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We went to the Pour House / Old Triangle which is a pub on Great George street in Charlottetown for the first night of Winter Jazz. The band featured well known professional musicians and singer Dylan Menzie of Belle River, PEI. Dylan has a great voice and an easy way with the audience.  I did not know about Winter Jazz, year round we go to Island Jazz but this is different, the calibre of the artists seems better. We are going again on 15 November to hear another artist, Erin Costello from Halifax.

Both Menzie and Costello have won awards for their work and are successful. Again the music scene in PEI is great.

Now on a completely different topic, I have been interested all my life by history and archeology of sites around the world. I really enjoyed our time in Rome and travelling in Italy for all the ancient site one could explore and try to understand. Near Rome next to Fiumicino Airport is the original site of the ancient Port of Ostia with its great basins and warehouses, you can see how ships arriving from Egypt with their cargo where un-loaded and re-loaded on flat bottom barges to be floated down 35 Km on the Tiber river to the City of Rome. A site few people know because it is in a isolate and wild area once part of a Princely Estate, though it is next door literally from the Airport terminal. There are many other sites, in Jordan I visited many times the Graeco-Roman city of Gerasa or Jerash as it is know today. Built by the Romans it is fascinating to see, it is said to be one of the best preserved city of the Decapolis, it is mentioned in Mark 5.1  and Luke 8.26.

The Jordanian Government with the help of international archeological experts have preserved and enhanced Jerash. You can walk its streets and understand what a great city it was in its time.

In Poland which was devastated by the Second World War, cities like Warsaw were rebuilt to recreate the buildings lost thus reviving national history. Many other countries have done the same.

With the fall of Communism in the Soviet Union,  Russia has rediscovered its past, it is no longer taboo to talk about Imperial Russia or the Tsars. In the last 30 years much has been done to restore history to its rightful place. Vladimir Putin who is from St-Petersburg has invested enormous amounts of money to restore the former Imperial Capital. We visited the city a few years ago and I would love to go back to see more of it.

It is a city of Palaces and its suburb Tsarkoye Selo (Tsar’s Village) was the private residence of the Romanovs since Peter the Great built it. It is a collection of Palaces and great Orthodox churches more splendid one from the other. The Second World War saw St-Petersburg endure a brutal siege of 900 days and more than 1 million city residents died, mostly of starvation. Much of the Palaces and gardens of Tsarkoye Selo where savagely vandalise, looted and destroyed. What you see today when you visit is extensively re-built and restored. Historical photos show the extent of the damage and it is a miracle to see it all re-born.  Some of it was rebuilt in the 1950’s but most of it has been restored in the last 25 years and some is still on-going at great expense and it involves a great deal of expert artistry. Russia appears to have an army of incredible artists who toil at recreating the past.

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Peterhof a baroque palace built for the wife of Peter the Great by Domenico Trezzini 1714-28. The top photo shows the palace in 1944 the bottom photo shows the palace today. A miracle of restoration. We visited it and it is impressive. 

Currently the Alexander Palace built in 1792 by Italian architect Giacomo Quarenghi is being refurbished. This palace was built by Catherine the Great as a gift to her grandson Alexander who would become Tsar and fight Napoleon. He is the Tsar in the novel Tolstoy, War and Peace.

Later in 1905 this palace would become a residence for the last Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra and their 5 children. The family lived there and not at the Winter Palace in town for security reasons. The Winter Palace was used only for Official matters, the Alexander Palace was a private residence. After the Tsar abdicated in March 1917, they lived for a time in the Palace until their arrest and deportation to Siberia, they were murdered by the Bolcheviks in July 1918 on the orders of Lenin. It was President Boris Yeltsin who gave the late Imperial Family a State Funeral and invited the senior Romanovs and others to come to St-Petersburg for the funeral in 1998. The Russian Orthodox church declared them Holy Martyrs.

After the abolition of the monarchy the Palace is then turned into a museum, but little by little all the personal artifacts belonging to the Tsar’s family is either looted by the Bolcheviks, sold off in international art markets. Some will end up in other palaces like Pavlovsk where it remains to this day.

During the Second World War the Alexander Palace is destroyed by fire and looted by the German Army. It will remain largely a ruin until the 1990’s when efforts are made to renovate and rebuild. In the last 10 years, enormous efforts have been underway to bring the Palace back to its former glory, in 2020 eight rooms will be re-opened to the public and by 2022 it is hoped that the entire palace can be completed. It will be a permanent Memorial to the Family of Nicholas II since it was their family home.

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The left side of the Palace were the apartments of the Tsarina and her 5 children, the right side of the building was reserved for the Tsar. The palace itself is surrounded by enormous gardens with all manner of features, like a play house for the children, bridges over ponds, a hunting lodge for the Tsar and fantastical constructions to amuse and decorate the gardens.

The Romanovs employed both Italian architects and French garden designers, Charles Cameron a Scot was hired by Catherine the Great as her personal architect. She loved Roman antiquities and the neo-classical style.

Needless to say the restoration of these palaces is a great asset in promoting tourism and the Russian State and the regional authorities in St-Petersburg have done a lot to ensure that the memory of the Romanov are kept alive.

Here are some photos of the work done so far. Remember that the Alexander Palace was in a very poor state.

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The Maple room in 1945 used by the Tsarina as a living room.

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The Mountain Hall in 1946 with Soviet Officials posing.

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Another room in 1946, the tiles around the ruins of the fireplace are a deep greenish blue glaze.

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Second floor rooms waiting restoration. Structural work has already been done.

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The Maple room in 1920 some decorative elements have already disappeared, most of the large plants are gone. Much worse was to come. This room is under complete re-construction now since the war devastated the palace.

Some elements were saved by the Communist Curators of the Palace before the arrival of the German army in 1941.

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Some pieces of furniture did survive, because they were taken away before the war. This lapis-lazuli console table has been returned to the Palace.

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Original furniture and tiger skin rug which also survived, easier to move smaller objects in an evacuation. Now returned to the Palace.

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The Turkish Bath of the Tsar just completed with a large pool. This room had to be totally re-built and the tiles recreated from fragments found on the premises. Many photos of the era also helped.

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The study of the Tsar another room just completed in the renovations.

73117497_10221867234656794_1440528023873912832_n.jpgThe Maple room undergoing a complete reconstruction, this included recreating the delicate plaster work of guirlandes of flowers in an art nouveau style.

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The great library getting a new floor which will be an exact copy of the original.

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Ornate ceiling recreated.

This work at the Alexander Palace has been on-going for 8 years now. I cannot help thinking that once it is completed it will remain a very sad place knowing the fate of this inhabitants in 1917. Somewhat like the Miramar Palace in Trieste, once the home of Maximilian of Hapsburg and his wife Charlotte, before they accepted to move to Mexico at the invitation of Napoleon III to rule that country until Maximilian was executed by Mexican revolutionaries in 1867. His wife Empress Charlotte of Belgium returned to Europe but suffered a life of mental illness, living in seclusion and dying in 1927, quickly forgotten by her royal relatives in Austria, Belgium and Britain.