Tauride Palace (Tavrichesky Dvorets)

 

The Taurida Palace (Tavrichesky Dvorets) occupies an area of 65, 700 square meters and is one of the most magnificent edifices in Saint Petersburg.

 The palace was built in 1783-1789 on the orders of Catherine the Great for her favorite, Count Grigory Potyomkin, who had been given the title of Prince of Taurida for his annexation of the Crimea (ancient Taurida) to Russia. The designer was an eminent Russian architect of the late 18th century, Ivan Starov.

The Taurida Palace is a splendid example of Classicism, the main trend in the Russian architecture in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The strict precise lines of the façades, the modest, restrained decoration, the use of the elements of ancient architecture, and, in particular, columns supporting a pediment above a portico, such as the ones you can see on the main façade of the building, are typical of this style.

 

The Taurida Palace is another erection of Catherine II. It cost its recipient a feather, and the imperial giver millions of rubles. In the revolution which gave the Empress her throne, Catherine appeared at the head of the guards. Potemkin, a young cavalry officer, seeing that she had no feather in her hat, rode up to her and presented his. She made him her favorite, is said to have secretly married him in 1784, and built this costly palace for him, with an enormous ball-room that was lighted by twenty thousand wax candles at the magnificent fetes which this imperial lover gave to the court and nobility.

Charles Stoddard, Across Russia, 1904

The luxurious interior décor of the Taurida Palace contrasts with its modest exterior. Beyond the main portico is an extensive elegant vestibule leading to the octagonal Dome Room with its monumental arches on marble columns, supporting a low drum crowned with a cupola. Splendid murals have been preserved here, executed in the grisaille style, a special type of decorative painting using only two colors and thereby creating impression of a bas-relief. Further on is the Catherine Reception Hall, 75 meters long, embellished with 36 columns of artificial marble and amazingly beautiful bronze chandeliers. This hall used to abut onto the huge winter garden, where exotic trees, rose and jasmine bushes grew under a glass roof and tropical birds fluttered amidst the greenery. In the center of the garden there was a round colonnade containing a marble sculpture of Catherine the Great, the patroness of the owner of the palace.

This noble mansion was once the residence of the magnificent Potemkin; and in it he gave that entertainment to his imperial mistress, so celebrated for costliness and eastern grandeur. The statues are now its most attractive ornament. And a most invaluable one is that of a Venus, given to Peter the great by the then coeval pope. The Medicean Venus, the standard of perfection in female form, does not, in many points (if I dare make the assertion!) surpass this of the Taurida.

Robert Parker, Traveller's Sketches, 1805

 

Prince Potyomkin of Taurida was fabulously rich. It is known that his hat was so heavily studded with diamonds that the prince could neither wear it nor hold it. Therefore, a special aide-de-camp carried this overweight headgear.

I have also seen the palace of La Tauride, which almost realizes a description in the Arabian Nights. It was built by Prince Potemkin, in commemoration of the conquest of that province ; and, as it is said, so privately, that the whole was completed without the knowledge of Catherine, to whom it was first announced by an invitation to a magnificent fete on the spot in her honor. There was she received by her princely subject amidst a burst of splendor and munificence, which was only to be eclipsed by the grandeur of the termination, when the whole possession was laid as a costly offering at the feet of his imperial mistress. This extraordinary scene was acted in a ball room of such colossal dimensions, and of such peculiar design, that I may attempt to give you a faint description; more especially as all the deco rations have been carefully preserved, and remain still in the same state as when this event took place. In shape and height it may be likened to a vast cathedral, the body of which, appropriated to dancing, is separated from the two aisles or wings, on each side, by a range of marble columns and statues so vast and gigantic, that the eye loses all idea of human proportions, and the chairs become so diminutive that they only seem fitted for a race of pigmies. Here is no gilding would be lost in the grandeur of the design; all is pure white. One of the immense wings is fitted up as a museum; it contains an infinite collection of foreign marbles and busts, principally antiques, which were purchased by Potemkin at a high price, and must, in the present day, be still more valuable.

Thomas Raikes, A Visit to St. Petersburg, In the Winter of 1829-30

His contemporaries recall a ball given in the Taurida Palace on April 28, 1791, to commemorate the capture by the Russian troops of the Turkish fortress of Izmail. Three thousand guests, among them Catherine the Great, were present at the festivities. They were entertained by 300 singers and musicians and also by an unusual horn orchestra belonging to Potyomkin. Each of the 36 musicians making up the orchestra could produce but one single note on his wind instrument. Therefore, tremendous skill was required for the musician to play his note in the general melodu at the right time.

The greatest ornament of this palace is its magnificent winter-garden, which, in extent and beauty, far surpasses that of the Winter Palace. The grandeur of the whole building defies description.

E. Jarmenn, St Petersburg and Its People  1855

During the ball, the Palace was lit by 140,000 multicolored lamps and 20,000 candles. The fete cost the prince 200,000 roubles, the annual income from the quit-rent of 40,000 serfs.

In 1783, after the conquest of the Crimea and Georgia, to celebrate the skills of the Field-Marshal, the Empress ordered the architect Staroff to build a palace modeled on the Pantheon, and then, having richly decorated this palace, she gave it the name of the Tauride Palace and presented it to the hero of the Crimea.

Jean Bastin, St Petersburg Guide, 1874

 

The son of Catherine the Great, Paul I, who succeeded her on the Russian throne, avenged himself on Potyomkin for the latter’s scornful attitude toward him… by taking it out on the palace. On his orders this outstanding work of architecture was turned into stables. The splendid parquetry was covered with manure and stalls were set up between the columns. After the death of Paul I the palace was restored, and Alexander I lived in it for a short period of time, as did other members of the Royal family. In 1829, the heir to the Persian throne stayed here. Then for several decades the palace remained uninhabited. Later on, in 1906, it was partially rebuilt for the State Duma, the Russian Parliament. The winter garden was turned into a giant amphitheater to be used as an assembly hall.

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