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.
All around the world many cultural sites are being restored by Governments and private groups in order to rediscover history and appreciate the beauty and value of architecture.
In Athens a 25 year program restored many important buildings of the Acropolis, the work requires expertise and scholars, archeologists, historians and artisans and buckets of money.
Barcelona will complete the Sagrada Familia Church in 2026 with the donations of tourists who pay an entrance fee.
Versailles continues its restorations of the chateau bringing back elements that were neglected for decades with a comprehensive program of restoration of furniture, the gardens and fountains and other buildings.
Berlin has done much work in the last 30 years since reunification changing the look of the city making it more people friendly and restoring its 18 Century look.
Everywhere you go it seems much is done to enhance the heritage component of cities. All this work also brings more tourist dollars or Euros as the case may be.
Russia under Vladimir Putin has also done much to enhance its heritage. Restoring countless monasteries, churches and palaces. Last week the Alexander Palace re-opened to the public after 8 years of restoration.
In the case of the Alexander Palace which is located in Tsarkoye Selo some 25 Km from St-Petersburg, it was a gigantic effort and a costly one. The original palace was built by Catherine the Great for her grandson Alexander I and his wife. They did not like living in the palace and so remained in their suite of rooms at the Great Catherine Palace across the street. Around 1820 the palace became the Official Summer Residence of the Heir to the Russian Throne. Finally in 1894, Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra moved in and made it their private residence. They would live there until August 1917, when they were exiled to Siberia. The Palace was closed by the Bolcheviks and turned into a museum until 1939 when the invading Nazis and Spanish Fascists troops laid siege to St-Petersburg (Leningrad) for 900 days.
Before the arrival of the Nazis, the Soviet Government rapidly emptied the palaces all around Tsarkoye Selo of their most valuable contents shipping them East for safe keeping. In the case of the Alexander Palace not all the contents could be shipped off due to time constraints. Some less important art works where hidden in the basement. This did not stop the looting and vandalism by foreign invaders. In 1945 with the end of the war, the damage was assessed and no one believed that the Alexander Palace and its park would be restored given the amount of destruction. However some officials of the Culture department started to work on saving and restoring what they could. The Palace was re-opened to the public with limited displays but it all had a very sad look. The roof leaked and some rooms were beyond salvage.
Only in 2014 did very serious work start to restore the palace to its former glory as a private residence of the last Tsar and his family. On You Tube, you will find recent videos of the opening of the Palace to the press and experts explain how the final results were achieved. Some 6000 personal objects, from clothing to paintings, vases, other bibelots, books, even personal diaries kept by the Tsarina until 2 hours before her murder are in the collection returned to the Palace and placed in the various rooms. The Bolcheviks kept everything and catalogue it all. It is in many way ghoulish and says a lot about Lenin and company. The children’s toys are particularly poignant, they will eventually be placed in their bedrooms on the second floor.
The work done in the restoration is spectacular, fragments of tiles, fabric and wallpaper have all been reproduced meticulously. In one room, rare Brazilian Rosewood called Palisander, panel the walls. The Tsar and his family could walk back into those rooms today and find them as they left them in August 1917, in all its splendor with all their personal items, clothing, family photos etc.
The Palace will be their memorial, though the family was murdered in a dark cellar some 103 years ago, this refurbishment is eerily real.
My reputation as the Colgate smile poster child is being tested. The treatment of Monday did not work out, so tomorrow that molar has to come out. Oh well so is life.
Amongst the many things I read on the internet some topics I have been following for years. One such topic was the reconstruction of East Berlin from 1990 to today. It is quite amazing when you know that the City of Berlin in May 1945 was nothing more than a field of ruins, very little survived the intense bombing between 1942 to 1945.
At the end of the war the city was divided between East and West, the eastern part was given to the USSR and the western part was carved up between the UK, France and the USA. West Berlin was rebuilt, whereas the East, especially the old historical part of the City was left in ruins until 1990. The Soviet Union was making a political or ideological point. Only after re-unification up until now has major reconstruction taken place, transforming the city and bringing back its heritage buildings and parks.
Russia and the City of St-Petersburg has also seen major restoration since Vladimir Putin has ruled that country, he is a native son of the city and hundred of millions of rubles have been spent on rebuilding palaces, cathedrals, refurbishing palaces and its work of art and furniture. Millions of tourists visit the city each year just to see all the numerous palaces and churches and museums including the Hermitage which requires a whole week by itself for a visit.
Outside of St-Petersburg, going South some 24 Km away on the seashore, the various Tsars starting with Peter the Great built themselves Summer Palaces, Catherine the Great and many others did the same, then the nobility followed suit. So much so that this area was called the Tsar’s Village or Tsarkoye Selo. Many renowned architects mostly Italians came to design these palaces and gardens. Unfortunately, first the revolution of 1917 but more damaging was the occupation of the German army in June 1941 for 900 days ravaged the area so severely that only naked ruins remained.
After the war the government of the USSR spent time and money to restore some of the palaces, but mostly to turn them into dormitory for the poor or schools or government buildings.
The Alexander palace which sits across from the Catherine Palace, so named for Empress Catherine I in 1717 and then enlarge by Empress Elizabeth I a few years later. A third Empress Catherine II the Great will again beautify and enlarge it.
Catherine II decided to gift her grandson his own palace called the Alexander Palace built in 1792, he later became Tsar Alexander I who defeated Napoleon during the Russian campaign. The last Tsar Nicholas II and his wife and children lived in that Palace away from St-Petersburg, for reasons of safety. This will be the place were he and his family are arrested by the Provisional Government of Alexander Kerensky and deported to their death in Siberia. Until 1941 the palace was a museum to the Tsar and his family. However with the arrival of the German army, many of the treasures were moved to Moscow and the palace was abandoned to the Nazi who quickly destroyed it. It sits in a very large park with many pavilions and other attractions built for the pleasure of the Imperial family.
When the Arts council of St-Petersburg decided to start rebuilding the Palace in the 1990’s it was under the direction of Vladimir Putin who also decided to rebuild other palaces and churches making of the entire area a showcase for the world.
In the case of the Alexander Palace, the building had to be rebuilt, new roof, new floors and extensive historical research to present the palace as it was in 1917 when the Imperial family still lived there. No small feat, given the extent of the destruction, luckily large archives of photos and other documents helped greatly the historians.
The Alexander palace will re-open in 2022 and all the work will be completed by 2024. Some wonderful photos have come to us from the Tsarskoselskaya Restoration Workshop http://@tsarskoselskaya_workshop
They reproduced, tiles for the bathrooms and fireplaces, curtains and wallpaper, plaster work, chandeliers, woodwork and furniture, all of it had been destroyed. A gigantic piece of detailed and historically accurate work, all matching the historical photos of the rooms. Any visitor will be able to appreciate how the family lived in their private family palace. A very different place than the Winter Palace which was used for Official functions only.
Hopefully one day we may return to St-Petersburg to see it again.
Finally today we are having sunshine and mild temp, in the next few days it will go up to 14C, however for the Easter Weekend looks like rain and 6C.
This morning we went to Leonhard’s for breakfast, owned by a swiss german fellow, this café has a very elegant european flair to it, not only in its relaxed and elegant decor but also in the food they serve. All of it is clearly inspired by European cuisine and not the usual North American fair.
I had an omelette with vegetables, it was very fluffy and seasoned just right, something you do not encounter usually in restaurants here. Tables are set with fresh flowers, tulips at this time of the year. You could say that the atmosphere is clean, crisp and relaxed. No background music which is nice. In the summer they have ample boxes of flowers and hanging green plants on the front sidewalk.
We have another German bakery which just opened also on Great George street but on the South side of the Provincial Legislature, again offering a very different fair from all the other restaurants/café in town. More geared towards the local crowd instead of the tourist crowd.
This morning one of the blogs I follow, entitled Berlin Companion featured the National Monument to the Wars of Liberation in Kreuzberg on its 200 Anniversary.
For people who have visited the Invalides in Paris, under the dome is the Tomb of Emperor Napoleon, you will probably have noticed the 12 columns in a circle around the tomb, they represent the 12 military campaigns of Napoleon all across Europe over 12 years, basically continuous wars during his reign. The Monument on the Kreuzberg in Berlin also refers to the 12 wars which are named wars of Liberation from French oppression. There are all over Germany, other monuments were built celebrating that liberation from this constant warfare waged by Napoleon in his effort to conquer Europe and appoint himself the new Charlemagne.
This is something very rarely mentioned in history books and certainly never mentioned by French authors who prefer to present Napoleon’s action as a romantic endeavour. However if you follow the historical tread you will see that those wars sowed the seeds for further wars in the 19th century between France and German States and Prussia and after 1870 a unified Germany. It is almost a seesaw effect of trying to correct wrongs. Think 1870 Franco-Prussian War, 1914-1918 and then 1939-1945, in all those conflicts the underlying narrative is revenge, either by Germany or France.
The National Monument on Kreuzberg (Cross Hill) leads down the avenue to Belle-Alliance Platz this alliance/Treaty between Great-Britain, Prussia, Austria and Russia created and maintained an army of 600,000 men until such time as Napoleon was completely defeated and overthrown. This Belle-Alliance ultimately led to Waterloo. Since 1945 Belle-Alliance Platz has been renamed Mehring Platz and sadly completely modernized.
On March 30, 1821 – the seventh anniversary of the Prussian charge of Montmartre and of the conquest of Paris, which unavoidably triggered Napoleon’s demise in 1814 – King Friedrich Wilhelm III arrived on top of the Tempelhofer Berg (also known as the Weinberg, soon to be renamed Kreuzberg). The highest natural elevation in what is now central Berlin but back in the days was still part of a district outside the city limits.
Accompanied by an illustrious guest, Russian Tsar Alexander I – Friedrich Wilhelm’s brother-in-arms in the conflict with Napoleon Bonaparte – Prussian monarch came to witness the unveiling of a monument commemorating their victories in what came to be known as the Wars of Liberation, 1802-1814.
As Prussia’s military ally in the wars against Napoleon it was Alexander who prevented the king – as well as the Austrian emperor for he was wavering, too – from making what could have been the biggest mistake in the history of the Coalition: he convinced them to take Paris instead of withdrawing their troops. Now it was time to celebrate these good choices.
National Memorial for Wars of Liberation – a 200-tonne cast-iron tapering structure installed on an octagonal stone base – was the work of Karl Friedrich Schinkel and Johann Heinrich Strack (who was responsible for the stone base).
Schinkel, supported by several renown contemporary artists with Christian Daniel Rauch as the most prominent among them, created an artwork which truly had everything a memorial of this kind should possess: it was impressive, it was elegant, it was positively oozing with symbols which everybody understood and was happy to see included and, last but not least, it had twelve extremely good-looking statues with faces the crowds back then were often able to recognise.
The memorial’s leitmotiv was a cross: it was a direct reference to a new military decoration introduced by King Friedrich Wilhelm III in 1813 after the Battle of Leipzig: the legendary Eiserne Kreuz, the Iron Cross. The foot of the memorial itself is shaped liked one, too, and you will see the shape repeated from the memorial’s bottom to its very top.
The 200-year-old memorial in Viktoriapark inspired the name of the hill and the neighbourhood.
Well it is time for another instalment about books I am reading. The latest is the new Biography written by fellow Montrealer Rosemary Sullivan, winner of several prestigious literary awards, on the life of Svetlana Iosifovna Stalina (1926-2011) know later in life by the family name of her late mother, Alliluyeva and when she became an American citizen as Lana Peters. The book is entitled Stalin’s Daughter.
She had brothers, one, Yakov Dzhugashvili (1907-1943) died at Sachsenhausen during the Second World War in a POW camp for famous prisoners. He was the first born son of Stalin and his first wife. Yakov spoke more Georgian than Russian and it is said that Stalin did not like him much. Her other brother was Vasili Stalin (1921-1962) Lieutenant General in the Soviet Air Force, a drunk who died of acute alcoholism. She also had another brother by adoption Artyom Fyodorovich Sergeyev ( 1921-2008) the adopted son of Joseph Stalin. He became a major general in the Soviet military. Sergeyev’s biological father, Fyodor Sergeyev, a close friend of Stalin, died in a train crash in 1921.
Svetlana had a strange and sad life, she was known in Soviet Elite Circles as the Princess of the Kremlin. When her mother Nadezhda Sergeevna Alliluyeva committed suicide by gunshot at the age of 31 after a party in the Kremlin in 1932, Svetlana was a child of 6 yrs old. Her world went from a carefree childhood to one of harrowing unexplained events punctuated by the disappearance of uncles and aunts and other relatives. Svetlana was physically isolated within the Kremlin and saw her father only occasionally and being followed and guarded by the Secret Police. Because of her isolation she was unaware of the cruelty of her father’s regime. Only at the age of 11 she noticed that schoolmates also disappeared or heard of their parents being arrested by the Secret Police. Later at the age of 14 while learning English and having access to American and British magazine she discovered by accident an article claiming that her mother had shot herself and not died of acute appendicitis as claimed in Official Soviet version of her death. This caused her severe emotional distress. At the age of 16 she started to understand that those who had disappeared in her family had been shot on her father’s orders because he blamed them for his wife’s suicide instead of looking at his own sordid behaviour.
Stalin was cruel, vindictive, a misogynist and distrusted everyone, always seeing conspiracies against him, always testing people, one wrong word could be a death sentence. Svetlana became afraid and careful of what she said around her father when she saw him. He in turn could be nasty, as he had been with his late wife, full of put downs and negative criticism.
The book also gives us a description of how the elite who all lived together in the old Imperial Senate building of the Kremlin, lived on a daily basis. Children had governesses, tutors, private health care and the best of everything. Wives of party officials and the family members of Stalin had access to all manners of foreign luxury goods, even in times of famine everywhere in the Soviet Union, they had access to the best food and wines. Their lives where like that of the Bourgeoisie before the Revolution. There was also the Datcha’s ( luxury homes) outside Moscow and other old Tsarist Palaces in the Crimea on the Black Sea. Chauffeured limousine, private trains and planes. Still her life was restricted to Moscow and the surrounding countryside. She would not visit Leningrad (St-Petersburg) until adulthood after her father’s death.
A series of fresh crisis erupted with the death of her father in March 1953, the power struggle and the physical elimination of people like Lavrenti Beria who was the head of the Secret Service and managed the million of executions of so called enemies of the people. Svetlana finds herself in a difficult situation, the Central committee declares that as the daughter of the late Stalin, she is State Property and her life is managed by the new leadership. She withdraws from public view and in March 1956 with the widespread publication of Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev speech on Stalin’s crimes, she no longer dares go out in public, so afraid of the people’s loathing. She decides to change her name to her late’s mother family name, but this creates more problems for her. This is how kafkaesque the world of the Soviet Union was.
The book goes through her marriages both in the USSR and in the USA where she became an American citizen. Her famous defection in 1967 to the USA while in India to bury her husband Brajesh Singh. The publication of her first book Twenty letters to a Friend. Her 3 children, Joseph (1945-2008) Katya (1950) and Olga Peters (1971), two who are still alive live in Russia and in the USA. Olga does not speak Russian and was born in California.
Svetlana died in 2011 age 85 of cancer in Wisconsin, she also had a home in Portland. She never found peace nor did she ever get away from the ghost of her father or be reconcile with the death of her mother and became estranged from her children Josef and Katya, only Olga the American born daughter grew close to her. You feel sorry for Svetlana who like all children do not chose her parents and the accident of birth which haunted her life.
Svetlana Alliluyeva Stalina
Readers of this blog will know that I have a fascination for historical renovations of famous places. Among the many blogs on architecture and history I am following, two blogs one in Russia and one in Germany have large number of followers from around the world. Gropus who specialize in architecture, people sharing ideas and photos of specific projects underway, some discussions are esoteric and interesting, many bring specialize knowledge.
Russia since 1990 has seen a full blown restoration of countless Orthodox churches, monasteries, palaces, monuments of Imperial Russia. Yes the Romanov are back with a vengeance.
Monthly a new monument, monastery, church or palace opens completely renovated to its former glory, even Putin has his own pet project, the former palace of Grand Duke Konstantin which he rebuilt as the Official palace of the Russian President. The Konstantinovsky Palace was destroyed in 1944 now it lives again.
St-Petersburg and its outskirts was occupied between 1942-1944 by the Nazi army, the region experienced the death of a million citizens and the virtual destruction of its most historical buildings. But since 1990 the Government of Russia has given back to the Russian Orthodox Church its monasteries and churches and helped them financially with restoration, all of which is complicated due to old building techniques and material used.
All this restoration is going towards tourism promotion, the Soviets destroyed on purpose many historical places, looting and selling off assets, in some cases using once beautiful gardens to bury the millions of victims of the purges of Stalin, thus polluting waterways and gardens with the stench of human decay.
Putin changed all that and St-Petersburg being his hometown lavishly benefitted from monies to massively rehabilitate the city and its sights. Armies of artisans, construction trades of all kinds, architects and historians are at work. Many have taken photos of their work and share them with the public, creating excitement in the process.
In Germany many cities have seen vast restoration in what was East Germany. Many of the websites I read are in German and great discussions take place on how to proceed or why not do this or that. Of course cost $$$ is always a huge factor and in most cases the public has made substantial monetary donations, the Federal Government cannot do it all and also the political aspect comes into play. Former communists and socialists oppose for historical and ideological reasons some restorations, an example the memorial to the first German Emperor Wilhelm I (1870). Same in Potsdam with the Garnison Church which is being rebuilt now with donations from the Lutheran Church and other members of the public. The socialist on the Potsdam town council oppose this project for ideological reasons. German Newspapers carry articles and opinion pieces and no project is not without controversy. In Brunswick the former ducal palace destroyed during the war was rebuilt however to make it economically viable the inside is a shopping mall.
Not to forget that many of the old nobility is still around and have opinions on what has happened to their former homes. In Russia the Romanov descendants some of whom have returned to live are paraded by the authorities who cater to them on the theme of the good old days, romantic mythology for the masses. The Church and Russian Christian Orthodox who support the Romanov Family is courted by Putin for votes and support through such endeavours. Finally the tourists also love to see the sights restored.
Germany does the same thing, the old nobles now have wineries, renovated castle turned into B&B or appear at public events, photoshoots etc to lend a sense of the authentic. Even the old Imperial family, Hohenzollern have gone into commercial ventures, one created a jazz band, appear at cultural events, run museums in their family chateau, talk to the tourists who are awe struck.
Here are some photos of today and yesterday to illustrate the point of the discussions going on websites. I find this interesting because we do not have those discussions here in Canada, no one is really interested, heritage is not understood in the same way.
It also gives an idea of what people are thinking and how they see their country and themselves today compared with 90 years ago in what was to become a very dark chapter for Germany.
One big discussion on the reconstruction of the City Palace now called Humboldt Forum. the Architect Franco Stella, imagined a re-built palace with historical facade on 3 sides and one very modern facade on the East side. He wanted to show past and present and since this re-built palace will be a museum to world culture, there is a mix of two visions, from where we were to where we are now. The inside rooms will not be recreated, the rooms are designed for a modern museum with no reference to its imperial past. Again the contrast between former use and new use, it does not prevent the debate about why not recreate the historical rooms.
The East facade of 1445 on the Spree River around 1920 with its private garden.
The East facade of the Palace was the private living quarter of the Imperial Family. The Eastern portion of the Palace will expand as of 1701 when the Kingdom of Prussia is proclaimed.
The old Apothek or Pharmacy wing of the palace across the street from the Lutheran Cathedral. This oldest portion of the palace will not be rebuilt, instead we now have this modern new wing. This was a compromise with the various political parties in the Bundestag. It was never meant to be a reconstruction of the Imperial Palace or a memorial to the Kaiser. The three historical facade, South, West and North fit with all the other buildings in the area of the same era, whereas the Eastern facade is facing across the river the modern area of Alexander Platz.
The Humboldt Forum will open to the public as a Museum, conference centre, city library and a rooftop restaurant in October 2020.
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.
In the last few weeks with the zigzags of international situations and the horrible nightmare circus of the Trump NO Foreign Policy, I am concerned for the safety of us all and for the stability of the World.
On my last visit to Damascus back in around 2002 just before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, I was surprise to see the large number of Iranian visitors, business people and families living in neighbourhoods of Damascus a city before the Civil War of 2 million people. The official explanation was Shia Holy Sites which brought people to visit Syria. In the Southern Suburb of Damascus is the tomb and Mosque of Sayidda Zeinab daughter of Ali and grand daughter of the Prophet Mohammed. The Mosque in Persian Style was built in the 1990’s on the site of a much older mosque. The Iranian Embassy was also the next door neighbour of the Canadian Embassy in Damascus on Fayez Mansour.
The Assad Regime in Syria is allied with Iran for various complex political and military reasons and Iran is an important supporter of Hezbollah ( the Party of God) in Lebanon and these alliances are maintained to keep a foothold in Lebanon keeping the country unstable and ensuring the on-going influence of Syria in Lebanon. Iran can also maintain pressure on Israel with the help of its proxy Hezbollah.
Since the invasion of Iraq by the USA in 2003 and the final overthrow of the Regime of Saddam Hussein, Iran has moved into Iraq on the pretext of helping the Shia majority at the expense of the Sunni minority. It also helps control politics in Iraq and prevents the USA from dominating the region and helps Russia play a large role. Something Russia has been wanting to do since the 1930’s but was unable to do because of British and American interest in the area. Britain is now gone and the USA are in a weaken position.
Enters Trump and his simpleton politics of I know it all school of thought, who decided to abandon the Kurds who counted on the USA as an ally seeking protection from Turkey, Iran and Russia. Confirming the old belief that you really cannot depend on the USA as an Ally. Russia is consolidating its position in the region, having cultivated President Erdogan of Turkey by selling him armaments despite the fact that Turkey is still a member of NATO. Russia is undermining NATO and Trump in London said that he does not feel compelled to uphold article 5 of the Alliance of mutual assistance. This sends a strong message to Russia and China who understand that they can make a move with little fear of USA intervention.
Trump then makes threats against Turkey of sanctions thinking that President Erdogan will give in, which is unlikely given his own posturing at home and new found friends in Russia and China. This point escapes Trump completely and his arrogant attitude at the NATO Anniversary in London shows how much he is out of it, we also saw how the world thinks little of him and the USA. His leaving early in a huff or calling President Macron and Prime Minister Trudeau names like a school child did little to enhance his profile.
The Civil War in Syria will come to an end with Russia and Iran as the winners, the USA will be out and the Kurds will be reduced once again to living on the margins, because they backed the USA.
What sort of Syria will we have in the future, not a democratic one, more like an enhanced dictatorship with more grinding poverty, a powerful Russia with naval bases in the port of Latakia, something Russia has been wanting for more than a century. Iran will also get access to the Mediterranean and come to dominate the region, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq. This puts even more pressure on Israel and pushes out Saudi interests in the entire region, Iran is the winner. With Trump’s ever changing reasoning and attitudes, 60 years of complicated US diplomacy is gone. It leaves little Jordan alone with Israel to fend for themselves.
With Israel at the moment in a state of turmoil as Premier Netanyahu facing criminal prosecution for corruption, no clear winner after 2 back to back election. Trump may think he can just send in the Marines to clear things up, but it no longer works that way, this is not the 1940’s. The USA is running out of options but hey The Donald can’t seem to grasp this reality.
War with Russia is not possible, because Nuclear Weapons. A conflict with Iran is also not feasible, Russia again would certainly intervene on the side of Iran. Sanctions against Turkey will not work either and only push the Turks into the Russian camp further and undermine NATO on its Southern flank.
China has been moving for the last 20 years to displace the USA commercially in Africa, South America and Asia. China is having economic problems due to Trump’s tariffs but there is a limit to such tariffs, Stock Markets reflect the unease and worry of a trade war with China. Trump knows he is limited in what he can do without damaging the USA economy. What has been lost in terms of US Foreign Policy and influence in the World will not bounce back, it is simply too late.
Looks like the whole impeachment process is far to slow and uncertain and then the 2020 election another uncertainty. No it does not look good at all.
So we are scheduled to leave for Portugal and spend about 10 days there, it will be a pleasant change all around. We have never been and I heard plenty of good things about the country. We are also thinking of going to the Galapagos Island next year with friends, that also will be a first.
In the meantime I am worried about the USA and how your system of government is unraveling, no longer the example of democracy and in the firm grip of a President who is keen on ignoring the rules of your Constitution. The bizarre incident with the CNN reporter and his being banned because the President did not like the question. The new threats made by Trump on the new majority Democrat Congress, it will be war if they look into his finances and his family holdings. I think that he has now admitted to wrongdoing by simply making this threat, he is very obviously worried Congress will find out the truth. This should be an incentive for Congress to act quickly. The firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his replacement by his Chief of Staff who penned an opinion this past Summer calling into question the legitimacy of Courts and the Supreme Court in particular. This new fellow could also limit the Mueller investigation and even refuse to publish the findings. This new Attorney General sounds like someone who again would do just about anything to ensure Trump stays in power no matter what happens. This is worrisome for any country with institutions and the principle of Law and Order.
Too many countries like China, Russia, North Korea control the Courts to ensure that the leadership can persecute its perceived enemies and hand down judgements it likes. If the USA goes down this road then all pretence of being a democracy founded on the principle of the rule of Law is gone and you are nothing more than a tin pot republic. It could happen in the USA because no one wants to believe that it could. This is what happened in Germany in 1933 no one believed that the parliament (Reichstag) and the Courts would allow Chancellor Hitler to take over, after all Germany was a country founded on the rule of Law, and in one night it was all gone.
Hopefully President Trump can be removed from Office before it is too late. Hopefully Congress will take charge. It shows how checks and balances is a fragile thing and not fail proof.
Then there is China, in the last few months dangerous close encounters between the Chinese Navy and the USA Navy have taken place in disputed areas at sea where China now claims total control. Would Trump declare war on China if a USA Naval ship was rammed or attacked or sunk? It could very well happen if Trump becomes desperate to cling to power.
What about Trump’s promise to do away with the Nuclear Treaty with Russia, this is pure madness and even Putin is worried, all of it moves to destabilize the world and push us towards war or the destruction of institutions in the USA. I cannot remember any President being so callous.
All the signals are there, something needs to give to avoid a disaster. Canadians are dismayed and worried.
The Summit in Helsinki, Finland was a great victory for President Putin of Russia. Donald Trump made several mistakes which destroyed American Foreign Policy, weakened your credibility in the world and increase the influence of Russia.
It all went to hell at the NATO summit where Trump insulted his allies and then made demands because he views himself as the ruler of the world. The contribution of the USA to NATO is 67% but all other countries also contribute annually not only in money but in equipment and personnel, often far more than the USA. Each contribution is not a due to the USA but to the organization as a whole. No one will increase its annual contribution to 4% as demanded by Trump, not even the USA will do that, total bluster with no substance. As for the contribution of 2% it is a goal for 2021 not today.
The trip to the UK was a total disaster, PM May must have wondered why she invited Trump who insulted her publicly, called her incompetent, suggested she sue the EU to get her way, that cannot be done, simple which tribunal would have jurisdiction to hear such a lawsuit. The EU like the UN is a club and each member must live by the agreement of membership. There is no one to be sued. Trump called for PM May to be replaced by the awful populist and incompetent Boris Johnson former Foreign Secretary who by supporting Brexit with lies has done Britain a grave disservice. Trump then went so far as to threaten PM May by saying that the USA would not sign Trade deals with Britain if they did not leave the EU. You do that to an old ally? Well Trump did it to Canada.
Then the incident with HM Queen Elizabeth II, Trump was 12 minutes late, an inexcusable delay when you are a guest and you make your host wait for no apparent reason. This was a provocation engineered by Trump to show that he was the great one. Having worked on such visits myself, I know that it is impossible to be late unless it was decided to be late. Then by standing in front of HM the Queen while she was escorting him at a review of the guard, Trump knew the Protocol, it had been explained to him, but he thought he could disregard it as he had in the past by pushing and shoving other Heads of State at international meeting because he believes he is more important. This lack of common decency and courtesy is what the World sees, this is what America looks like, this goes well beyond one man, he is the President of the USA and his behaviour is beyond reprehensible.
Helsinki was a terrible mistake, by agreeing to a one on one meeting with President Putin, Trump failed to realize that the Russians recorded the meeting and will use what ever he said at that meeting in the future against him as a bargaining chip. This is the oldest trick in the book of diplomacy, you never meet one on one, you always have others with you to take notes, its diplomacy 101. Trump cannot remember what he says and blabs uncontrollably, in all likelyhood he told Putin things he heard at the NATO summit or in conversation with other allies, not understanding that Putin the old spy master made a note of it all.
Putin got an incredible gift at this meeting, after 18 years of hard work, he got the President of the USA to declare that the world would be governed by the two great powers Russia and USA. Even in 1945 the world was divided between UK, France, USA, USSR. China is surely a greater economic power than Russia whose GDP is smaller than Canada. Trump said that there could be a good dialogue and understanding like in the days of the Cold War (1946-1989). I do not remember any such cooperation during those years, it was in fact a deadly game and enormous rivalry with the USSR (Russia). In 1962 a year Trump is old enough to remember, the world stood on the brink of complete nuclear war with the Cuban missile crisis provoked by the USSR.
Trump also said that he believed Putin instead of his own Intelligence agency, this declaration is an act of treason, Trump sided with the real existential threat to the USA and the Western World, Russia. Russia is not our friend and never was, the principle of the Rule of Law, Democracy and Free Elections are foreign concept for the Russians. The unlawful occupation of Crimea, and the aggression in the Donbass and Georgia, the full military support for the Assad Regime in Syria, and meddling in other parts of the World should tell us that Trump is wrong in supporting tyrants like Putin.
Trump now has sent a clear message to the allies of the USA that America cannot be trusted. It is impossible to know if America would come to the help of fellow NATO members in case of Russian aggression in the Baltic States or elsewhere in Europe. This is very dangerous for the peace of the world.
What we see now is that the famous talked about check and balances of the American system simply do not work, you have a rogue President who is not respecting the US Constitution he swore to uphold. The USA today is on a downward slide not only in prestige but in influence around the world. China and Russia are ascending and States like North Korea are profiting from this confusing lack of direction at the White House.
Will the November Elections change anything in the USA, its a gamble but like all gamble the results may be less than satisfactory, no one should bet on how the American public will vote.
From the New York Daily News 17 July 2018.