The Winter Palace was built in 1754-1762 by the architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli. Almost 200 meters long, 160 meters wide and 22 meter high, this was the biggest and the most elegant building in Saint Petersburg.
The length of the main cornice encircling the building is almost 2 km. The palace contains 1057 rooms with a floor area of 46,516 meters, 117 staircases, 1,786 doors and 1,945 windows. For a long time the Winter Palace was the tallest edifice in the city. In 1844, Nicholas I gave the orders to the effect that private houses should be at least 1 sazhen (2.13 m) lower than the Winter Palace. This rule was effective until 1905.
The entire palace was one vast bonfire. Flames now towered heavenward under black smoke clouds, now were as the surf, with occasional breakers leaping up in huge jagged tongues, now went off as grand fireworks or sent fatal sparkling drops on all houses nearby.
Vassily Zhukovsky on Winter Palace fire of 1837
Winter Palace is literally larger than the eye can see
The palace is literally larger than the eye can see. You must first look at it from afar, from the opposite bank of the Neva, then come closer, cross the bridge and the small garden near the Admiralty, and pause in Palace Square to ponder on the new features that were revealed to you as your angle of vision shifted. The green walls make a striking background for the white columns, platbands, cupids, stucco masks, scrolls, and the statues and vases on the roof. There are so many of them, that at first glance you feel it would be futile to find some logic in all this amassment. But you need only walk round the palace and look closely at it to realize that there is, in fact, a clear and precise pattern to it.
The Winter Palace, built not far from the Admiralty Shipyards on the left bank of the Neva, faced the church of the Peter and Paul Fortress. It is said that Louis XIV always showed an insurmountable aversion to the castle of Saint-Germain, whose situation was, however, much more beautiful than Versailles because he could not bear to live in a place where you could see the towers of the Basilica of Saint-Denis, burial place of the kings of France. Less timid or less superstitious than the Sun King, the Russian tsars saw every morning from their windows the location of their graves.
Russian Art from Peter the Great to our days, Louis Réau, 1922
In shape, the palace is a rectangle with projecting corners and an inner court. All the façades are differently decorated to suit the character of their environment. In the northern side facing the Neva, everything underlines the extension of the building along the embankment. There is but an insignificant projection in the center of the façade for a three-span entrance with columns.
We have seen the Winter Palace, which is superb. Plenty of jasper, malachite and gold. Russian paintings remind me of Aparicio. The same intonation, the same taste, sweetness and harmony in their own colors and grace in the composition. The overall look of the building is a unique grandiosity. The staircase and many of the rooms are supported by granite columns, one-piece, and, apparently, 20 to 25 feet tall. Everywhere is rich mosaic, marble floors jaspers of all colors and elegant glasses of thousand shapes and sizes, porphyry, bronze, porcelain, alabaster, lapis lazuli and malachite.
Obras Completas, Juan Valera
The spaces between the windows have decorative columns placed one on top of the other, and twin columns in the central parts of the risalitos. The rhythm is thereby accelerated and, and when you look down the façade, the row of white, double-deck columns seems infinite.
There is an air of grandeur and colossal magnificence in this palace, which certainly may rival with Versailles.
A visit to Saint Petersburg in the winter of 1829-1830, Thomas Raikes
Winter Palace now part of the Hermitage
Today the rooms in the Winter Palace house the collections of the Hermitage. The most famous rooms of the Winter Palace - the Jordan Gallery, Jordan Staircase, Field Marshal Hall, Peter ( Small Throne Room) Hall, Armorial Hall, 1812 War Gallery, St George ( Large Throne Room) Hall, the Great Church, Picket (New ) Hall, Alexander Hall, October Staircase , White Hall, Golden living room, Crimson study, Boudoir, Blue Bedroom , Antechamber, Large ( Nicholas ) Antechamber, Concert Hall, Malachite Room, and the Small ( White ) Dining Room.
If the interior of the Winter Palace combines all that it be possible to conceive of magni?cence, taste, luxury, and splendour, it yet is perhaps surpassed by the view from the windows on three of its sides.
St. Petersbug, Its People - Eduard Jermann, 1841
Winter Palace Cats
About fifty cats call Winter Palace home, all descendants of a Dutch cat of Peter the Great. Their primary role is to protect the Winter Palace from mice. There is even a special fund - Friends of the Cats of the Hermitage!