Tsarskoye Selo

Tsarskoye Selo (formerly known as Pushkin) is one of St. Petersburg's numerous Imperial estates. Located just 25 kilometers south of the city, the estate boasts a large landscape park, dotted with architectural follies, and centered on the magnificent blue, white and gold Catherine Palace. Named after its creator, Empress Catherine, the second wife of Peter the Great, the original palace was built between 1717 and 1723 by the architect Braunstein. The palace was expanded later in the century and given a new, richly decorated Baroque facade by the architect Francesco Bartholomeo Rastrelli. The Catherine Palace houses some beautiful Baroque interiors, including the luxurious Grand Hall, a long, gold, mirrored ballroom. The Palace also boasts a unique Amber Room, whose priceless amber panels were stolen by Nazi troops during WWII, but which are now being painstakingly recreated by Russian craftsmen. 

Empress Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great, preferred Tsarskoye Selo to many of the other Imperial residences around St. Petersburg, as did the famous Catherine the Great herself. Catherine particularly enjoyed the Neo-Classical Cameron Gallery section of the palace, built by the Scottish architect Charles Cameron between 1781 and 1786. Adjacent to the gallery and also worthy of note is Cameron's Cold Baths building, an extravagant bathhouse of semi-precious stones. 


Forming the core of the estate, Tsarskoye Selo boasts almost 600 hectares of beautiful parkland. In front of the Catherine Palace visitors can enjoy formal gardens with finely trimmed trees and bushes, geometrically designed flowerbeds and fine marble statues. This section of the park is also home to various follies, including the Grotto, the Upper and Lower Baths and Rastrelli's delightful blue and white Hermitage building. 

Beyond the Cameron Gallery and to the south of the Catherine Palace lies the wilder, more natural section of the estate's park. Focused on a large lake, where visitors can hire boats in the summer, the park is filled with meandering streams, bridges and monuments. These include the Admiralty, the Chesma Column, the Marble Bridge, modeled on one in Wilton, England, and the Pyramid, where Catherine the Great liked to bury her favorite dogs. One of the park's most elegant sculptures ("Girl with a Broken Jug") stands by the lakeside and depicts a young lady sitting near a brook and grieving over a broken jug. 

One of the best-hidden secrets of the Tsarskoye Selo estate is the Alexander Palace, built between 1792 and 1796 by the architect Giacomo Quarenghi. By the turn of the 20th century the Alexander Palace had become the favorite residence of the last Russian Tzar, Nicholas II, and his family. It was from here that Nicholas's family was taken to Siberia to be executed in Ekaterinburg in 1918. Unfortunately, very few of the palace's interiors survived the ravages of this century, and after a long and painstaking restoration program, just one wing of the palace is now open to the public. 

Another of Tsarskoye Selo's major attractions is the Lyceum, located on the edge of the estate. Founded at the beginning of the 19th century and remarkably well-preserved, the Lyceum was a boarding school that once taught the most celebrated of all Russian poets, Alexander Pushkin. The Lyceum was created specifically to educate members of the Russian ruling elite and prepare them for careers in government service. Visitors to the Lyceum are allowed access to its well-preserved classrooms, library, student bedrooms and much more.