Russia reopens palace of the last tsar, a century after his execution

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – Maria Ryadova remembers being in a dusty room inside the Alexander Palace , leaping from one floor beam to ano...


ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – Maria Ryadova remembers being in a dusty room inside the Alexander Palace, leaping from one floor beam to another and scanning the dark chasm below, the day she and her team of workers made a momentous discovery.

A pile of broken blue tiles had hidden in the dark. These fragments, Ms Ryadova knew from black-and-white archival photos, were the remains of tiles that once adorned the walls of this room, which was Tsar Nicholas II’s private swimming pool and bathroom in the early 1900s. 1900s. But before they were discovered, she had never known their color.

The discovery of these shiny pieces of cobalt and turquoise completed another piece of the puzzle that rebuilt this imperial mansion, which was once the home of the last Russian Czar and his family.

“It was an incredible discovery,” said Ms. Ryadova, 40, who is one of the main architects involved in the project. “I felt extremely inspired.”

With a team of architects and researchers, Ms. Ryadova spent more than a decade on these grounds, working to restore the majestic yellow edifice to its early 20th-century glory, before World War II and Soviet remodeling did not take place. ‘lead to its deterioration. On August 13, the work of Ms Ryadova and many others was finally unveiled when the Alexander Palace opened its doors to the public as a museum.

This palace is probably the last great Russian imperial mansion to become a museum, said researcher Tatiana Andreeva. It is the result of years of investigative work by Ms Andreeva, 37, Ms Ryadova and their many colleagues, who recreated the interiors by working with a few images in fuzzy colors, thousands of black and white photos, some watercolors. , several samples of draperies and memories of the life of the palace.

More than a century after the collapse of the Russian monarchy with the execution of Nicholas II and his wife, four daughters and son by the Bolsheviks in 1918, historians are striving to uncover the past imperial of the country.

For some, the Alexander Palace has become a symbol of Russia’s reconciliation with him. “I have a complicated attitude towards the aristocrats of pre-Soviet Russia,” said Max Trudolyubov, 51, popular blogger and news commentator. “But these palaces have become monuments.”

Nicholas II has long been presented to the Russian people either as a bloody and committed despot – a relentless oppressor of the working class – or as an ignorant and light-hearted fool who carelessly let his country fall off the cliff into the abyss of Bolshevism.

The reopened palace will allow visitors to immerse themselves in part of the country’s history and make up their own minds, said Lev Lurie, an expert on the history of St. Petersburg and the Romanov family.

“The museum is a theater, with a play that takes place without any actor,” she said.

In 2011, the Russian state decided to recreate the Tsar’s private suite – which had been furnished in the Art Nouveau style and was largely destroyed during World War II and subsequent Soviet reconstructions – and to create a museum around it. of her. In the end, the government committed more than $ 28 million to the project, including $ 12 million from the museum and private benefactors. (One of those private benefactors, Bob atchinson from Austin, Texas, is an enthusiast who has assembled a collection of items looted from the palace by Germans and others – and sold at international auctions – and who has been raising money to repair the palace for decades .)

To recreate the Tsar’s private lounges, Ms. Ryadova’s team had to redo almost everything: pickled oak floors, wool rugs and silk hangings, and even the spittoons that were used by the imperial family and courtiers.

Originally built in 1796 by Catherine the Great for her grandson Alexander, the palace was part of the imperial retreat of Tsarskoye Selo, a sprawling complex of palaces and parks outside of St. Petersburg, the capital of Russia at the time.

In 1905, Alexander’s great-grand-nephew, Nicolas II, settled his family there permanently to escape the increasingly chaotic and dangerous life of the capital, where riots broke out regularly and his grandfather was killed. in 1881.

The choice of Nicolas II, on the eve of the revolution, to abandon his troops and reunite with his family at the Alexander Palace, divides many who study the period.

For some, it is an indictment: he placed his family above the interests of his country, over which he had absolute power.

But for many Russian Orthodox believers, Nicholas II’s acceptance of his fate was a show of humility. In 2000, the Russian Orthodox Church canonized him and his family as bearers of passion, a category used to identify believers who endured suffering and death with Christlike piety.

In July, defying all restrictions linked to the pandemic, thousands of believers joined a religious procession in the city of Yekaterinburg the one treated from the site of the mansion where the Tsar was shot (it was later destroyed) to the place where the remains of the family were deposited in a mine shaft and dissolved with sulfuric acid.

As she walked through the palace’s nearly finished halls weeks before it opened this summer, Ms Ryadova said she hoped visitors would be delighted. She has faced too many challenges and disappointments in this reconstruction to feel the opposite.

For example, she was frustrated by the family photos of the Tsar. As avid photographers, they took thousands of photos inside the palace, including photographs that could be considered the world’s first selfies. Portraits, however, are often unnecessary for restoration specialists as floors and ceilings are usually cut out of the frame.

“Now I say to everyone: take pictures of your ceilings! Said Ms. Ryadova.

Rugs also posed a problem: in some cases, entire patterns were recreated from a small nook that managed to squeeze into a picture or two. (Some of the ceiling restorations are on hold, in hopes that more material will be discovered.)

In 1944, after the German occupation, most of Tsarskoye Selo’s properties had neither windows nor roofs. “The country was in a horrible state, but people wanted to see these reconstructed ruins as they were,” said Olga Taratynova, director of the Tsarskoye Selo museum.

So even though the Soviet government had established itself as the antithesis of the Czars’ rule, it invested money to renovate their palaces. “It was a political decision,” said Ms Taratynova, 66.

The resort has since grown into a major tourist destination, not to mention a symbol of Russian history. Ms. Taratynova recalled that in 2002, President George W. Bush visited the Catherine Palace on the site as a guest of President Vladimir Putin. When Mr. Bush entered the 8,500 square foot Great Throne Room, with its gold-plated wood carving decor, Ms. Taratynova said he froze, hypnotized and simply said, “Wow.”

“We Russians love it when people come to visit us and say, ‘Wow! »», She declared.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Russia reopens palace of the last tsar, a century after his execution
Russia reopens palace of the last tsar, a century after his execution
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