Konstantinovsky Palace: a Renaissance Relic

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The tireless craftsman emperor, Peter I, was personally involved in construction. The Strelna park was his idea altogether. Credit for the parks core design features also goes to Peter. He made sure the palace, the grottoes, the canals and the garden were built as an integral compositional whole. The architect who turned Peters vision and sketches into a graphically accomplished and harmonious project was Frenchman J.-B. Leblon. Ground was broken for the main palace, in 1720 in Peters presence and with his active involvement, but his projected gala residence in Strelna never materialized. A fickle, inspirational person, Peter abandoned Strelna and devoted all his attention to a new project, Peterhof. After Michetti went home, his apprentices, the talented Russian architects M. Zemtsov, T.Usov and P. Yeropkin, finished his job for him. This was the first building in the history of Russian palatial architecture where the gala rooms were positioned in a suite, one after the other. This layout would gain wide circulation in later epochs. Construction in Strelna was frozen for lack of funds after Peters death, but his daughter Elizabeth resumed it. Anxious to realize her fathers project, she put her court architect F.-B.Rastrelli on the case, who made some additions to the palaces spatial layout and interior artwork. Paradoxically, neither Elizabeth, nor her successor Catherine II used Strelna as their royal residence. Strelna was brought back from oblivion by Emperor Paul I, who gave it as a present to his son, Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich, in 1797. From then on, the palace would be referred to as Konstantinovsky, and would go down in history under that name. Its new reconstruction was entrusted to the architects F.-K. H. Wilster and A.N. Voronikhin. In 1804 and 1805, the former was replaced by L. Ruska, who created the belvedere above the palace, which really ties the faade together. The Marble and Military gala halls were Ruskas idea. Meanwhile, Voronikhin was working on interior finishing and rebuilt the terrace and the grottoes. Years later, A.I. Stackenschneider would dress Voronikhins famed staircases in white marble. After Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich died in 1831, Nicholas I gave the Strelna estate to his son, Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevich. The palace went into reconstruction again in 1848, this time under the tutelage of celebrated architects H.F. Meier, A.I. Stackenschneider and G.E. Bosse, who made the pompous palace look less heavy, turning it into a comfortable summer residence. That was the last remodeling of the Strelna palace and park before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. The complex, it seemed, had finally acquired a final, finished look. In the fateful year 1917, Grand Duke Dmitri Konstantinovich, who had inherited Strelna after his fathers death in 1892, was executed, and the palace was nationalized. For a while, the palace housed a school, then a penitentiary, a succession of sports societies, and, once again, a school for political propagandists. Needless to say, anything of any value was removed from the palace, and dereliction set in. During the Russian chapter of WWII, Strelna was in the middle of fierce fighting, and changed hands several times. The palace was badly damaged, but the walls survived: in Peters time, houses were built to last. After the war, the estate was handed over to the Arctic exploration authority, Glavsevmorput, and a school for Arctic explorers moved in. Several decades later, the palace was remodeled without any regard for its architectural value, which almost completely eradicated its original interior layout. The Arctic school was closed down in 1991. Although in 1990, UNESCO put the Strelna complex on its list of the worlds most valuable historical landmarks, years of ruin and oblivion ensued. Strelna is currently undergoing major restoration. In its new official capacity as the National Palace of Congresses, Strelna will host high-level guests, delegations and high-profile forums. The restoration is being carried out by Sixteenth Trust & Partners, which won the tender. The reconstruction plan was designed by National Hermitage experts in collaboration with GiproNII, the design think-tank of the Russian Academy of Sciences. This radical upturn in the fate of the Strelna palace would not be possible if back in 2000, a group of prominent exponents of St. Petersburg intelligentsia had not appealed to President Vladimir Putin with a request to restore the landmark. Soon Konstantinovsky Palace was awarded its new official status. In early 2001, an international charity was established named Konstantinovsky Palace and Park Complex in Strelna, and the work began. Our primary task was to make the public aware of the project, said Gennady Yavnik, the charitys Director General, We were greatly assisted in this by some of the most prominent and respected people in St. Petersburg: Academic Zhores Alfyorov, Valeriy Gergiev, Kirill Lavrov, Ludmila Verbitskaya, Victor Cherkesov, Vladimir Yakovlev, Mikhail Piotrovsky, and many others. They are all on our Board of Trustees. The charity did very well. In less than 2 years, it had raised about US $100 million for the reconstruction of Konstantinovsky Palace. Donations were received both from major corporations, such as Bank Menatep St. Petersburg, Siemens, Neftepolis, Transneft, Surgutneftegaz, the Bank of Moscow, North-West GSM, Slavneft, Eurofinance, Rosneft, Telecominvest, Bravo International, Bank St. Petersburg and others, and individual citizens. The sizes of donations were vastly different, said Yavnik, But most of all we appreciate the donations made by common people: retirees, veterans, residents of Strelna and all those who are anxious to see Konstantinovsky Palace restored. Their commitment assures us that our work is highly relevant and much needed. Restoration of this architectural masterpiece has become a matter of national pride. Restoration is scheduled for completion in May 2003, right before the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg. By that deadline, reconstruction will have covered an area of around 95 hectares, including the palace, the park, the canals, the grottoes, and the Consular Community. Practically all of the first level will be allotted to the museum. The second floor will house convention rooms; the third, administrative offices. There will also be a commercial/shopping area in the palace. A hotel + recreational complex will be built next to the palace, including a yacht club and some sports installations. This way, the restored Strelna complex will serve as both a historical architectural landmark, and a modern, comfortable convention center.

: 12.11.2002
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