In 1708 Peter the Great presented his wife with the Swedish village of Saari-moi to the south of Saint Petersburg. Not yet married, she lived here quietly as an ordinary Russian landowner. By 1723 the hamlet already had a two-story stone house surrounded by stables, cow-sheds, a poultry yard, carriage sheds and houses for the servants. On the south side was a large garden with fruit trees.
And on the north-east, where the forest began, a menagerie preserve for the royal hunting. The Swedish name was replaced by a Russian one – Tsarskoye Selo (Tsar’s Village).
Somewhat nearer to the city is the superb Palace of Sarskoe-Selo, (or, in English, the imperial village,) where Catharine the Second principally resided, and acted many of those scenes which have procured her, from the world, the most adverse epithets. This palace, however, is chiefly indebted to the reigning emperor for its present magnificence, and who has left nothing undone which could con tribute to its beauty and splendour.
Travels through Russia, James Holman, 1834
Empress Anne left Tsarskoye Selo to her cousin Elizabeth, who spent each summer here, away from the court and its intrigues. When Elizabeth came to the throne, she decided to turn her mother’s old house into a summer residence.
This imperial residence was built by the Empress Elizabeth I. It is of vast extent and handsome, despite its Gothic architecture.
The Empress Catherine added to it a suite of private apartments for herself, in better taste. These are situated at the end of a series of several gilded and mirrored saloons opening one out of the other, which separate the Empress's rooms from those formerly occupied by the Grand Duke Paul, and which terminate in a gallery from which the Empress heard Mass with the imperial family and the ladies of her suite. The first of these new apartments is painted in encaustic, and opens into another, the paneling of which is of Siberian lapis lazuli, while the floor is partly of mahogany and partly of mother-of-pearl. The large study which comes next is in Chinese lacquer-work. On the left is a very small but very pretty bedroom, and a little room panelled with mirrors, with panels of fine wood between each one. This little room leads to the colonnade, and from the door you can look down the whole length of it. On the terrace in front there used to be a green morocco divan and a table, and here her Majesty worked in the early morning.
Memoirs of Princess Golovin, 1796
At first the Russian architect Mikhail Zemtsov tried to carry out the capricious Empress’s wishes. After his death in 1743 his place was taken by Alexei Kvasov. He in turn was replaced by Savva Chevakinsky. The Empress remained dissatisfied. In 1749 she entrusted the building of the new palace to Rastrelli who had to pull down everything erected so far. But by 1756 the palace was ready.
The palace of Tzarko-Selo occupies the site of a little cottage which belonged to an old Dutch woman named Sara, and to which Peter the Great used to come for the purpose of drinking milk. The old woman died; and Peter, who had taken a fancy to the cottage on account of the magni?cent expanse which was in view from the windows, gave it to Catherine, with all the surrounding land, for the purpose of building there a farm. Catherine sent for an architect, and described to him exactly all she wanted. The architect did, as architects invariably do, and made of it the precise reverse of what she wished, — a castle.
Alexandre Dumas, Eighteen Months at St. Petersburg
The three-story building is almost 325 meters long. It ends in two pavilions, one containing the church, the other the grand staircase. Curving single-story blocks extend from them to form a grand courtyard. The other façade looks onto parterre flower-beds that open into a lovely park.
The most beautiful apartments in this palace are, the amber room, the pearl room, and the Chinese room. The walls of the first are covered with amber, with festooned panels, in the centres of some of which are various ornaments, in pietra dura. The amber which decorates this room, was presented to the Empress Elizabeth by Frederick II of Prussia.
Travels through Russia, James Holman, 1834
The road from St Petersburg winds up to the church. You have to walk along the whole façade to reach the main staircase. Then you’re greeted by a row of mighty Atlantes supporting large white columns on their backs. The columns separate the broad windows and doors or mark the center of the galleries in groups.
The outside of the palace is extremely striking from its magnitude, and its numerous gilded ornaments in a manner dazzle the eye.
The Picture of Petersburg, Heinrich Friedrich von Storch
The gilded column capitals, sculptural façade details, and numerous statues and vases on the palace roof glitter in the sunlight. The shining gold, the white columns on the light azure walls and the constant play of light and shade makes the palace look like a gorgeous piece of jewelry. The gilding of the exterior and interior decorations required about 100 pounds of pure gold. The facades were decorated with columns, atlantes, caryatids, cartouches on the pediments, lion masks and other moldings, made by the sculptor J. Dunker.
The present palace was built by Elizabeth, and embellished by the lavish hand of Catherine II. There are two palaces, the Old and the New, of which the former is the more interesting. The facade is richly decorated with plaster casts and mouldings. Originally these were all overlaid with gold leaf, which has now completely vanished. It is said that the contractor who was engaged by Catherine to repair the palace offered her 250,000 silver roubles to be allowed to remove the fragments of the gold leaf, which even then showed signs of dilapidation. The extravagant Empress replied: "I am not accustomed to sell my old clothes."
Through Finland to St. Petersburg, Alexander Scott, 1914
The architectural image of the Catherine Palace, built on the lighting effects and decorative contrasts characteristic of baroque splendor amazed contemporaries. The interiors of the palace reflected various artistic styles, mostly Baroque and Classicism. Several rooms, converted in the middle of the XIX century, were finished in the style of Historicism.
The facade of the palace, built in 1744, but embellished by the Empress Catherine II, has a length of 700 feet All statues, pedestals and capitals of many columns, vases, sculptures and other ornaments of the facade were first covered with gold leaf.
The only gilding that remains today is that of the dome and cupolas of the Church. The facade of the palace facing the park is green, white and yellow. The first part of the palace that is shown is usually the chapel. This is a spacious room, whose walls are entirely covered with black wood, on which were lavished gold, and the ceiling is resplendent of the same precious metal
St Petersburg Guide, Jean Bastin, 1874
When Elizabeth was showing off her new residence to foreign ambassadors in early summer 1756, she heard a chorus of admiring voices. Only the French ambassador was silent. “What displeasures His Excellency?” the Empress asked in annoyance. “Your Imperial Highness, I do not see the most important thing… A case worthy of this magnificent jewel”.