Many Romanov sites in St. Petersburg and nearby Pushkin have been restored in the past few years, but a few remain untouched.  I had planned to write an article about “Reinventing the Romanovs” as Russia continues to restore and open many new palaces.  But as often happens to me, my plans shifted once I arrived.  Here is a glimpse of the forgotten sites…yet to be touched.   

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Spires of the Catherine Palace, Pushkin

Last week I visited St. Petersburg while onboard the Azamara Quest. ( A fabulous Baltic Sea Cruise.)  Azamara Club Cruises pride themselves on their focus on the destination and my discoveries below will show you just how very successful they are.  I can’t wait to return onboard to discover more.

This was my fifth visit to St. Petersburg, (formerly Petrograd and Leningrad) in the past 14 months.   My last post was about the highlights of the former Imperial city. But this visit, I was searching for new sites, those not usually visited by tourists.   

What followed were three of the most exciting days I have had in my 25 year travel career.   Here are a few of the highlights and many more articles and research to come!   

As we sailed into the harbor, we were welcomed with the following sign. Translated: Leningrad.

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Some signs are harder to change than others. Welcome to…..Leningrad.

 Our first destination was Peterhof.  Peter the Great’s answer to Versailles is a gleaming, golden palace and park right on the Gulf of Finland.  We passed President Putin’s home, the renovated Constantine Palace.

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President Putin’s home right outside of St. Petersburg. The former Constantine Palace.

An Abandoned Romanov Palace

As we were on the road to Peterhof, our guide suggested we pull off on a dirt road and look for something.  She had heard about a royal palace here but never seen it.  After driving a few miles down less and less of a road, we found it.  Overgrown, guard dogs lounging in the yard and threatening signs on the doors.  Undeterred, we banged on the door and a lone, young guard came out.  We were refused entry at first, but after discussions (and a little money), we were allowed into explore top to bottom. It was a former Romanov Palace that had been used after the revolution as a hotel but then abandoned.  Eerie, filthy and evocative, we spent hours opening every door.  Here are a few photos and many more articles coming about this Royal Palace right on the Gulf of Finland.

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Peeking in the closed doors, trying to get the attention of the lone guard.
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The Romanov Double Eagle still standing guard over the crumbling palace.
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Empty Ballrooms with Chandeliers still in place.
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The only residents were these two dogs and a guard.

And when we arrived in Peterhof, right next to the gloriously restored Palace, stood the former Royal Stables of Nicolas II.  Untouched, with shell damage still very evident from the Siege of Leningrad during World War II.

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Former Royal Stables next to Peterhof Palace
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Close up of shell damage from Siege of Leningrad World War II

Royal Stables in center of St. Petersburg

Right in the center of St. Petersburg we also discovered the abandonned royal stables of Grand Duke Michael.  His cipher still guarding the cast iron gate.
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Royal Stables of Grand Duke Michael. Abandonned in the center of St. Petersburg

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The entrance to Grand Duke Michael’s Stables

 

The Alexander Palace and Gardens

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Interior Alexander Palace and room from which Tsar Nicolas II and his family left their home for exile and execution.

But our next to last visit was the most spectacular.  In Pushkin, or Tsarskoye Sele, just a few miles outside of St. Petersburg, when other busses were unloaded at the Catherine Palace, we turned right.  I wanted to revisit the Alexander Palace and walk the gardens. 

Alexander Palace was the birthplace and final home or Nicolas II and his family.  You can see below the doorway through which they left on their way to exile and execution.  The poignancy of this site is overwhelming.   

I knew it had closed on August 1 for a major renovation, but often closed has different meanings in Russia…..depending on your persistence.   And this time we succeeded in entering the palace and more importantly, finding some new treasures in the gardens.  See below for some of our finds in the house and gardens. There is little left in the Palace and some of the  personal items and furniture of the family have been temporarily moved to the Catherine Palace.   They have begun a total renovation and plan on reopening in 2018 for the 100th anniversary of the death of the Tsar and his family.   I will return. 

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The door in the Alexander Palace through which Nicolas II and his family left for exile and ultimately their execution.
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Abandoned Playhouse for children of Tsar Nicolas II. In the gardens of the Alexander Place. One of the saddest spots I visited.

 

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Children’s footbridge still standing in the gardens of the Alexander Palace

 

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VIew of the Catherine Palace from the Alexander Gardens. It is through the fence that villagers gawked at their former Tsar gardening while under house arrest.

 

 Fiodorovsky Village

Our final stop was an abandoned village complex right next door to the Alexander Palace.  This was the former Fiodorovsky Village, built by Nicolas II and used as a hospital during World War I.  It was at this hospital that Empress Alexandra and her two oldest daughters were nurses during the war.  The hospital and Cathedral in this village are empty now and very overgrown  but the gothic design preferred by Nicolas is still evident.  We walked the paths the family must have walked to get to the hospital.  Little has been touched here since 1917. 

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Fiodorovsky Cathedral Today.
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View of the same Cathedral during World War I prior to the revolution.
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Same spot today as in photo.
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Hospital in Fiodorovsky Village where Empress Alexandria and Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatania worked as nurses during World War I
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Grand Duchesses Maria and Anastasia visiting the Hospital at Fiodorovsky Cathedral

 

Visiting the opulent restored palaces of St. Petersburg is impressive and a must. But through these untouched sites, I walked into history and found the shadows of the Romanovs.

Please note: Azamara Club Cruises invited me to join their Baltic Cruise as a guest. But as usual there was no promise of positive or any reviews. We both thought that Azamara’s focus on the destinations when cruising would be appealing to me and my readers. And it certainly was.  More posts to come about my wonderful experience cruising with Azamara! I hope to return very soon.

11 thoughts on “Forgotten St. Petersburg: Shadows of the Romanovs

  1. Hello,

    thank You for this very interesting review. Even I, born in St.Pete and living here, don’t know such treasuries. As well, I’d like to recommend for Your next visit – Pavlovsk (next city to the Pushkin) and Oranienbaum (next to Peterhof). Even, Pavlovsk is absolutely attractive mid of September, during “golden Autumn”.

  2. Thank you! I have visited Pavlovsk several times and love it. I think it may be the most beautiful of all the Palaces. Maybe for my next article! Also I love the book about the renovation of this palace–entitled “Pavlovsk” by Susanne Massie. I hope to return very soon.

  3. What an absolutely incredible story and experience you had while in Russia! I would give anything to follow in your footsteps in the shadows of the Romanovs! I can’t believe you gained access to all of those places. How incredible!

    Like you, this would have moved be tremendously and probably to tears at some points especially the doors through which they passed. And to see all of the children’s areas, personal effects, how fortunate you were my friend. Now I must find your follow up posts to this one! I need more.

    Thank you for inviting me along on this journey in the shadows!

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