St. Michael’s Castle in St. Petersburg also called the Mikhailovsky Castle or the Engineer’s Castle. This is a significant architectural monument, built as a residence of Emperor Paul I. Today, the castle is a branch of the State Russian Museum. The restored halls house permanent and temporary expositions of paintings and sculptures.
Paul began to think about building a castle when he was just a grand duke. Design work began in 1784, after his long journey around Europe. In November 1796, in the first month of his reign, Paul issues a decree to begin work. By that time, there were several different designs of the castle but the final version was completed by Vasily Bazhenov.
For residence, Paul chose the territory where the dilapidated Summer Palace was located. It was very symbolic. The young emperor was born in September 1754 here. The territory was cleaned and prepared for the construction of the palace. The first stone was laid on February 26, 1797. The emperor planned to erect the walls of the building under the roof before the end of that year. Huge funds and human resources were spent on the construction site at that time.
The work was carried out around the clock, the number of workers reached 6 thousand. Construction and decoration materials were brought from all nearby facilities. Already on February 1, 1801, Paul with his family spent the night in a new royal residence.
Paul was interested in medieval chivalry from a young age so the new residence was designed in the form of the fortress and was officially called not a palace, but a castle.
There is a legend about a sentry who was on duty near the Summer Palace. He had a vision in which Archangel Michael commanded to build a church in this place. Paul considered this a sign of the Almighty and proceeded to erect the royal residence with a church named after Archangel Michael, the prince of the army of the Lord and the heavenly patron of the Romanov family inside the castle.
Paul always feared the fate of his father Peter III who died under mysterious circumstances. But he could not escape it. The emperor lived in his residence for just 40 days. On the night of March 11-12, 1801, participants of the anti-government conspiracy entered his bedroom. They demanded that Paul abdicate the throne. The emperor refused. He was strangled with an officer scarf. The conspiracy was organized by the head of the secret police and St. Petersburg Governor-General Peter Palen.
Already on March 19, Alexander I, who ascended the throne, signed a decree on the suspension of all work both inside and outside the building. All valuables, furniture, works of art were removed and by the middle of 1802, Mikhailovsky Castle was empty.
After the palace coup and the death of the emperor Paul I, the status of the castle changed. The building was used by various government agencies, without a single owner for 18 years. Nikolas, the son of the emperor, being an inspector of the engineer corps, requested to transfer the building to his subordination. In his opinion, it was ideally suited to accommodate the Main Engineering School.
Ironically, the institution was opened on March 11, 1820, on the anniversary of the death of Paul. The building received a new name, and since 1823 it became officially called the Engineers’ Castle.
The castle was different from the palace buildings of the 18th century. It was the only residence of the Russian royals, in the form of a castle surrounded by water. The palace ensemble was like a fortress of the Middle Ages.
One of the best construction practitioners of that time, the architect Vasily Bazhenov, embodied the ideas of the emperor in the completed project. He managed to create a building with an unusual appearance, using contrasting techniques that were not accepted in the 18th century. Mikhailovsky Castle is the only palace built in the style of romantic classicism in Russia.
The attributing authorship to one architect is impossible. Work on the creation was carried out even before his participation and was completed by Vincenzo Brenno, who supervised the construction until its completion.
The building was constructed in the shape of a square, in the interior of which there were two small courtyards. The main yard had the shape of an irregular octagon, a small territory of a triangular shape was facing the Field of Mars, and the yard of an irregular pentagonal adjoined the Fontanka River. The main yard was available only to family members and guests of honor.
Monument to Peter the Great
Paul was proud of his famous ancestor Peter the Great and tried his best to emphasize this. Before the main entrance to his residence, he erected an equestrian statue of Peter. On the pedestal of the statue are bas-reliefs with battle scenes and a laconic dedication: “From Great Grandson to Great Grandfather”.
The interior decoration of the Mikhailovsky Castle can truly be considered a model of taste. Paul tried to furnish the uninhabited space with maximum luxury. Unfortunately, it is impossible to restore the original palace interiors, but part of the premises was returned, close to the original image.
You can visit following the rooms:
- The Big Dining Hall was part of the suite of ceremonial chambers of Empress Maria Fyodorovna. The hall is decorated with 2 chandeliers, designed according to drawings by Giacomo Quarenghi and two fireplaces from Siberian porphyry.
- The Throne Hall of the Empress Maria Feodorovna is decorated with a ceiling “Court of Paris”. The walls of the room are covered with raspberry velvet. The throne is in the center of the hall.
- The St. George Hall was repeatedly rebuilt in the 19th and 20th centuries. The original appearance of the hall was lost. In 1953-1954, restoration work was carried out in the hall, its original appearance was partially reconstructed while recreating many elements of historical decoration. The hall served as a guardhouse for the Knights of the Order of Malta.
- Marble Gallery – a room intended for the solemn assembly of the Knights of the Order of Malta.
The stucco molding, bas-reliefs, frescoes were made according to the sketches of famous masters. Marble and precious wood were used in the design of the interior. Every detail was thought out and occupied a worthy place.
The sculptural foundation of the Russian Museum transferred to the castle building a collection of statues from the Summer Garden. You can see them on the ground floor. Small sculpture is presented in the interiors of the halls by the busts of the Romanov family.
In 1994, the castle building was in full possession of the Russian Museum. Restoration work has begun. It was possible to restore the building and some of the interiors. The castle opened on May 27, 2003. The palace houses permanent exhibitions of paintings related to the 18th century, the work of Russian artists. Today St. Michael’s Castle is one of the main cultural gems in St. Petersburg, Russia.
- Tuesday: day-off
- Monday, Wednesday, Tuesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday: 10 am – 6 pm
- Thursday: 10 am – 9 pm
- For adults visitors – 750 rubles
- For students – 350 rubles
2 Sadovaya Street
- Gostiny Dvor
- Nevsky Prospekt
How to get
- There were many rumors around the castle and his owner. Exalted ruler claimed that the building enhances his mystical abilities. Paul assured that the ghost of his great-grandfather warned him about the death.
- There is a legend that the emperor was the master of the Order of Malta and kept the holy relics in the iron casket in the catacombs under lock and key. That is why, the spirit of the king, will forever protect the hidden treasures.
- The first information about the ghost of the deceased emperor appeared shortly after the funeral. The ghost bothered the garrison soldiers involved in the transportation of state-owned equipment. Their words were confirmed by locals who saw a luminous silhouette in the windows of the castle at night.
- In Soviet times, St. Michael’s Castle was filled with many institutions. Complaints of employees about unexplained phenomena were so frequent that in the early 80s a special commission was engaged in the inspection of the building. But the results of her research were classified.