Hearts Through History Romance Writers

Pavlovsk Palace and the Spoils of War


scan0001_adjustedThe 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.

scan0004When 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.

Pavlovsk_wardamageThousands 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.

scan0003In 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.

Iced Glissoires and Balançoires in St. Petersburg

On a recent trip to a used book store, I came upon a wonderful find in the architecture section. I visit the store periodically to hunt for research books, and because the various employees tend to classify things differently, there are several sections I check, including: history, fashion, furniture, architecture, travel, and art. The treasure I found was, St. Petersburg, A Portrait of a Great City by Vincent Giroud. The book showcases Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library’s collection relating to St. Petersburg, including rare accounts of early visitors to the capital of the Russian empire.

An eight volume account of Russia called Rusland was anonymously published in 1804, and the beginning and end of each book has woodcut vignettes of various places and people. According to the appendix, they are the work of Amsterdam painter Harmanus Fock (1766-1822). Fock also designed two folding plates, engraved by Jacob Ernst Marcus (1774-1826) in 1804. The subject of the plates is public amusements in winter and summer.


White Nights in St. Petersburg

It was a lovely night, one of those nights, dear reader, which can only happen when you are young.

~White Nights, Fyodor Dostoevsky, 1848~

From June 11th through July 2nd, St. Petersburg experiences White Nights (Beliye Nochi), where there is sunlight 24 hours a day. The phenomenon is caused by St. Petersburg’s northern location, which is roughly the same latitude as Oslo, Norway and the southern tip of Greenland. St. Petersburg is the world’s most northern city with a population over one million, and few other cities can rival the experience and atmosphere on the streets of St. Petersburg during the summer.

Made up of more than one hundred islands and criss-crossed by some 60 canals, St. Petersburg is often referred to as the “Venice of the North.” Some of the city’s great sites include Imperial palaces along the Neva River, the Peter and Paul Fortress, the Hermitage Museum, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the Summer Garden, and, of course, the Mariinsky Theater.