Pushkin isn’t your typical village. It’s one of incredible wealth between stately homes and grand palaces. It sits atop a hill a short drive away from Saint Petersburg. It has been the often unspoken center of Russia’s history. Many of the czars that came to rule Russia after Peter the Great made this town there home from Catherine the Great to Nicholas II. The village was once known as Tsarskoye Selo roughly translated, the home of the czars… That was until a local became one of the most popularized authors and the town came to be known as Pushkin for his namesake.
Under the Soviet Union, rather that ravaging the lavish homes of their oppressors, the Bolsheviks opened the doors to the public. This was to serve as a teaching point for the Russian population. For the first time the starved and overworked proletariat could now see first hand how the czars lived in such luxury. When Germany occupied the Soviet Union and invaded Saint Petersburg they did so by making their decent into the city from the fields where the Leningrad airport now sits. The Nazi’s used many of the palaces in Pushkin as a home base, and caused much of the destruction to the interiors. The bullet holes can still be seen on the sides of some of the statues that adorn the doorways. Post World War Two the Soviet government invested a portion of the economy into the upkeep of the palace, and restoration work was commenced to bring the Palaces back to their former glory.
As you walk through Catherine’s palace you truly begin to understand just how immensely rich the first family of the Russian empire was. Dozen’s of rooms to cater to lavish balls and dinning with the elite. As you walk through the halls adorned with lights, mirrors, and fresco that give the illusion of vaulted ceilings you can’t help but imagine this being a part of Versailles. Tiles from The Netherlands, clocks from England. The palace serves as a marker in history displaying the era Russia opened it’s doors to Europe and the western world.
Thousands of people each year come to Catherine’s palace to view the famous Amber Room. Cross sections of ancient amber mold together to decorate the walls and frame small paintings. It’s known to be the most expensive room in the world. It’s impressive, but I am more taken by the Painting Room. Oil paintings from the eighteenth century were collected not for their content, but for the lighting style. All with black backgrounds that show the subject in a soft light. These paintings are arranged much the same way as the Amber Room… used as a wallpaper rather than a display. If a painting was to large – it was simply cut to size. The further you tour down the palace you get to see a glimpse into the daily lives of the aristocrats, and once again you are hit with flashes of a Versailles in the north.
Leaving Pushkin behind us we come to a slowing crawl and are greeted with yet another Russian tradition… traffic.