Usually, the “First ever” things in history draw most of the attention toward themselves. For example, the first-ever structure that built in the new city of Saint Petersburg was the Peter and Paul Fortress, but the first stone building in the capital of vast Russia during the Romanov family's reign was the Menshikov Palace in Vasilevskiy Island.
The Menshikov Palace locates in the embankment of Bolshaya Neva River on Vasilevskiy Island. This palace is one of the most famous ones in St. Petersburg and also the only private building that survived in the city from the 18th century. The palace was at first belonged to Alexander Menshikov, the personal servant of Peter the Great.
Alexander Menshikov was the unlettered son of a groomsman who became the servant of the emperor in 1687 and quickly turned into Peter I's trusted person because of his loyalty. He had permanently accompanied the Tsar in his travels since he had a quite good military and management abilities. Shortly, he earned the rank of the prince from the Peter I and became the governor of Ingria. He began his palace’s construction in 1710, after five years of need in battles of Baltics and Poltava.
Alexander Menshikov was born in a simple family, but he got a surprising luxurious taste. The three-story Menshikov Palace designed and built by the Italian architect Giovanni Fontana with the assistant of the German Johann Schädel following the Petrine Baroque architecture style. The exterior of the palace furnished with many elements and sculptures which made it more luxurious. The first stone building of Menshikov was one of the most magnificent and beautiful buildings in the new city of Saint Petersburg in that time.
The luxurious taste didn’t decrease in the interior design of the palace which was made out of gold, silver, marble, and expensive woods. There are many valuable arts utilized to decorate the interior such as old and new Italian sculptures, paintings, Chinese silk, Venetian mirrors, grand chandeliers made out of crystal, and also an impressive collection of arts such as masterpieces by painters and famous artists of the time. Since the palace was the largest and most magnificent building at the time in St. Petersburg, Peter I used it as his residence for official meetings, and holding ceremonies.
Alexander Menshikov was famous for his loyalty to the emperor Peter I, but also for his greed and corruption to the point that he got punished several times for his action by Peter I himself. Following the death of Peter the Great, Menshikov made sure that emperor’s wife, Catherine I would succeed him without a problem. However, after her death, the nobles and Peter II’s close circle persuaded the emperor to exile Alexander and his family to Siberia, and seize his property and tremendous wealth. Following the event, the Menshikov Palace turned to the noble private school and went under immense restoration since it wasn’t suited for its new function. Most of the palace was obtained by the school museum in 1888.
After the October 1917 Revolution, the Menshikov Palace suffered a lot. Almost all its interior stole or destroyed. The art collections in the palace moved to the Hermitage museum or other museums in Russia, and the palace itself turned into the government offices. Finally, the palace went under the Hermitage Museum management in 1967. The palace was under renovation to its original interior for most of the 1970s and ultimately opened its doors to the public as a branch of Hermitage museum in 1981.
The Menshikov Palace beside its magnificent exterior and interior maintained one of the important collections of Hermitage museum, the art from the late 17th and 18th century of Russia. The collection divided into two exhibitions in the museum stretch. The first exhibition is about the culture and art of the first half of the 18th century from Peter I’s to Elizabeth Petrovna’s reign. One can find the tools, instruments from the Peter I’s laboratory, the portrait of noble people until Elizabeth’s reign, furniture, decorations, and items made out of mosaic or glass, metal artworks, and porcelains by famous artists in this collection.
The second part which takes place in the second half of the 18th century is more about Catherine the Great and her successor. The collection includes metal, glass, and porcelain artifacts, costumes, paintings by famous artists such as Johann Baptist von Lampi, Borovikovsky, Kauffmann, and Levitsky, and the personal room of Alexander II.
In overall, in the trip to Russia and St. Petersburg tour, one of the major attraction in Russia tourism, especially St. Petersburg is the palaces, and Menshikov palace is significant from both historical and artistic point of view. We recommend you to visit this palace which is now under the administration of the Hermitage Museum during your trip to the Saint Petersburg city.