St. Petersburg has more than enough tourists’ attraction inside the city, and yet there are even more magical attractions in the suburb area too. There are five imperial estates at the suburb which each one of them is unique in their ways. We have already covered Peterhof and its astonishing parks and cascades in another post. We have also written about the Pushkin and its legendary Amber room. Besides these two incredible suburb palaces which are more famous than other three, there’s Pavlovsk that has one of the most fabulous parks between the five complexes, and Gatchina which is not as famous as others but has several historical wondrous structures. In this post, we're going to learn about the last palace complex in the suburb area which is the least acknowledged amongst others, though it's quite an unfair ranking. The last palace complex in the suburb area is Lomonosov or Oranienbaum as it was called before the Second World War.
The Oranienbaum palace complex locates in forty kilometers in the west of Saint Petersburg, exactly twelve kilometers after Peterhof. Dissimilar to the recognition that Oranienbaum got in the past, it is the oldest suburb complexes among the other four.
Four years after Peter the Great founded St. Petersburg, he presented the Oranienbaum fields to his chief counsel and friend, Alexander Menshikov, who was observing the Finland Gulf at the time. Menshikov assigned Gottfried Schadel and Giovanni Fontana to build the summer palace and its park in 1710. These two architects were working on Menshikov's mansion in the St. Petersburg city at the same time.
Following the death of Peter I, Menshikov arrested and exiled out of Russia. The Oranienbaum palace complex became the summer residence of Peter Fedorovitch, and he assigned Rastrelli to renovate the interior of the palace to give it a more glorious look. Antonio Rinaldi built the Peterstadt Fortress complex at the bank of Karost River in 1762. When Catherine the Great succeeded the crown, she gave her first-ever build order as an Empress and assigned Rinaldi to design her a summer house in the complex which was the Chinese Palace. Unto the end of the 18th century, several significant structures constructed in the complex such as the Chinese Palace, the Roller Coaster Pavilion, the Chinese Kitchen, Cupola, and the Gate of Honor.
At the end of the 18th century until the beginning of the 19th century, Paul I ordered to demolish every wooden structure in the complex, which includes most of the Peterstadt. From the ending of the 18th century until the October Revolution, the royal owner of the complex changed several times. Following the October Revolution, the Oranienbaum nationalized and turned to several organizations such as educational and military institutes, hospital and more.
Through the Second World War when the Nazi troops attacked the Oranienbaum, the bravery of the Russian soldiers didn’t let Germans took control of Oranienbaum, therefore, it received the least amount of damages amongst other suburb palaces. Though it later became a problem for the palace, the government put Oranienbaum at the end of the priority list and somehow got abandoned.
The city name was changed to the Lomonosov in 1948, in honor of the Russian scientist, and founder of the colored glass production in the area. Today, most of the Oranienbaum that left abandoned and ignored in the past is under massive renovation. Since Peterhof is now governing the palace complex, the restoration is moving forwards perfectly but slowly. Currently, the Grand Palace opened its door to the public, a small part of the Chinese Palace is accessible for tourists, and after loads of difficult and heavy renovation, some parts of the park are restored and got ready to visit by the public.
Menshikov and Peter began their construction in the suburb area at the same time in 1713. Menshikov intended to build a more glorious palace than Peter the Great, thus, he assigned the same two architects who were working on his mansion in St. Petersburg to build his suburb palace too. After a decade the construction of the palace which ultimately bankrupted the owner completed. The two-story palace with two-level terrace and yellow-white color bricks could easily draw all attention in the area toward itself.
After that Menshikov exiled, Peter III occupied the palace and assigned Rastelli to reconstruct the grand palace. He left the exterior intact but changed lots of details in the interior which unfortunately none of it survived today. Antonio Rinaldi redesigned most of the interior in 1762 including the addition of the grand granite staircase and the northern terrace. Throughout the years, several architects worked on the palace including Rossi, Ruska, and Satsov. The exterior is still marvelous as of today the interior requires much more restoration to be as glorious as the exterior.
The Peter III Palace which designed and built by Antonio Rinaldi near the Gate of Honor in 1762 is the only part of the Peterstadt that survived today. The odd design of the Peterstadt perfectly revealed Peter III’s love for the military life. Peter III Palace is one of the first examples of neoclassical architecture in Russia. The two-story building was designed in a specific way to house Peter III alone. Nothing is striking inside the palace other than a hall with several 18th-century paintings.
The first-ever building that Catherine the Great ordered to build for herself after she succeeded the crown was the Chinese Palace in Oranienbaum. The Chinese Palace which is also known as “Private Dacha” had been used only 48 days during the Empress’s 34 years of monarchy. Currently, this beautiful palace is under some heavy renovations. Besides the name, there’s nothing particularly Chinese about this late Baroque style palace. Though the exterior is quite simple, the real fascination about this palace is the interior which is one of the only things that completely survived the bombardment and other unfortunate events, and remained intact from the Catherine II’s era; however, it requires much more renovation to be like the original form.
There are loads of restoration and care required to bring the Oranienbaum park’s glorious look back. Though even without restoration, you can still recognize the beautiful layout and gardening of the park in its former glory. From the upper park to the southwest of the Grand Palace is the greatest part of the complex with its canals, bridges, and ponds which designed during the Catherine II’s reign by Joseph Bush. The lower park is designed in the 18th century when formal gardens were still common.
The Oranienbaum is quite far from the St. Petersburg city center, and for this reason, it doesn’t include in many St. Petersburg tour program. However, it’s not the only reason, years of neglect, and then heavy restoration that is still in order, made the Oranienbaum a less important target for Russia tour agencies. However, if you have plans to visit the Peterhof in the suburb area, you can also give the Oranienbaum a visit as well if you have enough time and energy since it locates only 12 kilometers away from Peterhof.
The park’s amazing structures and magnificent sculptures could be a good reason to add this place to your St. Petersburg tour program. The Grand Palace and Chinese Palace museums can be another reason for that matter. The complex is currently under heavy restoration and might not be quite charming as someone would expect at the time, but for those who admire the Russian architecture and its history, this place is still quite exciting.
If Oranienbaum isn’t already in your Russia tour program but you want to add this place to your visit list, we suggest everyone save some time and energy in their Peterhof's tour and use the remaining of your time to visit Oranienbaum as well, since it isn't a logical choice to travel to St. Petersburg’s suburb area only to visit Oranienbaum.