The city of St. Petersburg , founded by Peter the Great in 1703, became the new capital of Russia in 1711. As the city grew, both the imperial family and aristocrats began to build grand summer residences just outside the city. Dubbed the Versailles of the North, Peterhof was built for Peter the Great on the Gulf of Finland, and south of the city at Tsarskoe Selo was the magnificent baroque style Catherine Palace. In 1780, architect Charles Cameron began building the classically styled Pavlovsk Palace for Catherine the Great’s son, who would become Paul I, and his wife, Maria Feodorovna.
Pavlovsk sits just three miles from Tsarskoe Selo. Though smaller than many of the other palaces, it is known both for the beauty of its 1,500 acre landscape park dotted with decorative pavilions and statuary, and for its unparalleled artistic collections including furniture, textiles, and sculptures.
When World War II began, the palace staff did its best to protect the contents of Pavlovsk before they were forced to evacuate. Some items from the interior of the palace were reportedly moved to the basement, and several of the outdoor statuary were buried underground. The Siege of Leningrad (historically and currently known as St. Petersburg) began in September of 1941, and Pavlovsk Palace was occupied by enemy troops for nearly two and a half years. What remained in the palace was pillaged, bridges and pavilions were destroyed, and more than seventy thousand trees were felled to build fortifications around Leningrad. Most damaging of all, in January 1944, when forced by the Soviet Army to retreat, enemy forces set the palace on fire, reducing it to little more than a pile of rubble.
Thousands of fragments of murals, fireplaces, plaster moldings, and other pieces of décor were sifted from the rubble of the palace. These, along with architectural drawings, pictures, and other items that survived, made restoration of Pavlovsk possible. Restoration began in 1954, and restoration of the interiors of the palace was completed in 1978, making Pavlovsk the first of the Russian palaces to be reconstructed after the war.
Of all of the palaces I’ve visited, Pavlovsk is my favorite. I was especially drawn to Maria Feodorovna’s library. Doesn’t it look like a wonderful place to write? I was delighted to learn that earlier this week, one hundred and twenty-five books that were stolen from Pavlovsk by the Nazi’s were located in Germany and returned to the palace.
In 1992, a research group from the University of Bremen was formed to track down the missing Russian art located in Germany. In 2012, another group was formed whose focus is to track down the artifacts that were stolen from six Russian museums that were decimated by the German occupation during the war, including Pavlovsk Palace. In all, more than 300,000 books were taken, 11,500 of which came from Pavlovsk. There is still much research to be done in both Germany and Russia to determine the fate of the rest of the books, but this victory has played a small part in returning the library to its former glory.
Pavlovsk: The Life of a Russian Palace, Suzanne Massie, Little Brown & Company, 1990.
Ally Broadfield writes historical romance set in Regency England and Imperial Russia. Her first book, Just a Kiss, is coming from Entangled Publishing in December. She would love to have you visit her website or Facebook page.