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Alexander Palace reopens

14.08.2021

On 13 August 2021, the first thirteen interiors — the private rooms of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna — opened in the east wing of the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe Selo after an extensive restoration project which began in 2012.

The Alexander Palace was closed to visitors for the past seven years. The restoration has been carried out mainly at the expense of funds allocated by Russia's Ministry of Culture, as well as by the Tsarskoe Selo State Museum and Heritage Site and by charitable donations. The palace welcomes visitors from 14 August.

The opening ceremony was attended by Mr Alexander Voronko, Director of the Department of Museums and External Relations of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, Mr Boris Piotrovsky, Vice Governor of St Petersburg, and Ms Olga Taratynova, Director of Tsarskoe Selo.

The Alexander Palace has a special place in Russian history as the last home of the last Russian emperor Nicholas II and his family, who lived here permanently from 1905. Thus, at the beginning of the 20th century, the Alexander Palace became the centre of state life in Russia. From here the crowned family was exiled to Tobolsk in 1917 towards the tragic ending.

Visitors now have an opportunity to see Nicholas' rooms: the Reception Room, Working Study, Moorish Room (a.k.a. Tsar's Bathroom), Valet's Room and State Study; Alexandra's rooms: the Retinue Room, Bedroom, Mauve Room, Palisander and Maple Drawing-Rooms; as well as the Corner Drawing Room and the Small and Large Library Halls. The basement floor now houses vestibules with ticket desks, a cloakroom and staff rooms.

“The opening of the first part of the Alexander Palace is an epoch-making event for us. This place is associated with some turning points in history and the fate of several generations of the Romanovs. In recent years, all our strengths, aspirations and dreams have been associated with this restoration. It's a project of incredible complexity. Now that its first part is finally completed, we can breathe out a little bit,” said Olga Taratynova.

Works on the palace are scheduled for completion no earlier than 2023.

Visiting information

Project stages

The Alexander Palace restoration project is the result of the colossal work of hundreds of people, including designers, architects, restorers, museum workers and dozens of organizations.

In 2011, the general project of the palace's reconstruction, restoration, technical re-equipment and adjustment for museum use was designed by the Studio 44 architectural bureau. After the completion of works, the palace will become a multifunctional museum complex with museum display halls, temporary exhibition rooms, research and conference rooms, a library and a children’s centre.

In 2012–13, the general contractor PSB ZhilStroy carried out construction and installation works on the basement (together with Geoizolu) and other floors, including supporting structure reinforcement, external and internal engineering networks and automated equipment systems.

During late 2017 to 2020, the interior reconstruction of Nicholas and Alexandra's rooms took place.

Restoration and reconstruction

Some of Nicholas and Alexandra’s rooms retained their historical decoration and therefore only required restoration. Those are the State Study, Reception Room, Corner Drawing Room and the Large and Small Libraries.

The restorers relied on amateur photographs taken by Nicholas II and members of his family from the state archives, colour autochromes of 1917 and archival documents. All the original elements of the interior decoration were preserved, including oak wall panels, wood-clad ceilings and ceramic tiles.

Decorative fabrics and trimmings were recreated from the original samples in the Tsarskoe Selo and Pavlovsk collections. Also recreated: more than 60 pieces of furniture, a mezzanine, wall panels, six fireplaces, almost 550 square metres of carpets (including a stitched New Zealand wool rug for the Maple Drawing Room measuring 182 square metres and weighing 400 kilograms).

Discoveries

During dismantling work in the Moorish Room (a.k.a. Tsar's Bathroom), craftsmen discovered a pool basin under the floor with fragments of original wall tiles from the Moorish Room (Metlakh ceramic) and other interiors. The find greatly aided experts with the reproducing the original colour schemes in the interiors reconstructed after black-and-white photographs taken in the 1930s. Thanks to these tiles the original interior decoration of the Moorish Room has been recreated with precision in all its polychrome variety. 

During the wall paint clearing in the State Study of Nicholas II in 2019, the original colour and a fragment of the stencil painting that framed the fireplace portal were discovered, which made it possible to restore the historical colour of the walls. The discovery of the surviving samples of English tiles made it possible to recreate the lining of the fireplace inserts and fireplaces.

While recreating the plasterwork decoration in the Maple Drawing Room, the restorers discovered in the opening between the two mezzanines – in the empress' Maple Drawing Room and in the emperor's State Study – a small fragment of the original decoration, which answered questions about the shade of pink and the nature of the plasterwork relief depicting roses in the Maple Drawing Room.

Museum display

Prior to the Nazi invasion of Russia in 1941, the Alexander Palace housed more than 52.5 thousand items, of which more than 44.8 thousand items were lost during the war from 1941 to 1945. A significant part of the surviving items are currently in the collection of other museums in Russia.

The reconstructed interiors showcase over 6 thousand items from the Tsarskoe Selo reserve collection. Nearly 200 items originating from the Alexander Palace are on loan from the Pavlovsk collection. The Central Museum of Contemporary History of Russia in Moscow handed over the keys to the palace, which entered the museum collection from the assistant commandant of the palace immediately after the revolution.

Assistance was also provided by the History of the Fatherland Foundation, State Archive of the Russian Federation (SARF), Peter the Great Central Naval Museum, State Hermitage Museum, Russian Museum, Gatchina State Museum and Heritage Site, Russian National Library, Livadia Palace Museum, Alexander Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Novosibirsk State Art Museum, Rostov Regional Museum of Fine Arts, V.D. Polenov Memorial History and Art Museum, Research Museum of the Russian Academy of Arts, Galerie Christian Le Serbon (Paris private gallery), and the British Museum.

Interiors

Large and Small Library Halls

According to the pre-war museum inventory, there were almost 19 thousand volumes in the library halls and 6 thousand volumes in private rooms of the palace. Today the Large and Small Libraries exhibit more than 5 thousand volumes.

Restored: Artificial marble, parquet floors; bookcases partially recreated.

Corner Drawing Room

It was in this room that Nicholas II received the ambassadors of foreign states. Here, in May 1902, French President Loubet, who was on an official visit to Russia, was received. He presented Empress Alexandra with a large tapestry portrait of Marie-Antoinette with her children, based on the original portrait of 1787 by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun. During the Russo-Japanese War and World War One, it was in this room that the Empress received leaders of the charitable organizations she patronized. The family often arranged breakfasts and dinners here and gathered during home concerts, in which the stars of the St Petersburg opera company, including Feodor Chaliapin, often took part.

On 20 August 1915, the historic meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers was held in this room, at which Nicholas II announced that he would assume command of the army and navy (his decision was later called fatal).

Restored: Artificial marble, parquet, plasterwork. Recreated: Furniture, curtains and window fillings.

Maple Drawing Room

Its Art Nouveau style and forms stand out sharply against the background of the other interiors. The main architectural accent is the spacious mezzanine, where the empress painted and made handicrafts.

In this room Alexandra received people close to her and trusted visitors. During World War One, when Nicholas II was in the army, the empress received reports from ministers here.

Recreated: Mezzanine, furniture, a carpet, decorative plasterwork, fireplaces.

Palisander Drawing Room

This interior was designed by Robert Melzer in 1896-97. The architect chose palisander (rosewood) as the main finishing material. The expensive wood was delivered from abroad. In the first years of their residency in the palace, Nicholas and Alexandra often spent time in solitude in this particular room. Then it became a place for breakfast and dinner for the imperial family.

Here the empress kept things like landscapes, watercolours and portraits, which reminded her of her homeland, the Grand Duchy of Hesse in southern Germany. With the help of two telephones, the empress could use the local St Petersburg network and communicate directly with the Headquarters in Mogilev, where Nicholas spent a long time during World War One. On 8 March 1917 in this room General Lavr Kornilov placed Alexandra and her children under house arrest at the Alexander Palace.

Recreated: Fabric wall lining, curtains, carpets, palisander panels, a palisander fireplace with a fabric insert and faceted mirrors, a plasterwork frieze.

Mauve Room

The Mauve Room (a.k.a. Lilac Boudoir) was Empress Alexandra's favourite room in the Alexander Palace. Its original design by Robert Melzer was never changed over two decades. The mauve silk was ordered from the Parisian firm of Charles Bourget. In this room, the emperor and empress and their children often drank coffee after breakfast and gathered for evening tea. Alexandra spent a lot of time here writing letters and reading.

According to the memoirs of contemporaries, the empress usually sat in a chaise lounge, reclining on lace pillows, with a lace shawl covering her legs. Behind her stood a draft-proof glass screen.

Recreated: Fabric wall lining, curtains, furniture, wood panels, a carpet, a fireplace, a painted frieze.

Imperial Bedroom

Entry from the corridor to the Imperial Bedroom was possible through the Palisander Drawing Room and the Mauve Room. Each morning, one of the footmen knocked three times on the door of the Mauve Room with a small silver mallet to wake the emperor and empress. Usually already awake by then, Nicholas would be working at his desk. Alexandra often got up late, and if she was not feeling well, did not leave her private rooms at all.

Recreated: Alcove, fabric wall lining, curtains, a carpet, furniture.

Reception Room of Nicholas II

From 1905, the Alexander Palace became the main imperial residence, and therefore the centre of Russia’s state life. Officials arriving for an audience with the emperor first went to the Reception Room, where they were received by the emperor's aides-de-camp.

Restored: Oak panels, parquet, a fireplace, ceiling paneling, fabrics, a chandelier. Recreated: A built-in sofa.

Working Study of Nicholas II

Here the emperor every day received ministers, heard reports, and reviewed official documents. The study had a table, chairs, walnut cabinets, and a large ottoman upholstered with a Persian rug. Nicholas II rested on it when work dragged on until nightfall or when he returned to Tsarskoe Selo from St Petersburg late and preferred not to disturb his family.

The study also contained Nicholas' personal library with about 700 volumes of military and historical literature, books on state issues, fiction and periodicals. The decoration was destroyed during the Nazi occupation.

Recreated: Curtains, a fireplace, panels, built-in walnut furniture, carpets. To be recreated: An ottoman, a desk with desktop drawers, a lamp and armchairs.

Moorish Room (a.k.a. Tsar's Bathroom)

Designed in the Moorish style, the emperor’s bathroom had a swimming pool with a capacity of about a thousand buckets of water. The pool could be filled with water of a required temperature in just a few minutes. On a platform facing the pool there was a fireplace surrounded with oriental style tiles. The pool and the entire bathroom were designed and supervised by the architect and engineer Nicholas de Rochefort. The decoration was lost during World War Two.

Recreated: A fireplace, a pool, a partition, fabrics, a carpet, curtains, a horizontal pull-up bar, a ceiling plafond, and a painted frieze.

Valet's Room

Under Nicholas II, this was a dressing room and a valet's room separated by partitions.

Due to the lack of iconographic material, it was decided to leave this interior in its current state. The walls have been plastered and painted, with the historical plasterwork preserved.

State Study of Nicholas II

The interior is designed in the Art Nouveau style. A wooden staircase leads to a mezzanine which connects to the Maple Drawing Room mezzanine. During World War One, there were maps of military operations laid out and some fateful decisions made in the State Study.

Restored: Fireplaces, parquet, ceiling, stairs to the mezzanine. Recreated: Wall paintings (from the found surviving fragments, which were preserved), curtains, and partly furniture.

Historical overview

The Alexander Palace was built at the behest of Empress Catherine II by the Italian architect Giacomo Quarenghi in 1792. It was a gift for the wedding of her beloved grandson Grand Duke Alexander Pavlovich (the future Emperor Alexander I) and Grand Duchess Elizabeth Alekseevna.

The private rooms of Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra Fyodorovna were placed in the east wing of the palace. Their redesign was started in 1894 by the architects Alexander Vidov and Alexander Bach. After Vidov's death, Silvio Dagnini temporarily took over until he was replaced by Robert Melzer.

From 1905, the palace became the permanent residence of Emperor Nicholas II, who was born here in 1868. It was here that the Emperor spent the last 12 years of his reign. It was from the Alexander Palace on 1 August 1917, that the Imperial family were sent into exile to Tobolsk in Siberia.

In 1918, the Alexander Palace opened to visitors as a state museum. Later there was a recreation center for NKVD employees in the west wing and an orphanage in the former Children's Rooms on the upper floor of the east wing of the palace.

During the Nazi occupation of Pushkin town (Tsarskoe Selo), the German headquarters and the Gestapo were located in the Alexander Palace, with a prison in the basements. The courtyard in front of the palace was turned into a cemetery for SS soldiers.

After the war, the palace underwent conservation and in 1946 was transferred to the USSR Academy of Sciences for storing the collections of the Institute of Russian Literature. As the venue for a large-scale exhibition dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the famous Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, the building underwent restoration in 1947-49. It was planned to restore the surviving interiors by Quarenghi and fragments of decoration of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But many decorative elements in the Maple Drawing Room, Palisander Drawing Room and Moorish Room were destroyed.

In 1951, the building was transferred to the Naval Department. The palace collection, stored among the evacuated items in the Central Depository of Museum Collections of Suburban Palaces-Museums, was transferred to the Pavlovsk Palace Museum.

The Alexander Palace was transferred to the Tsarskoe Selo State Museum and Heritage Site in October 2009. The three State Halls in the central part of the palace were opened after restoration for the Tsarskoe Selo tercentenary in June 2010.