The central part in the ensemble that Cameron constructed is taken by the Cold Bath pavilion.
The model of the Cold Bath was completed in 1780 and in the spring of that same year construction of the pavilion – a fairly small two-storey building – began. Its lower floor contained a bathing hall, a warm bathroom and a Russian steam bath. The upper floor consisted of six richly finished rooms for relaxation and amusements that became known as the Agate Rooms.
The architectural treatment of the facades of the Cold Bath, and of the complex as a whole, is founded on contrasting decoration of the storeys. The lower storey is separated by a cornice from the second and is faced with massive rough-hewn blocks of large-pored Pudost limestone that seems to have been eroded by wind and rain, creating the illusion of great age, of the “genuine antiquity” of the edifice. The second storey, by contrast, is light and bright: niches painted the colour of terracotta stand out against the light yellow of the walls. Round moulded bas-relief medallions with mythological subjects are placed along the top of the walls. The longer north-east wall is pierced by semicircular windows, the end walls by rectangular French windows placed within arches. The niches between the windows contain sculptural figures of mythological characters.
The main, south-west façade of the Cold Bath opens onto a terrace held up by vaults resting on massive brick pillars. The terrace serves as a base for the Hanging Garden and is a linking element between Cameron’s ensemble and the Great Palace. Seen from the Hanging Garden and the Cameron Gallery the upper storey of the Cold Bath seems to be a completely independent single-storey park pavilion. The main façade differs from the others in having columns of the same kind as on the Cameron Gallery, which stresses the unity of the buildings.
The Cold Bath is a rare example for Russian architecture of a building the very plan of which reflects an intention to imitate ancient prototypes. In designing the Cold Bath Cameron apparently took as his starting point the plan of the Thermae of Constantine, which were destroyed in the early seventeenth century but are known from measurements taken by Palladio. The rooms in that bath complex included an apodyterium for undressing, an unctuarium for the application of oils; a sphaeristerium – a large exercise hall; a calidarium – hot bath; a laconicum –steam room; a tepidarium – a warm room with heated water; and a frigidarium – a cold room with a pool. The fact that at Tsarskoye Selo the architect was trying to reproduce the layout of Roman thermae is also borne out by documents. Among the rooms on the lower floor they refer to one with a tin-lined pool in the centre, a “hot bath” and a “relaxation room”.
In the second-storey interiors Cameron used coloured stone, painting and mouldings. The stucco work in the Cold Bath was done by Osip Melnikov, a serf owned by the eminent architect and poet Nikolai Lvov; the sculpture by Jacques-Dominique Rachette and K. Hoffert. Other talented decorators working in St Petersburg in the 1780s were also involved in finishing these interiors. Notable among them were the sculptor and decorator Charlemagne-Baudet and the painter Johann Rudolf.
The floors of the Cold Bath were decorated with parquets that Christian Meyer had produced to Yury Velten’s designs for the house that was being built in St Petersburg for Alexander Lanskoi. (Due to the favourite’s untimely death they were not required.)
Despite the ravages of the war years, the original décor of the pavilion’s interiors has survived. At the present time the rooms on the lower floor of the Cold Bath are used for temporary exhibitions.
Entering the Cameron Thermae from beneath the vaults of the Hanging Garden you come into a corridor that was flanked by service rooms in the eighteenth century: rooms for servants, storerooms for oils and other bathing paraphernalia. Here too were the stoves and boilers required to heat the water.
Today we enter the ground-floor rooms through the service area beyond which lies the steam bath that was not a feature of Roman thermae but traditional for Russia – fairly small room that used to have a wooden ceiling, a simple board floor and wood-lined walls. The purpose of this room determined its functional finish.
Cameron was not conversant with the construction of a Russian bathhouse and requested the assistance of the Office of Works in its construction. The job was entrusted to the architect Ilya Neyelov, who presented his estimate for the work in October 1785. In keeping with his project a stove was placed in the south corner of the room with 250 cannonballs piled on its latticed vault; water was poured over these to produce steam. In the opposite corner were lime-wood shelves, benches and tanks for water. Heated water entered from the room next-door.
The route through the Cameron Thermae followed the Ancient Roman practice of gradually diminishing temperature from room to room – from the Russian steam bath to the Bathing Room.
Corner Cabinet. Bathroom
The Corner Cabinet – a room with a square floor plan and a semicircular niche – was used for massage. This small room was decorated with four marble Corinthian columns and moulded medallions with mythological subjects on the coves of the vault.
The spacious vaulted room next-door is illuminated by a large semicircular window that formerly contained a tub for bathing in warm water. Two doors along its north-east wall linked this Bathroom with the Corner Cabinet and the Bathing Hall. Additionally, on the opposite wall, Cameron placed two false doors. The walls of the Bathroom were plastered and painted: the only embellishment on them are beading frames that divide the surface of the walls into panels and high-relief decorative stucco vases placed above the doors. In the nineteenth century a light grey marble fireplace was installed in the Bathroom.
The brightest and most spacious room on the ground floor is the Bathing Hall with two semicircular windows and four doors. It is covered by a double cross-vault.
In Cameron’s original project the Bathing Hall was supposed to look especially elegant and striking with gilded mouldings on the vaults and walls richly finished with artificial marble and ornamental painting. He proposed placing a sumptuous canopy above the pool supported on faience columns with gilded bronze eagles and paving the floor with different coloured marble.
The Empress, however, rejected this scheme. Cameron managed to retain only part of his original concept and to use relief compositions to decorate the hall with mythological subjects connected with the element of water. The walls and vaults were plastered; the floor of the Bathing Hall was covered with oak parquet and the restrained relief décor of the walls was complemented by white-painted doors.
The sculptural frieze made up of rectangular panels alternating with round medallions includes the subjects The Toilet of Venus, Galatea and Neptune, Bathing Naiads and The Triumph of Amphitrite and also allegories of rivers and lakes, depictions of female bathers and the muse Euterpe. Placed beneath the vaults are large panels containing multi-figure compositions: on the south-east wall Acis and Galatea; on the south-west Pan and Syrinx and Nessus the Centaur with Deianira. The bas-relief on the north-west wall shows Amphitrite in the company of nereids, tritons, dolphins and cupids. The sculptural compositions were produced from sketches by Jacques-Dominique Rachette.
This hall used to contain a circular bathing pool with a volume of 13 cubic metres surrounded by a wooden balustrade. Its walls were made of brick with a tin lining produced by a craftsman named Albrecht. Besides this, the hall contained a white marble fireplace mounted with gilded bronze.
During the Second World War, the Bathing Hall was used as a stable. The pool was smashed; many of the doors were destroyed and the floor completely wrecked. Restoration work was carried out in the hall in 1949 and 1990.
In size, shape and architectural treatment the Lounge with its single window and niche with a semicircular conch was a repetition of the Corner Cabinet and was occupied almost entirely by “an ancient couch”.
The Lounge was not given the decorative finish that Cameron intended. Its walls and domical ceiling were only smoothly plastered and painted; columns of white and coloured natural marble were set in the corners and four bas-relief medallions of mythological scenes placed on the coves of the vault. Two of these were devoted to the myth of Cupid and Psyche, the others depicted Aphrodite with Adonis and a scene from the story of Selene and Endymion.
The Lounge is further adorned by a white marble fireplace with female figures on the pilasters and carved ornament by Charlemagne-Baudet on the frieze.
A door from the Lounge leads to the cross-vaulted Lobby with a single window and three doorways. On account of its service function this room had no artistic decoration. The walls of the Lobby were plastered and painted, the floor, as everywhere else in this storey, was covered with oak parquet. From the Lobby you can reach the staircase and ascend to the upper floor of the pavilion.
The two storeys of the Cold Bath pavilion are linked by a spiral staircase designed by Cameron and located in the south corner of the building. The lines of the stairs and the stairwell as a whole are one of the Scottish architect’s most perfect and refined creations, something unique in the history of Russian architecture to which he rightly belongs. The staircase is inscribed in an oval space. Two doors below lead out beneath the Hanging Garden and in to the rooms of the bathhouse.
The broad areas of wall in the stairwell contain the same kind of semicircular niches found on the facades of the pavilion. In Catherine’s time they contained four marble statues that were removed in 1798 on the orders of Emperor Paul I. Above the niches are round moulded medallions containing mythological compositions by Jacques-Dominique Rachette.
The domical ceiling of the stairwell is embellished with rows of moulded ornament: the white rosettes in the coffers create the impression of lacework. At the base of the dome is a moulded cornice bearing a relief of lotus leaves; below it is a broad frieze of elegant arabesques with figures of griffons and vases between them.
The cutting of costs on the decoration of the lower floor of the Cold Bath and adjustment of the original plans also affected the stairs. In response to Cameron’s question as to what she would like the steps to be made from – Russian marble or “wild stone”, the Empress replied: “From wild stone, but peaceful.” Following Catherine’s wishes, the architect created a single winding flight of 41 steps of grey fine-grained granite inscribed into the oval stairwell without the customary supports. The ends of the steps (up to 40 centimetres in length) were inserted into a special channel cut in the wall and wedged in with stone. The edges of the steps were linked together by a sort of tongue-and-groove arrangement and so the steps also rested one on another. The balustrade of the stairs was given a simple design in the form of a vertical rods and smooth gilded rosettes. The polished handrail was made of Eastern Juniper. The floor of the stairwell was paved with white and grey marble with a broad border of Putilov stone.
The pavilion's ground floor currently houses the exhibition Agate Rooms: The Way to Revival dedicated to the history and restoration of the Agate Rooms.