Tsarskoye Selo (or “Tsar‘s Village”) was the town containing a former Russian residence of the Romanov imperial family and visiting nobility. It is located 24 kilometers (15 mi) south from the center of Saint Petersburg. It is now part of the town of Pushkin ( which got its name in 1937 to to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin). Tsarskoye Selo forms one of the World Heritage Site Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments. During the Soviet times it was known as Detskoye Selo (meaning Children’s Village).
In 1708, just five years after the founding of Saint Petersburg itself, Peter the Great gave this estate to his wife, the future Empress Catherine I, as a present. She founded the Blagoveschensky (Annunciation) church there in 1724. She also begun to develop the place as a royal country residence. Her daughter, Empress Elizabeth and her architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli were largely responsible for the building of the Catherine Palace. Later Empress Catherine II of Russia and her architect Charles Cameron extended the palace building that is now known as the Cameron Gallery. Currently, there are two imperial palaces: the baroque Catherine Palace with the adjacent Catherine Park and the neoclassical Alexander Palace with the adjacent Alexander Park. The Catherine Palace is surrounded by a Garden à la française and an English landscape garden, with such 18th-century structures as Dutch Admiralty, Creaking Pagoda, Chesme Column, Rumyantsev Obelisk and Marble Bridge. The landscape Alexander Park has several Chinoiserie structures, notably the Chinese Village.
The most interesting way to get there is to catch a train from Vitebsky railway terminal (in the central part of Saint Petersburg) or Kupchino railway station (in the South of the city). The Tsarskoye Selo Railway was the first public railway line in the Russian Empire. It ran for 27 km (17 mi) from Saint Petersburg to Pavlovsk through the nearby (4 km) Tsarskoye Selo. Construction began in May 1836, and the first test trips were carried out the same year between Tsarskoye Selo and Pavlovsk, using horse-drawn trains. The line was officially opened on 30 October 1837, when an 8-carriage train was hauled by a steam locomotive between Saint Petersburg and Tsarskoye Selo. For fourteen years, until the construction of the Moscow – Saint Petersburg Railway in 1851, it was the only passenger train line in Russia. In 1899 it was merged into the Moscow–Windau–Rybinsk Railways and now forms part of the Oktyabrskaya Railway.
In 1895, at the beginning of the reign of Tsar Nicholas II, an imperial pavilion was built to accommodate the Imperial family when traveling by train from St. Petersburg to the Alexandrovskaya station, which served Tsarkoye Selo. The pavilion burned down in January 1911 and a new construction project was presented by Vladimir Pokrovsky, one of the favorite architects of Tsar Nicholas II, who had just completed the construction of the Feodorovsky cathedral, which served as a family parish church for the Emperor and his family. The railway station was completed in 1912. A long alley of lime trees still leads to the Feodorovsky Imperial Cathedral and then a paved road leads to the Alexander Palace, located one kilometer from the station. After the revolution the station is renamed ” Uritsky Pavilion” in 1918 and closed a few years after the Second World War (also because of serious damage suffered during the German occupation). During the 1990s the building was used as an unofficial disco until it suffered a fire. In 2010 on the 300th anniversary of Tsarskoe Selo, it was planned to restore the pavilion. But this did not happen. The pavilion is currently in a pitiful state and almost in ruins. The sharp-pointed roof of the entrance door of honour has collapsed and been replaced with plastic coated roofing sheet. The stone carvings on the facade have survived, as well as the murals of the vaults of the front porch and some interiors have also survived. Bullet holes and shrapnel holes from the Second World War are visible on the rear / north façade where the platforms used to be. The platforms and platform canopy no longer exist.
Building on yesterday’s suggestion of visiting Russia in the “off season”, I want to pint out a couple more advantages you get for “being brave” and coming to Russia when it is not summer.
First of all, Tsarskoe Selo is one of the most famous tourist sites in the whole country and it is, therefore, often full to the brim with large groups of tourists, Visiting such a magnificent places and having to walk in a crowd certainly takes away from the experience… in spite of the fact that tour restrictions apply during high season & holidays. Truth to be told, Catherine’s palace is a popular tourist destination year-round, even if in the fall, winter and early spring the number of visitors is significantly lower.
The parks are a different matter altogether. In summer they are almost as crowded as the palace itself (even if their huge size makes them feel less so), but in autumn and winter you can have the magical experience of having the park almost all for yourself. Fearing bad weather, Tsarskoe Selo’s parks are only included in tourist group visits during the summer and in the other seasons you can enjoy this magnificent gardens in complete tranquillity.
One final benefit is that the admission to the park is completely free of charge from late October to late April, as specified on the official Tsarskoe Selo website, where you can find a wealth of information.
Would you like to discover Russia in the off season and experience what foreigners rarely, if ever, get to see, with an English (and Italian, Spanish and French) speaking guide (me and my wife) showing you the sights and telling you a bit about Russian history and traditions? If so, do get in touch and we’ll be happy to create an unforgettable, tailor-made experience for you!