On the website of the Alexander Palace in Tsarkoye Selo which promotes and explains the complete renovations of the family home of Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Empress Alexandra and their 5 children, I saw today photos of the visit to the Palace of Prince Michael of Kent, who is a direct relative of the Romanov Family and the cousin of Queen Elizabeth II. Prince Philip some years ago had provided DNA sampling to identify the remains of Nicholas and Alexandra and the children as he was related by blood to the Royal families of Greece, Russia and Denmark. The palace re-opened to the public two months ago after years of massive renovations. The palace was closed after the Imperial family where sent into exile and to their grisly death, however more than 6000 personal effects were carefully preserved in vaults for posterity. Now they have been put back in the palace rooms recreating what it was like in 1918. It is spooky to see all these very personal mementos on display, many of which were gifts long ago between the Royal Family in England to their cousins in Russia. One wonders what Prince Michael of Kent thought when he saw it all, exactly as it was then. The expression on his face says a lot. I wonder what the other Princes and Grand Dukes of the Romanov family members will think when they eventually come to visit the Palace. They attended the State Funeral for the Tsar and his family in the 1990’s in St-Petersburg.
One of the many interest I have is too look at cities who have gone through calamities of war or natural disasters and see how they re-built or re-imagined their cities. Europe some 75 years ago saw the end of the Second World War leaving behind millions of dead, shattered lives and countries, refugees looking for a new start like in Canada and ruined cities now under the grip of new political masters.
Russia in 1917 went through the social upheaval of a disastrous engagement into the First World War and falling into the hands of murderous politicians who in 70 years of rule manage to kill 40 million of its own citizens through repression. A way of life was scrubbed out completely. Since 1999 and the assent to power of Vladimir Putin, a movement has been in full swing to bring back the past of Tsarist Russia for commercial and tourist reasons. It also helps to promote Nationalism in Russia by bringing back old symbols and monuments.
Just 30 Km outside of St-Petersburg is the royal settlement of Tsarkoye Selo (Tsar’s village) a collection of palaces, cathedrals, train station, academies and barracks devoted to creating a place for Russian royalty to live and play far from the hoi polloi, it event has its own gate in Pharaonic Style on the main road from St-Petersburg.
Built in 1827 by Adam Adamovich Menelaws in egyptian revival style.
At the end of the Second World War the German army had inflicted massive damage to Tsarkoye Selo, burning down palaces and destroying parks, what the Russian government could not take away before the German advanced on the area was either stolen and brought back to Germany or simply vandalized. When visiting St-Petersburg and Tsarkoye Selo today has been re-built and renovated by an army of artists and artisans doing meticulous work in re-creating palaces of the 17th century. Luckily voluminous archives existed to help in this work. Fragments also survived sometimes surprising the restorers. Most if not all the Palaces in Tsarkoye Selo where built by Italian architects who brought with them that style of architecture so coveted by the Russian Aristocracy.
One palace which is being re-built since 2005 is the Alexander palace which stands in a vast park across the street from the Great Catherine Palace most visitors are more familiar with.
The Alexander Palace (New Tsarskoselsky) was presented as a gift by Catherine II to her eldest grandson, the future Emperor Alexander I, on the occasion of his marriage to Grand Duchess Elizabeth Alexeevna. According to the idea of Catherine II, the palace had to be similar to the château at Ferney, where the great thinker of that time – Voltaire – lived. But in 1792 the architect Giacomo Quarenghi presented another project to the Empress and convinced her of its advantage. The palace construction was completed in May of 1796, and in June the then Grand Duke Alexander, his spouse Elizabeth and his Court moved into the New Palace.
The Alexander Palace in the classical style is considered to be the pearl among all the creations of Giacomo Quarenghi.
The Alexander Palace was a summer home for the Imperial Family in the 19th century, but it became a real home for the last Russian Emperor Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra during the last 13 years of their reign. From this palace the family of Nicholas II was arrested and sent into exile in Tobolsk and ultimately to their deaths in July 1917.
In 1918 the Alexander Palace was opened to visitors as a state museum. The display included the historic interiors in the central part of the building and the living apartments of the Romanov family in the east wing of the palace.
Later the left wing was turned into a rest home for the Secret Police NKVD, while on the second floor of the right wing the former rooms of Nicholas II’s children became an orphanage named the “Young Communards”.
In the first months prior to the Nazi invasion chandeliers, carpets, some items of furniture, eighteenth-century marble and porcelain articles were evacuated from the Alexander Palace. Most of the palace furnishings remained in the halls.
During the occupation the palace housed the German army staff and the Gestapo. The cellars became a prison and the square in front of the palace a cemetery for members of the SS. In 1951 a Soviet government decision handed the Alexander Palace to the Naval Department of the USSR, while the palace’s surviving furniture went to the Pavlosk Palace nearby where much of the collections remain to this day. In late 2009, the palace recovered its museum status and restoration work started and continues to this day, it is to be completed in 2021. It will then be a memorial to Tsar Nicholas II his wife Alexandra and 5 children, a rather sad place knowing their fate.
Here are some recent photos of the work in progress, it is truly remarkable, careful and meticulous work.
An old photo of the Palace in 1945 after the German retreat. The Palace is heavily damaged and the park surrounding it destroyed.
The reconstructed and redecorated Imperial Bed Chamber of Nicholas and Alexandra. All this fabric was reproduced from original supplies saved and stored at Pavlosk Palace and Gatchina Palace in 1939 by the then Curators of the palace. You can see the view from the bed looking straight out towards the windows. You also have to remember that when the reconstruction of the Palace started the walls were bare and damaged nothing else existed. Russian television was filming for the news broadcast.
Here is the Palisandre or Rose wood drawing room of Her Majesty. Again recreation of this room was done from many photographs prior to 1914 when the Imperial Family lived in the Palace. Everything had to be rebuilt, the rose wood paneling, the fireplace, the silk wallpaper, the curtains, floors and all the ceiling decoration.
The study of the Tsar, rebuilt completely and not quite finished an exact replica of the original. Still the furniture that was salvaged and evacuated for safe keeping in 1939 can be brought back to the palace. The Chandelier will be reproduced and re-installed.
The Mauve boudoir of Her Majesty, reproduced including the furniture from photographs and archive material. Missing at the moment the fireplace which will be re-installed.
One of the more fascinating room of the Palace, the Turkish Bathroom of the Tsar. The room was destroyed during the war and only a few tiles survived. With the fragments artists reproduced them all, including the re-built fireplace in front of which is a huge pool filled with sea water and the beautiful wood work.
Close-up look of the fireplace with the bronze covering, a work of art.
this photo shows what the palace looked like prior to 2005 when little had been done. These rooms are not part of the imperial suite and will be rebuilt but probably used as office space for the curators of the palace.
Detail of the curtains made for the mauve drawing room. The original fabric was saved in parts in the archives. Incredible amount of work has gone into reproducing original material.
The ceiling area with its original decorations reproduced by artisans.
the Maple Drawing-Room’s wooden decoration elements! Behold, the finial of the newel post (and the beginnings of the staircase) that will be installed for the room’s Entresol (Mezzanine) and staircase. All hand carved.
The Maple Drawing-room is probably one of the more famous rooms of the palace and was photographed many times while the Imperial family still lived in the Palace and again after 1919 when the palace became a museum. The room was completely destroyed during the war, nothing survived except for some small pieces of furniture and objects which had been taken away by the curators for safe keeping.
One of the few surviving pieces of furniture from the Her Majesty’s apartments. This chair in particular, comes from the shared Bedchambre of Their Majesties. It still sports its original chintz upholstery which is damaged, the pink ribbon has all but faded but the wreathes are still there. You can see the damaged, white enameled woodwork as well. It’s amazing to know that even after the War, things like this were somehow saved.
Photo by Andrei Zeest taken in 1917 before the Imperial family was arrested and exiled of the Maple Drawing room. The room was totally destroyed and in currently under reconstruction and will by 2021 look again as it does in this old photo. Recently the metal box containing the plants and made of copper re-surfaced, it was kept with other objects at Pavlosk Palace.
Today still under reconstruction the Maple Drawing room. The plaster work of rose vines all around the ceiling and other decorative elements being recreated is a huge task.
An artist here working on the plaster work in the Maple Drawing room, delicate painstaking work.
Soviet staff visiting the palace after the war, damage is apparent in this room. It will be interesting to visit the Alexander Palace in 2021 when all the restoration work is complete. It will in all likely hood be a huge draw given how popular the tragic figures of the Tsar and his family have become in Russia and elsewhere. Now acknowledge by the State as victims of Bolchevik terror and canonized as Holy Martyrs by the Russian Orthodox Church, the Alexander Palace could become a pilgrimage site like other sites in Russia where the family was imprisoned and killed.
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.
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.
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.
The Maple room in 1945 used by the Tsarina as a living room.
The Mountain Hall in 1946 with Soviet Officials posing.
Another room in 1946, the tiles around the ruins of the fireplace are a deep greenish blue glaze.
Second floor rooms waiting restoration. Structural work has already been done.
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.
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.
Original furniture and tiger skin rug which also survived, easier to move smaller objects in an evacuation. Now returned to the Palace.
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.
The study of the Tsar another room just completed in the renovations.
The Maple room undergoing a complete reconstruction, this included recreating the delicate plaster work of guirlandes of flowers in an art nouveau style.
The great library getting a new floor which will be an exact copy of the original.
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.
Who would have thought that 97 years after the Russian Revolution which saw the end of the Russian Empire and downfall of the Romanov Dynasty we would be back at square one. Yes folks, believe or not the news this week from Russia is for the re-instatement of the Imperial Family on the Throne of all the Russias. This news comes from a Member of the Russian Parliament and a supporter of Vladimir Putin, President of Russia.
I know that if you took a passing interest in Russian History you would believe that according to the movie Dr. Zhivago and all other Soviet propaganda movies, the Romanovs were dead and gone, end of story, the country is now run by the little people. Well not quite, it’s complicated as they say.
It is true that the Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra and their children and servants were shot in July 1918 in Yekaterinburg at the Ipatieff House. BUT! because there is a but, the rest of the family all fled in exile, thanks to their cousins in the various Royal Houses of Europe. Many left including the mother of Tsar Nicholas on war ships sent to the Crimea by King George V of England. That is quite a few uncles and aunts and nieces, nephews, cousins etc. with their servants and the sister of the Tsar, Grand Duchess Olga who ended up in Toronto with her husband and children.
On top of that, for all their rhetoric Lenine and other revolutionaries kept everything they found in the Palaces including the personal objects left in the Ipatieff house by Tsar Nicholas and his wife and kids. All of it which includes, children’s toys, clothing, personal diaries and all manner of other personal items, preserved in vaults at the Kremlin or in other locations. It is one of those contradictions of history that is very difficult to explain. In France when the revolutionaries arrested Louis XVI and his wife Marie-Antoinette and the children, the palaces were emptied and everything that could be sold was put on the auction bloc. You can see much of it nowadays in London in museum like the Wallace Collection at Hertford House. The French would love to have it back now, too late.
The Soviets were a little more thoughtful, thinking that the people had to see what the revolution was all about and artefacts from the past was an important reminder, though ghoulish given the fate of the Tsar and his family.
So fast forward to 1990 and the fall of Communism and the collapse of Soviet Russia. First, Boris Yeltsin then President opens a special enquiry on the fate of the remains of the Tsar’s Family, will follow 10 years of DNA examination and expertise with numerous scientists in Forensic Pathology and historians. Members of the Royal Families in Europe were involved, Prince Philip who with other Princes is a close family relative gave blood for DNA matching. The results confirmed the grave site in an abandon field as those of the Tsar, his family and servants. In turn President Yeltsin arranged an elaborate State National Funeral for the Tsar and his family for their remains to be returned to St-Petersburg with a guard of Honour, 21 gun salute, broadcasted on Russian TV. He also invited the Romanov Family to come as his guests to the Cathedral in the Peter and Paul Fortress in St-Petersburg to witness the internment in a chapel amongst all the other Romanov Tsars and Grand Dukes. Many other governments also sent delegations and Queen Elizabeth II was represented by a personal family member. Suddenly the Romanovs are back in style and well the Bolcheviks and Lenin are criminals and terrorists.
Funeral Chapel and Mausoleum in the Cathedral of the Peter and Paul Fortress in St-Petersburg. The Imperial family is interred below the floor.
Now when the Romanov family departed Russia in 1918 for various countries in Europe and Canada a deep division occurred amongst them. You had the main branch the Alexandrovich who were headed at the time by Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna who was originally a Danish Princess and widow of Tsar Alexander III father of Tsar Nicholas II.
Today the Alexandrovich branch is headed by Prince Andrew Andreyevich Romanov who lives in California and is 93 years old. He belongs like all Romanovs to a German-Danish Princely House, the Holstein-Gottorp House. There are no Russian Romanovs since the days of Tsarina Catherine II the Great who was a Prussian Princess and married the heir to the Throne of Russia, Peter III who himself was a Holstein-Gottorp. This family is linked to the Romanov by marriage and Law of Succession.
Coat of Arms of the Holstein-Gottorp Romanov Family used by the Romanov Family Association to this day.
So when the news of a possible return of the Monarchy was broadcasted on Russian news outlets and around the world the old Feud between the two branches of the family came back full force.
The other branch is the Vladimirovich Branch headed today by Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovich who also styles herself as Her Imperial Highness and Head of the Imperial House, she has a son George.
Her great grandfather Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich, the direct male-line patrilineal descendant of Alexander II of Russia, claimed the headship of the defunct Imperial House of Russia, and assumed the pretender title “Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russians” in 1924 when evidence that all earlier claimants had been killed was final. He was followed by his only son Vladimir Kirillovich. Vladimir’s only child, Maria Vladimirovna, is the current pretender; her only son from her marriage with Prince Franz Wilhelm of Prussia, George Mikhailovich, is her heir apparent, dynastically about to found a new branch Hohenzollern-Romanov, while other descendants of junior side branches of the Holstein-Gottorp-Romanovs are still living.
The Romanov Family Association, a private association of most of the remaining descendants of Emperor Paul I of Russia, makes no claim to the defunct throne, and disputes the current headship of the house. These two groups continue to have differences of opinion. Maria Vladimirovna is treated/described coldly as that other cousin of ours. Kirill Vladimirovich is seen as a traitor since he was in charge of the Regiment guarding the Alexander Palace where the Tsarina Alexandra and children lived. He deserted his post to join the revolution and make a claim for the Throne Nicholas had just vacated. By doing so he sealed the fate of the Imperial Family who were arrested.
Maria Vladimirovna has been very active by forming alliances with the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia and organizing events to promote herself and her cause. She is often photographed with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church and supports the Church’s agenda. She visited Pope Benedict at the Vatican, she also met with Putin and other Russian Politicians. Putin has been watching this evolving situation and what he has in mind is to use a possible restoration of the Monarchy to enhance his own position. The new Sovereign would be a titular head, a living symbol of Russia and have a ceremonial role only. Already a suitable palace is being scouted in the St-Petersburg region, there are quite a few palaces available. President Putin has been since 2000 restoring many palaces and historical sites. A forest of Statues to former Tsars are sprouting up everywhere quickly replacing Bolchevik monuments. Always in attendance at the unveiling are members of the Romanov Family and representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church, on display the old Imperial Flag and of course military band to play God Save the Tsar. This reunification with the past does not stop at the Romanov it also includes all the other old aristocratic families and they too are being wooed to return to Mother Russia. The Tolstoy family has returned and now manage their old estates. The Fabergé are not aristocrats but still everyone loves their creations. Putin also offers to any Romanov Princes to be buried in Russia in the Crypt of the Grand Dukes with their ancestors. Each funeral is given an Official sanction. The Church has made the Tsar and his family Saints and Martyrs, they are now venerated. Each year on 17 July marking the date of their execution, hundreds of thousands of Pilgrim attend the special Mass for the Nicholas II and his wife and family in the new Cathedral in Yekaterinburg built on the site of their execution.
The Russian government is betting that Russians will feel a bond with the old days and since religion and ruler in Russia has always been a uniting factor this might just be the thing for Putin. Tourism wise, having a Romanov to show to the tourists is not a bad thing, look at England, it brings hard cash. As for World Opinion, for purely sentimental reasons might just see such a return to the old ways as a softening up of that hard regime image Russia has, how bad can they be if they return the Romanov to the Throne? All is forgiven and not quite forgotten. This could be quite the game changer.
Imperial Coat of Arms used by HIH Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna.
So stay tuned folks more to come on this evolving story line.