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Winter Palace (Zimni Dvorets)

The official seat of the government of Russia from 1712 to 1917, the Winter Palace is sited on the left bank of the River Neva, east of the Admiralty, and is now part of the Hermitage Museum.

Winter Palace History

The first Winter Palace built in 1708 was of timber and was built roughly on the site of the courtyard of the present Hermitage Theatre. In 1711 the wooden building was dismantled, and in its place Domenico Trezzini erected the first stone palace.

This was two-storey, with a lofty basement, which inside and out followed the plan of the central block of the palace built for Aleksandr Menshikov (1660–1729), which survives today. It was in this Winter Palace that the Senate met after the proclamation of St Petersburg as the capital of the state in 1712 and later in 1723–1726.

With Russia’s increasing role in European politics and the growth of the Tsar’s family, in 1716 Peter I ordered Georg Johann Mattarnovy to build a new, suitably impressive, stone palace, known as the Second Winter Palace, on the Neva and along the specially dug canal, the Winter Canal (Zimnaya kanavka).

Before his death in 1719, Mattarnovy had built the left wing of the palace accommodating the private apartments of the Tsar and Tsarina. By 1724 this second stone palace stretched for 68 m along the Neva.

Impressive projecting bays at the ends and a centre block adorned with three-quarter columns created an imposing effect. After 1736 court officials lived in the palace, and at the beginning of the 1780s Giacomo Quarenghi built in its place the Hermitage Theatre.

Bartolomeo Carlo Rastrelli and Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli built the new, stone, Third Winter Palace (1732–1736) for Empress Anne (1730–1740). The three-storey building, in the Italian Baroque style, extended 215 m from north to south. Over the years wings were added, and by the mid-18th century it was T-shaped with its stem towards the Neva.

In 1754 Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli began building the Fourth Winter Palace for Empress Elizabeth (1741–1761), also in stone. During construction a temporary wooden Winter Palace (was put up on the Nevsky Prospekt on the right bank of the Moyka Canal.

Anne’s palace was demolished and its foundations used as the base for the west wing of the new stone palace. Rastrelli, who was assisted by Yury Fel’ten, finished the present, Fourth Winter Palace in 1762. Four massive three-storey ranges linked by broad galleries surround a courtyard.

Each façade is individual, but the principal ones are on the north and south. In the northern part, facing the Neva, are the staterooms and the ceremonial staircase, originally called the Posol’skaya or Ambassadorial Staircase (later called the Jordan Staircase).

The south side faces the square and the city; a three-arched gateway leads into the courtyard. On the first floor were the private apartments of members of the imperial family.

In 1837 fire destroyed the interior of the palace. For two years Vasily Stasov and Aleksandr Bryullov worked on the restoration. Where the old working drawings existed, it was possible to recreate the original appearance of the rooms, but in most cases a new decorative scheme was developed.

Only the principles determining the functions of the various rooms were unchanged, and the north wing remained as the state apartments. An attempt was made to restore the Ambassadorial Staircase according to Rastrelli’s drawings.

Decorated in white and gold, with numerous stuccoed decorations and sculptures, Zimni Dvorets (Winter Palace) is overwhelmingly Baroque in spirit; the only evidence of the alterations are a few characteristically Neo-classical bas-reliefs with military attributes.

The principal suite of rooms (the Neva Enfilade or Nevskaya anfilada) now consists of four halls, the largest of which, entered through the Fore Hall, is the Nicholas Hall (1103 sq. m), a large, light gallery in the Corinthian style.

Beside it is the Concert Hall, which is almost square and in which paired Corinthian columns alternate with the arched apertures of shallow niches along the walls. The fourth room is the Malachite Hall, distinguished by its polychromy and richness of decoration.

Eight columns, two fireplaces, a large bowl, tables and a collection of small decorative wares, all made of green malachite, contrast with the crimson damask of the upholstery of the furniture and the gilt-bronze architectural details and decorations. It was here that the Provisional Government met in October 1917.

At right angles to the Neva Enfilade in the eastern part of the palace is the classical Great Enfilade (Bol’shaya anfilada), also comprising four halls, which resulted from the creation in 1795 of the adjacent great throne-room or Hall of St George by Giacomo Quarenghi.

It is the most stately and imposing hall in the palace, and its walls are dressed throughout in Carrara marble. Also of marble are the numerous paired Corinthian columns, with bases and capitals of gilt bronze. The pattern on the floor, formed of 16 different types of wood, repeats the designs on the ceiling.

Above the throne at one end of the room is a marble bas-relief of St George. Equally severe and majestic are the four halls of the enfilade: the Field Marshals’ Hall (540 sq. m), the Armorial Hall (1035 sq. m) and even the Picket Hall for the guard, decorated in white and gold; in addition, the small throne-room, or Hall of Peter I, dedicated to his memory, is distinguished by its small size (205 sq. m) and the particular richness of its decoration.

It is hung with scarlet velvet with applied gilt-bronze two-headed eagles. In an open exedra on a raised dais is the silver throne, made in London by Nicholas Clausen.

The imperial family’s private apartments were in the western part of the palace, and in the south were the apartments for visitors. These residential suites were altered more often than the others, reflecting changing fashions. Here are imitations of Gothic, Moorish and Pompeian styles in deliberately emphasized luxuriance. Many rooms in the Winter Palace were damaged during World War II.

After 1945 they were restored to Vasily Stasov’s plans and drawings by his contemporaries. The palace’s rooms and apartments now exhibit the Russian and foreign masters of the Hermitage collections and house the offices of the museum.


Winter Palce Map&Location

Address: Dvortsovaya nab, 32, St. Petersburg (Дворцовая наб., 34, г. Санкт-Петербург). Get help with directions using the map provided bellow:

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 Winter Palace Photos

C;ick on the images to enlarge
Winter Palace The Hermitage © Paula Funnell
Winter Palace Panoramic View © Mushkush
Photos © Javier Vazquez
The Winter Palace exterior
The Winter Palace interior
Photos © Mutatedjellyfish
Winter Palace Entrance Courtyard
Winter Palace Square
Photos © Dennis Jarvis
Winter Palace Interior Armorial Hall
Winter Palace Interior Small Throne Room
Winter Palace Interior Throne Room
Winter Palace Interior Jordan Staircase
Winter Palace Interior Jordan Staircase detail
Winter Palace St Petersburg night © Melalouise