Gatchina is 40 kilometers to the south of St. Petersburg. It is the remotest country residence of Russian emperors, but today one can easily get to it by a minibus starting from Moskovskaya Metro Station.
Gatchina Palace is different from the other splendid residences as, actually, it is but a severe medieval castle without any luxuriant gilded decorations, by which the facades of the Cathe-rine Palace of Tsarskoye Selo or the Great Palace of Petergof are covered.
Great Gatchina Palace was built in 1766-1781 in the reign of Empress Catherine II for her fa-vorite Gregory Orlov who helped her to seize the Russian throne during the palace revolution of 1761. After his death Catherine II bought the palace from his heirs and gave it to her son, the future Russian emperor Paul I. The palace was one of the most favorite residences of Paul I where he conducted daily parades and inspections of his Guards.
After Paul I was murdered in 1801 the palace was owned by Russian emperors. The heyday of Gatchina Palace fell on the reign of Alexander III, who made it his primary residence.
If earlier the Winter Palace located in the center of St. Petersburg was the main residence of Russian emperors, along with several summer residences, then under Alexander III Gatchina Palace was in fact the only official residence of the tsar`s family where they lived all round the year.
The palace is on the highest hill of Gatchina above the Lake Serebryannoe surrounded by a large and beautiful landscape park. On the shore of this lake one can see the Priory Palace, which was built for the Grand Priories of the Order of St. John (it is known that Paul I was the Grand Master of this Order).
Great Gatchina Palace consists of two squares (Arsenalnoye and Kukhonnoye) flanked with towers. The squares are joined together by the central palace building.