An array of once neglected and forgotten architectural gems from the former imperial estate of Tsarskoye Selo have been brought back to life and will be unveiled to the public this summer.
Local residents and city visitors alike will be able to set foot for the first time ever in the mystical White Tower, a spot once favored for outdoor activities by many members of Russian royalty, including the family of Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II.
The restoration of the White Tower Pavilion, located in the estate’s Alexander Park, is in full swing. Looming over the romantic park from a hilltop, the tower, built between 1821 and 1827, was born out of Tsar Nicholas I’s admiration for Gothic architecture, medieval art and the culture associated with knighthood. The tsar intended the tower to be a treat for his sons — princes Alexander, Nikolai, Mikhail and Konstantin — who all came to adore it. The princes studied history there and practiced various athletic activities.
The pavilion, designed by architect Adam Menelas, was severely damaged during World War II and proper restoration did not begin on it until the 1980s. Funding for the project was low, however, and renovation work did not get very far. The project was resumed only in the fall of 2011. Renovation work is planned to restore not only the building’s magnificent façade, originally decorated by a series of cast-iron sculptures of knights from medieval history and literature, but also the tower’s interior, including its intricate stucco molding. One of the tower’s signature attractions, its viewing platform, which offers stunning panoramic views of the park and estate, also looks set to open for visitors.
At present, the park — including the tower itself — is closed to the public. However, Olga Taratynova, director of the Tsarskoye Selo museum-estate, has promised that the White Tower will be home to a children’s center specializing in culture, entertainment and education by the end of the summer. Some of the tower’s rooms will be turned into classrooms, where local children will be able to learn to draw, sing and dance. An engaging interactive display will also be mounted in the tower.
Taratynova compared the restoration of the Cameron Gallery Grottos and the Oval Staircase to successfully performed heart surgery.
The grottos were almost entirely destroyed during World War II and have since remained closed to the public. The grottos, which are almost 200 years old, needed urgent and large-scale renovation work, as their brick walls were rapidly losing their ability to hold up the structure and were at risk of collapsing.
According to Natalya Kudryavtseva, chief architect at Tsarskoye Selo, the gallery now looks exactly as it did back in the reign of Catherine the Great.
“Without dismantling any elements of the staircase, we created temporary support structures to allow us to waterproof the lower levels of the staircase,” she explained. “It was a risky enterprise.”The Oval Staircase renovation work, which is still underway, turned out to be particularly challenging for restorers, Kudryavtseva said.
In the future, the grottos will become home to a collection of period sculptures, which are expected to greet the first visitors by the end of this month.
One of Catherine the Great’s favorite architects, the Scottish architect Charles Cameron came to Russia in 1779, and spent more than fifteen years working on various projects in Tsarskoye Selo. The Cameron Gallery is regarded as the architect’s most successful project on the estate, and the one that brought him fame.
The empress wanted a serene colonnade for meditative strolls and intellectual talks, and the magnificent elegant masterpiece delivered to her has become an iconic image of St. Petersburg.
The Mirror Pond, situated in the Old Garden of the Catherine Park, also required renovation. After the pond was completely drained, its walls were reinforced with concrete platforms. The restorers are now working on making a new slime to line the bottom of it. It is expected that the Mirror Pond — which has not been renovated since the 1970s — will be filled with water again before the end of June.