Marble Palace

The Marble Palace is one of the first Neoclassical palaces in St. Petersburg. It is located in the northwest corner of the Suvorov Square near the Fields of Mars. Designed by Antonio Rinaldi, it was completed between 1768 and 1785.

Marble Palace - View from the Neva at night

A gift from the Empress Catherine to her lover Orlov

The palace was built originally for the favorite of Catherine II, before she ascended the throne - Gregory Orloff (alternative spelling: Grigorii Orlov), who took an active part in the coup d'etat that put her on the throne.

Marble Palace - Watercolors, an unknown artist

The palace facades are relatively modest and laconic in design: the walls are faced with gray Siberian granite, the first and second floors are decorated with Corinthian pilasters hewn from pale pink marble imported from Karelia. The walls of the Marble Hall are made of marble of various colors and hues: gray, white, blue, green, and pink.

The Baroque décor of the main façade

The décor of the main façade, overlooking the forecourt, is largely executed in the Baroque style. 

 Out of halls blazing with light and colour you passed into low galleries; then into bedchambers hung with rich tapestries; then into alcoves surrounded with gorgeous flowers; then into corridors where fountains sparkled brightly; and then again into new ranges of halls, each more splendid than the last which you had traversed.

A month in Russia, Edward James S. Dicey, 1867

Marble Palace - Watercolors by Sadovnikov, 19th century

Next in rank is the Marble Palace; it forms a quadrangle, and at one extreme are two projecting wings. The main front has a spacious court, bound by the manege of the palace. This gigantic pile is composed of three stories, and the general effect is in a high degree magnificent: the basement is of granite, the superstructure of gray marble, decorated with columns and pilasters of red marble; the roof is supported by iron bars, and is covered with sheet-copper; the window-frames are of brass richly gilt, and the balconies of the same material. The marble and metallic ornaments meet the eye in every direction, and call to the mind of the astonished spectator the oriental tales of golden palaces; but when the first paroxysm of admiration has subsided, and time is allowed to survey the edifice with the eye of an artist, he observes some defects. The colour of the marble is too dark, and the general character is too ponderous. The principle facade ought certainly to have been erected toward the Neva, from whose shores it would have risen like a splendid temple dedicated to the gods of this imperial river.

A descriptive and historical account of various Palaces and public buildings, J. Brewer, 1821 

An elegant fence surrounds the forecourt. On the eastern side of the court stands a building constructed in the 1780’s and rebuilt in the 1840’s by Alexander Bryullov. Its western façade is decorated with a frieze by Pyotr Klodt.

An immense artistic and monetary value

It is hard to overestimate the importance that was placed on the artistic value of the project and a vast amount of money set aside for the construction as the palace was built as a generous gift from the Empress Catherine the Great, to her lover Count Grigoriy Orlov. Let us mention some interesting figures. As a gesture of gratitude, Orlov presented Catherine the Great with one of the largest diamonds known in the world at the time weighing 189.62 carats ( I grams); it was later set in a Tsar’s sceptre and henceforth known as the Orlov Diamond. As Grigory Orlov died before the palace was completed, Catherine the Great paid 1 500 000 roubles to buy it back from his heirs in 1783. The cost of the building totaled 1 463 613 roubles; the Orlov Diamond was valued at 399 410 roubles in the late 19th century.

Marble from the Urals, Estonia, Karelia, Italy, Greece, Finland

A special search for marbles and agates was undertaken in the Urals and other regions of Russia for the palace construction. Marble was brought to the building site from newly exploited quarries on the shores of Lake Ladoga, in Karelia and Estland (a province of Estonia). “Wild stone”, as granite was known at the time, arrived from Finland. White and colored marbles were delivered from Italy; the highest quality white marble used in sculptures came from tiny islands of the Greek Archipelago. Some the marble was conveyed through the Office of St Isaac’s Cathedral Construction. One hundred stonecutters were employed daily.

An equestrian statue of Alexander III

In 1996, an equestrian statue of Alexander III was put on a pedestal in the courtyard of the palace. Until 1937, it was standing on a huge granite base in front of Moscow Railway Station and subsequently removed and kept in the courtyard of the Russian Museum.

Saint Petersburg (Russian: Санкт-Петербург) is the second largest city in Russia. It is located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. St Petersburg is often described as the most westernized city of Russia, as well as its cultural capital.It is the northernmost city in the world with a population of over one million.

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