The Catherine Palace (Екатерининский дворец) is a magnificent Rococo palace located in the town of Tsarskoye Selo (now Pushkin), near St. Petersburg, Russia.
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).
The palace was then being built, but it was the work of Penelope : what was done to-day, was destroyed to-morrow. That house has been pulled down six times to the foundation, then built up again until it was brought to its present state. The sum of a million six hundred thousand rubles, was spent on the construction. Accounts exist to prove it; but besides this sum the Empress spent much money out of her own pocket on it, without ever counting.
Empress Catherine the Great, Memoirs, 1748
As Rastrelli was always obliged to reckon with the already raised parts of the building, the entire fore-front of the palace is somewhat disproportioned. But, what the palace looked like, when its building was finished by Rastrelli, one can best judge by the copies from the pictures and prints of the middle of the XVIII century. The contemporaries were literally blinded by the magnificence of the adornment, marvels about the palace were related, saying even, that its roof was made of gold. The story is told, that when the Empress Elizabeth arrived with the whole of her court and the foreign ministers to inspect the finished palace, everyone, struck by its splendor, hastened to express his enthusiasm; the French ambassador alone did not say a word; the Empress remarking his silence, desired to know the reason of his indifference; he answered, that he did not see the most important thing, „a casket for this jewel". Indeed, the gilding, both of the inside and of the outside of the palace, had been lavishly used by the architect. Everything, that is now painted in deep olive color: cornices, pillars, caryatids, were then gilt, and on the roof of white tinned iron, stood a gilt wooden balustrade also decorated with gilded wooden figures and vases.
The palace in Tsarskoe Selo is spacious and very beautiful, although it is built in the gothic style. The Empress Catherine added for herself a separate building in a more artistic style.
Countess Golovine, Memoirs