Crossing the New Garden alongside the Chinese Village is the Under-Caprice Road, the western boundary between the Catherine and Alexander Parks. It got its name from two constructions – the Large and Small Caprices.
They both take the form of man-made hills pierced by arched passageways for the road. According to an old tradition, these substantial earthworks were dubbed the Large and Small Caprices because when she was presented with the estimates for the expensive work involved in creating them, Catherine II hesitated for a long time, but then signed them, giving her approval, saying “Let it be my caprice.”
There is, however, a different version. In the eighteenth century the guardhouse and bar were located by the Large Caprice: this was the entrance to the residence and to the Great (Catherine) Palace and also the route that Catherine II took when went for drives on the main roads of Tsarskoye Selo, something she frequently did during her stays at the summer residence. It was said that the Empress was in the habit of telling the coachman which road to take as she passed the guardhouse and so she jokingly called this spot “my caprice”. It is a known fact that Catherine II (like Empress Elizabeth before her) never announced her departure from Tsarskoye Selo in advance and left when it was least expected.
Vasily Neyelov came up with the architectural conception for the Large and Small Caprices and he constructed them in collaboration with the engineer and architect Johann Conrad Gerhard between 1770 and 1774.
The Large Caprice incorporates a tremendous arch over five metres wide and more than seven metres high. A second, smaller arch was constructed alongside, within the artificial hill. The Large Caprice is topped by a Chinese summer-house: eight columns of pink marble support its striking curved “Chinese” roof.
The word “caprice” repeated twice in the name of the ensemble is highly indicative, because it reveals the significance of the entire complex of “Chinese” constructions on the territory of the Alexander Park: a visitor arriving at Tsarskoye Selo had at first to pass through the Large Caprice, a short dark tunnel, after which the panorama opened up of the whimsical buildings of the Chinese Village and beyond it the Small Caprice. This extraordinary world of “caprices”, different in all ways from everyday life, served as a sort of preparation for the proper appreciation of the Great Palace.