Sunday, July 1, 2012
Oranienbaum, The Overlooked Palace of Russia
The Chinese Palace at Oranienbaum is one of St. Petersburg, Russia's greatest secrets. There is a whole park with many palaces and great buildings overflowing with history. My favorite is the Chinese Palace, because it belonged to Catherine the Great. She built it as a haven to get away from her slightly insane husband, Tsar Peter III. She didn't spend much time in that palace, but she furnished it to be a homey, yet museum worthy estate.
The interior of the palace has been undergoing a grand renovation for several years. It was one of the few areas not invaded by the Germans in WWII, but it was neglected, nevertheless, and now is in need of work.
There are many buildings on the grounds at the Oranienbaum Park. Menshikov Palace was built by Prince Alexander Menshikov, Peter the Great's right hand man. He built it to rival his lord's palace at Peterhof. He spent ten years on the project, going bankrupt in the process, but it is a magnificent palace, nevertheless.
Peterstadt is what this is called. Tsar Peter III was eccentric to say the least, and this was one of his tiny little projects. It was called the Joke Castle, and Peter used it to play with his soldiers while visiting the estate in summer.
Sliding Hill or Katalnaya Gorka is one of the more interesting buildings in the park. It was one of the entertainment estates held by Tsar Peter III. It is magnificent, and out in back you will find something really unusual. It's a primitive roller coaster. That's right, you went up on the roof to board it, and gravity did the rest. Amazing in the 18th century.
There are many palaces in Russia. There are many palaces in St. Petersburg, and you'll spend all day in crowds to see them. Take the time to travel along the coast a few miles. Stop at Peterhof another day. This place will tell the tales of one of the most intriguing royal relationships in history. Catherine the Great stole the throne from her immature German loving husband, and made the largest empire on Earth. This estate is part of that amazing story, and should not be missed. From Chinese decor to roller coasters and housing for toy soldiers. From palaces meant to rival Peter the Great's to a canal that used to lead right up to the door for convenience, it's a very interesting place that is almost completely overlooked on the usual tourist route.
Oranienbaum or Lomonosov as it is called more recently, is more than just a palace. It's a park, and even a port town. It's well worth stepping off the beaten path
There isn't much out there about Oranienbaum. You would have to contact a travel agency or Russian guide service to find out more about visiting. I would feel that this is an imposition, but you have to work with a travel service to get a Russian Visa anyway. Most guide services are perfectly willing to take you wherever you wish to go and will arrange just about any itinerary you ask for, so look on infohub, or just do a search and find a great company to help you.