I’m taking you today to Vasilyevsky Island where the first stone building of St Petersburg stands, originally belonging to Peter the Great’s right hand, Alexander Menshikov. It was built in 1710s and they say Domenico Trezzini (above, looking very smug!), one of the very first – and most remembered – architects of the city, also lent a helping hand. Continuing my last year posts about St Petersburg museums, this is an almost touristless branch of a famous and always crowded Hermitage Museum which I advise you to visit.
St Petersburg tip: Every first Thursday of the month the Hermitage museum offers its visitors a free entrance to all its branches – and you can be sure the line in front of the main and most attractive building, the Winter Palace, is always very long. However its less known museums are pretty much more accessible. I’ve visited Menshikov Palace twice in the past two months and it was not crowded on the free day. Also, a note on the side, if you choose to go to Menshikov Palace on any day, try visiting it in the morning, it just gives some extra coziness to the place.
But before we enter inside, we’ll walk along the Neva embankment in front of the nearby Academy of Arts to see the two stone sphinxes guarding the city. The embankment is called Universitetskaya, that is University, cause this is the place where the State University, my alma mater, is situated.
The sphinx are one of the city symbols. Ah yes, we have a lot of them here! Brought to St Petersburg from Egypt in 1832, they are ‘friends’ to the no less ancient Shi-Tza lions from China which found their home on another embankment on the Petrogradsky Island. Right from the banks of the Nile… to the banks of the Neva river:
The sister sphinxes, placed face to face on the Universitetskaya embankment, are some 3500 years old… The griffins were added – and later lost – in the 19th century (reconstructed after the war). By the way, the original project for the embankment included large figures of men taming horses – which were finally made and placed at the corners of the Anichkov Bridge over the Fontanka River (the famous Clodt Horses).
They say the sphinxes’ beards were damaged back in the Pharaoh’s times. And since then they’ve seen quite a lot of damage being done to the city, they’ve experienced our not at all Egypt-like weather and not always respectful people. And they’ve seen far worse floods than what I pictured that day on the embankment:
And now let’s walk along the embankment towards the Palace Bridge and enter the Menshikov Palace. Look at the windows:
First of all – the kitchen! Or rather a pantry where the food was being warmed up to be served later. The chimney has been preserved. There is also a giant wooden bowl (mega-bowl!) for drinks. It is not a very cozy kitchen but gives you an idea of the scope of the feasts thrown in this palace.
The Palace is the only building left from the entire manor which spread far into the Vasilyevsky Island. After Menshikov died, the palace was occupied by the Cadet Corps, for which purposes it was rebuilt and redesigned numerous times. However, the museum which opened here in 1981 has given every effort in order to restore its original appearance. Very little remains exactly from the Menshikov family but the objects are authentic.
Some of the rooms are beautifully decorated with Dutch and Russian tiles – and this blue and white combination gives a very special attitude to these rooms. Contrary to what you might expect from walls all covered in enameled tiles, you do not feel as if you’ve entered a bathroom rather than a living room. I don’t know how it feels in winter but on a summer morning it was very light and cozy.
I think that the tiles go perfectly well with the wood panels and window panes. And look at the ceiling! A bit like being suddenly transported to a big shiny soup bowl 🙂
If I were living in these rooms (:) I would have left less decoration – but those were the days in the early 18th century when the more exotic and flashy they were, the better. However, there’s definitely more taste in these rooms than you would expect.
I also enjoyed this room located in the women’s part of the palace. Although the wall paper is quite ‘heavy’ already, there’s this interesting combination of colours and textures. Reflecting in the mirror there is one of the open cupboards with very pretty plates. You can tell that this room is ‘for the girls’ 🙂
In the middle there’s the main staircase (closed to the visitors), with the windows of the adjacent rooms creating some sort of an inner yard. That reminded me of another inner yard in the Vitebsky Railway station. The chandelier is lantern-like:
There are two studies in this Palace, one in red and the other in blue. The red one is more French-style and pompous (supposed to be designed by a French architect) while the blue one is very… English and immediately takes you to a ship. Menshikov could observe the navigation on the river from the windows.
It’s hard to imagine that what he actually saw from his windows was very far from what one sees (and hears) now. There were no cars, no tourist boats, but most drastically there were almost no buildings on the other side! 🙂 No St Isaac’s Cathedral (right opposite the Palace), no stone-clad embankments…
Some general information on Menshikov Palace: open from 10.30 to 6 pm (Wednesday till 9 pm!) except Mondays. It will cost you 300 rubles to get inside or 600 rubles to visit it along with the rest of the Hermitage museum buildings. Free entrance on first Thursday of every month. The museum gives you a notion of (expensive) life in St Petersburg during the times of Peter the Great.
Next time you get to St Petersburg, don’t miss the glossy Menshikov Palace!
Adding this to my St Petersburg series.