The Great Palace in Pavlovsk is built in the classical style and consists of eight sections comprising 303 rooms with a total area of 11,542 square meters.
The original design from which the palace was erected in 1782-1786 belongs to Charles Cameron, an architect invited to Russia by Catherine the Great. Cameron did not design a single edifice in his native Scotland or in the rest of the British Isles. He was known there mainly for his studies of Roman architecture.
In Russia Cameron found suitable conditions for putting his creative ideas into practice. His design for the palace at Pavlovsk was based on a villa found in Roman architecture. However, he also made use of specifically Russian architectural features employed in the country estates of the nobility.
The foundation stone of the palace was laid on May 25, 1782, but the ceremony was not attended by its owners for Paul and his wife Maria Fyodorovna were travelling in Western Europe at the time. The building progressed at a rapid pace and by the autumn of 1782 not only the main building, but also the side galleries had been erected, in 1783 work began on the interior décor of the state and private apartments in the main building.
It must be said that the architect and the owner were not always on the best of terms. Constant interference with the architect’s plans and trivial objections to them were a great hindrance to Cameron and occasionally led to serious conflicts. In 1786 Paul put Cameron’s assistant Vincenzo Brenna in charge of the building and interior décor. By then the planning of the palace interior had been completed for the main part. Cameron just had time to finish the state apartments on the ground floor of the main building: the Ballroom, the Old Drawing-Room, the Billiard Room and the White Dining Hall.
Just when the main construction work had been completed, a major fault was found with the palace. It was not big enough. Brenna was entrusted with the task of extending it.
The palace was rebuilt after the fire of 1803 - it is an attractive building where there is wealth attached to the simplicity of a country house. The lower floor was occupied by the Empress Marie herself during the summer. The upper floor is decorated with vases of jasper Siberian malachite, lapis lazuli, azure stone fireplaces, Gobelins tapestries and huge mirrros. A lot of artifacts made by the hand of the Empress. On both sides of the main building are two rooms, one devoted to war and the other to peace. In one of the rooms they keep books made by members of the Imperial family, including a drawing of the Emperor Paul and a bouquet of flowers of the Empress Catherine II. To get to the garden palace, one must cross a colonnade painted by Gongaz . The small garden of Empress Marie is always well kept and full of flowers.
St Petersburg Guide, Jean Bastin, 1874
He did not interfere with the overall design of his predecessor, Cameron, but merely built on to Cameron’s galleries, gave the square wings a second story and two adjoining semicircular buildings two stories high for domestic purposes. Brenna also extended the southern part of the palace with a rectangular building and adjoining church. Thus, the palace plan resembles an open bracelet with one precious gem in the middle, the main building.
From 1793 to 1799 Brenna worked on the décor of the state apartments on the first floor: the Italian and Grecian halls, the State Bed-chamber, the Boudoir, the War and Peace halls, and also the additional sections designed by him, namely, the Picture Gallery, the Throne and Cavalier rooms, and the Palace church.
In 1800 the architect Giacomo Quarenghi was invited to design the interiors of five rooms on the ground floor. The Old, Common, New and Pilaster studies and the Dressing-Room shows features characteristic of the work of this fine architect: strict division of the walls by rectangular frames and the use of grisaille technique in the painting of the ceiling and color contrasts in the detail of the décor. Quarenghi’s contribution to the décor of the Pavlovsk Palace rooms is one of the finest pages in his professional biography.