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Palaces of Francesco Rastrelli

The touristic image of St. Petersburg was formed by the architect Francesco Rastrelli. Its luxurious palaces are the hallmark of the northern capital of Russia. Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli was originally from Italy. He came to Russia with his father and later became the court architect of the Russian emperors. 

Rastrelli worked during the heyday of the Baroque architectural style. In Russia, this style is associated with him. All the most famous royal palaces in St. Petersburg were built by architect Rastrelli and his students.

In this review on the online guide Geomerid you can see the most famous palaces and churches that Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli built in St. Petersburg and the surrounding area. The list shows the years of the beginning of construction. The completion of the construction of these palaces, as a rule, was delayed.

1. Rundal Palace, Latvia - 1735
2. Grand Peterhof Palace, Peterhof - 1747
3. St. Andrew's Church, Kiev - 1747
4. Smolny Monastery, St. Petersburg - 1751
5. Catherine Palace, Tsarskoe Selo - 1752
6. Stroganov Palace, St. Petersburg - 1753
7. Winter Palace, St. Petersburg - 1754

Florentine Bartolomeo Carlo Rastrelli, the father of the famous Russian architect, was invited by Tsar Peter I to Russia in 1716 for construction work in St. Petersburg. He was a famous sculptor, but in St. Petersburg Rastrelli saw that architects, not sculptors, were more in demand here. He sent his son to study architecture abroad.  

The heyday of Francesco Rastrelli's work occurred during the reign of Elizabeth Petrovna in 1740-1760. At this time, most of the imperial palaces of St. Petersburg were laid or built. During the reign of Catherine II, the Baroque style began to go out of fashion, it was replaced by classicism, which, with its severity, sharply contrasted with the abundance of stucco and patterns on the facades of Rastrelli palaces.

Over the years of his work in St. Petersburg, Francesco Rastrelli built about 12 palaces, many houses for courtiers. Many of them have not survived or have survived to the present day with significant reconstructions made in later years.

Follow the hyperlinks to read in detail about each palace and see a large number of photos

Rundal Palace, Latvia - 1735

The construction of the Rundale Palace was begun by the Duke of Courland Ernst von Biron in 1736. He was the favourite of the Russian empress Anna Ivanovna (1730-1740), who had little interest in the state affairs, and so during that decade the Russian Empire was actually ruled by Biron.

Considering his unlimited access to the Russian treasury, Biron wanted to build in his native land (Duchy of Courland and Semigallia) a magnificent palace equal to the imperial palaces of Russia and entrusted with the task the famous architect Francesco Rastrelli. By that time, Rastrelli's star was just rising, but everyone noted his talent, which was later fully realized in his projects of country palaces near St. Petersburg.

Grand Peterhof Palace, Peterhof - 1747

Grand Peterhof Palace is one of the earliest works of Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli, most famous 18 century architect of St. Petersburg. In spite of its luxurious appearance, especially on the side of the Lower Park, the Peterhof Palace isn’t very large – it has only 30 rooms. As in all palaces of Rastrelli, there are a lot of such decorations as gilt woodcarving at the Peterhof Palace. 

Here are the most famous rooms of the Grand Peterhof Palace: the Throne Hall, Chesma Hall (in honor of the victory over the Turks in the Battle of Chesma in 1770), Dance Hall or Ballroom, the Audience Hall, and the Picture Hall. Fountains add a special luxury to the Peterhof Palace. The Grand Cascade is one of the most outstanding fountain systems in the world. The construction of the The Grand Cascade was started in 1715. Its formal opening took place in 1723.

St. Andrew's Church, Kiev - 1747

St. Andrew Church was consecrated in honor of the Apostle Andrew the First-called. It is built on the top of St. Andrew mountain above Podol. This is one of the most beautiful Orthodox churches in Kiev, built in 1754 by the architect Francesco Rastrelli. Local craftsmen were engaged in the construction of the temple, but Rastrelli supervised the project and made the necessary edits related to the need to strengthen the foundation.

The Church was founded by order of the Russian Empress Elizabeth during her pilgrimage to Kiev in 1747. The project in the Baroque style was designed by her court architect Francesco Rastrelli. The architectural style of the Church is very similar to the palaces that Rastrelli built in Saint Petersburg during the same years.

Smolny monastery, St. Petersburg - 1751

Smolny Monastery was built near the meander of the Neva, at the place of its confluence with the Okhta (the Nienschanz fortress was located there). In the seventeenth century the place was far rather from the city, and the empress Elizabeth wanted to retire there at the evening of her life with 120 nuns who were the daughters of the nobility. She chose the place as there was the Smolny Palace (the palace didn’t survive) where Elizabeth spent her young years.

Work on the construction of the Smolny Cathedral began in 1751. The construction of many royal palaces had not yet begun, and Elizabeth was already thinking where she would spend her old age. The cathedral was surrounded by the dwellings for the «nuns from the noble families». It must be admitted that Rastrelli designed the cathedral and dwellings in the magnificent palatial style. Elizabeth had it arranged so that each nun had «separate rooms, including servant`s rooms, pantry and kitchen».

Catherine Palace, Tsarskoye Selo - 1752

The first small palace with «16 front rooms» was constructed for the wife of Peter the Great Katherine in Tsarskoye Selo as far back as 1710 (about the same time as Petergof). The magnificent baroque palace was built only several decades later. In 1752 Elizabeth I commissioned this palace to the famous architect Francesco Rastrelli. 

Catherine Palace is 325 meters long. As the palace was being completed and finished in the reign of Catherine II, it was called the Catherine Palace. Rastrelli as often rebuilt the palace trying to carry its beauty to perfection, that Catherine used to compare him with Penelope who «broke in the morning what she had done yesterday». The interiors of the palace were sumptuously decorated in gold, while its exteriors were mainly blue and white. Because of the abundance of gold the enfilade of state rooms were even called the «Golden Enfilade».

Stroganov Palace, St. Petersburg - 1753

The Stroganov Palace was built in 1753 by the famous court architect Francesco Rastrelli, who created not a small number of masterpieces in Petersburg. At the end of the 18th century, there was a fire in the palace, which significantly damaged the interiors of the building. Almost nothing remains of Rastrelli`s interiors in the palace, except for the Ballroom. In 1801, after a fire, the Stroganov Palace was restored by the architect Voronikhin.

The famous Mineral Study was designed by the architect Voronikhin. Above the study you can see the dome of the second floor, also housing the collection of minerals. On the first floor, apart from the samples of minerals, there were the Stroganov library. Ball Room, also called the Room of Rastrelli, remained almost intact. The ceiling is decorated by the plafond by Giuseppe Valeriani.

Winter Palace, St. Petersburg - 1754

In 1703 Peter I laid down the city on the Neva River, and almost at once the capital was moved to the building city. Of course, the imperial palace (called the Winter Palace), became the primary building on the main square of the city. However, today palace was built by the architect Francesco Rastrelli only in 1754-1762, fifty years after the city was founded.

The Winter Palace became the largest Rastrelli Palace in St. Petersburg. For several centuries the palace was the main grand residence of Russian emperors, and now it is the largest museum in Russia and one of the largest and best museums in the world. Later there appeared the second name - Hermitage (from the French word ‘ermitage’ meaning ‘retreat’), which was originally given to several secluded chambers of Catherine II. And today the name ‘Hermitage’ is much more wide-spread than the old name – Winter Palace.