Why is it called Catherine Palace?The Catherine Palace was named after the woman it was built for - Catherine I of Russia, the second wife of Peter the Great. The original building was a simple summer palace, which was demolished and replaced by her daughter Empress Elizabeth in 1752 with the glorious Rococo-style palace that stands there today. The palace also saw great changes under Catherine the Great, who disliked the (by-then oldfashioned) architecture and the extravagant amounts of money which had been spent by Empress Elizabeth. She had some of the rooms redecorated in the Neoclassical style. After her death, the palace was largely abandoned by the imperial family, with subsequent Tsars and Tsarinas preferring to stay in Alexander Palace nearby. Both Alexander I and Nicholas I requested some Empire-style interiors from Vasily Stasov, but most of them haven’t been restored yet after being destroyed during World War II.
What is Tsarskoe Selo?Tsarskoe Selo is the name of the town and the collection of parks and palaces within it. Originally called Sarskaya Myza, a version of the Finnish name for the area which meant ‘the manor on an elevated spot’, it later became known as Sarskoye Selo (where ‘selo’ means ‘village’). After the construction of a royal estate there in 1710, it became known as Tsarskoe Selo, or ‘Tsar’s Village’. It’s there that you’ll find the Catherine Palace, the Alexander Palace, and their respective parks and gardens. After the October Revolution in 1917, the palaces were taken over by the government and turned into children’s educational and health establishments, leading to the renaming of the area as Detskoye Selo, or ‘Children’s Village’. In 1937, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the death of the poet Alexander Pushkin, the town was given his name. That’s why the area is known as both Tsarskoe Selo and Pushkin.
What’s the Amber Room?The Amber Room is a unique and elaborate chamber in the Catherine Palace, made of gold leaf and mirrors, topped with amber panels. The original Amber Room was built in the Berlin City Palace, then given to Tsar Peter the Great in 1716, who brought it to the Catherine Palace where it was painstakingly rebuilt and expanded to include over 13,000lb (6 tonnes) of amber. During World War II efforts were made to hide the Amber Room, but in the end it was discovered behind wallpaper by German soldiers, who disassembled it and had it taken to Königsberg, where it stayed until 1945. In January 1945, Hitler ordered the looted items in Königsberg to be moved, but in the confusion, the Amber Room was lost. Though sightings have been reported since the end of the war, none of them have proved reliable, and only one set of small fragments was recovered from the family of a German soldier who claimed to have been involved in the theft. It’s now believed by many that the room was destroyed in the 1940s. In 1979 the Russian government decided to build a replica at the Catherine Palace, a project that took 24 years, 350 different shades of amber, and the collaboration of 40 Russian and German experts in the rare skill of amber craftsmanship. The room is as close as possible to the original, which would be priceless if it were ever valued. The present room in Catherine Palace has been estimated to be worth over $500 million.
How long should I plan for my visit?Once you arrive you should expect to spend between 1 and 2 hours at the palace, depending on whether you’re with a tour guide or using the audio guide. If you also want to see Catherine Park, the Alexander Palace and its park, or the Pavlovsk Palace, then you can easily spend a whole day in Pushkin.
Can we take photographs?You can take photographs anywhere in the palace except in the Amber Room. The staff are quite strict about the rule, but there are so many other beautiful rooms to take pictures of that you won’t feel like you’re missing out.