the Nazis Didn’t Destroy
You won’t want to miss this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Oranienbaum is a hidden gem of suburban imperial residences, unique because it was the only suburban palace the Nazis couldn’t reach in WWII and its original interiors are preserved unlike several other palaces surrounding St. Petersburg. Traces of Peter the Great can still be found inside the Grand Palace and the rustle of beautiful 18-century dresses can almost still be heard in the park.
The Orange Trees of Oranienbaum
Oranienbaum was founded by Peter the Great’s best friend and the first governor of St. Petersburg and the richest man in Russia, Alexander Menshikov. He built this huge palace and park and dubbed the area “Oranienbaum’ (meaning orange tree in German). Why Oranienbaum? – nobody knows for sure, but according to a legend, during the Northern War, a small orangery was found on the territory of the future mansion. Above the trees “Oranienbaum” was written in huge letters and Peter the Great decided that this should be the name given to the area.
The Grand Palace and Peter the Great’s Sleepovers
The Grand Menshikov Palace is the oldest building in Oranienbaum and no expense was spared on the palace, so it is impressive both inside and out. Menshikov’s was always the place to be during Peter’s reign. Peter didn’t like big palaces and he didn’t have time to build his own palace, so he often slept over at his best friend’s place. He was even given his own bedroom and drawing room decorated in his favorite style.
After the death of Peter the Great, Menshikov lost everything and was exiled to Siberia. The residence sat empty for 20 years until Empress Elizabeth gave it to her nephew, the future Emperor Peter the Third, and his wife, Catherine the Great.
Oranienbaum’s Role in a Coup D’Etat
Peter III used Oranienbaum as a playground as he waited for the throne. It was here that he set up his toy troops and created the Petershtadt fortress to play with until he had full control of the real Russian army. Some of the fortress structure remains. After Elizabeth died, Peter III came to the throne and his toy army became part of the imperial army. His reign was short – only 186 days and during this time, he managed to turn everyone against him.
On June 28, 1862, Catherine the Great came to power in a palace coup, and the former Emperor was forced to abdicate right here, in Oranienbaum. Soon he was transported to Ropsha (not far from St.Petersburg), where he was supposedly assassinated, although it is unknown precisely how Peter died. Thus the reign of Catherine the Great began at Oranienbaum.
Catherine’s Dacha & the First Russian Roller Coaster
As soon as she became Empress, she ordered the Upper Park to be built, which included her dacha aka the Chinese Palace. Her quiet retreat away from the noisy, large palace was built by one of her favorite architect’s, Rinaldi, in the chinoiserie style, which was fashionable at the time.
Catherine spent a lot of time at this palace in the summer and decided to make another new addition to the park, the Rolling Hill Pavilion. This was the first Russian roller coaster. Residents and guests of the palace raced down the hill on beautiful carriages along the ramps. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been preserved, but the pavilion remains.
Oranienbaum and WWII
The Rolling Hill Pavilion
The palace was passed down to Alexander I and his lineage who carefully preserved the palace until it passed into Bolshevik hands after the revolution and Oranienbaum was nationalized.
Menshikov’s Grand Palace and the facilities of the park were used to house several organizations: educational institutions, military offices, hospitals. During WWII, Oranienbaum was not conquered by the Nazis and is the only palace in its original condition thanks to the efforts of Soviet soldiers.
In 1948, the town was renamed Lomonosov, in honor of the famous Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov, who started a stained glass factory near Oranienbaum.
Tips for Visiting
There are several palaces and pavilions to visit here. Please note that some of them are closed when it rains, but the main palace (Menshikov’s) is open no matter the weather.