Oct 04

The Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery (Manastirea Pskovo-Pechersky)

The Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery is the Russian Orthodox monastery which also goes by the name of the Holy Dormition Monastery. The Holy Dormition Monastery is situated in the western part of Pskov, a city located in close proximity of the Estonian border.

It is definitely not on your route, if you are on your way to visiting Moscow and Sankt Petersburg, but if you find yourself in this region, you should make some time to visit this beautiful monastery.

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The edifice is considered to have been founded in the second half of the 15th century, in 1473, when St. Jonah had sanctified the monastery of the Dormition of the Holy Mother of God. But historically, the life of the monastery began several years in advance as a number of hermits who wanted to isolate themselves from the material word and all its temptations and who wanted to seek spiritual rebirth, had decided to live in the caves found in this place. In fact, the vestiges of some of the hermits are still located inside the caves and many decide to take this road in order to pay their respect and express their adoration to the holy remains of the saint.

The monastery had seen both times of happiness and sorrow, but after centuries had gone by and after the experiences it underwent, it is still standing and believers still give voice to their prayers in this place.

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As time went by, the size, as well as the status of the monastery has increased. It was in the 16th century that the Monastery of the Holy Dormition had expanded extensively, becoming a monastic ensemble. Two churches and a bell tower were constructed and the entire complex was fortified by means of a stone wall which comprised several strongholds within its design. It was around this time that the friary increased in size, numbering as much as 200 members.

The importance of the monastery intensified and due to the flourishing period it traversed, the abbot in charge of the complex decided to begin recording all the events which were even remotely connected to the specific construction, but more importantly those of religious significance. The monastery also comprised a workshop designated to teaching the craft of icon-painting.

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After this glorious period, came a troublesome period in which the edifice was heavily damaged due to the constant attacks directed at it. These came from different sides (Poland and Lithuania), but the attack with the most devastating effects was carried out in 1581 by Stephan Batory, the Polish King of that time.

At present the monastic complex comprises 10 churches, but the number of brothers that are part of the friary has greatly diminished in comparison to the large community (200) that existed in the 16th century.

The friary goes on with its day undisturbed, the monks working in the field in order to sustain themselves. The workshop which was established such a long time ago is still functional and besides engaging themselves in icon-painting, the participants are also thought how to carefully tend to a damaged icon in order to restore its original appearance.

539 years have gone by since the monastery was erected. The world has changed extensively during this time, edifices have been constructed or have been transformed into ruins, but the monastery has preserved its position and now stands proudly as the stronghold of Russian Orthodoxy.

Jul 17

Menshikov Palace (Palatul Menshikov)

The Menshikov Palace was named after the first governor-general of Sankt Petersburg, Prince Alexander Menshikov. The edifice dates from the beginning of the 18th century, having been erected in 1710 on Vasilevsky Island. Throughout time, the palace has been used for various purposes, both as dwelling and for administrative purposes. At present, the Menshicov Palace is part of the Federal Cultural Institution “State Hermitage.”

The architectural design of the Menshikov Palace is unique and this can be explained by the process of construction it underwent. The building work took a considerable number of years until completion and the design was conveyed by a team of European artists and architects: Giovanni Mario Fontana, Johann Gottfried Schadel, Domenico Trezzini, Carlo Bartolommeo Rastrelli, Georg Johanns Mattarnovi, Jean-Baptiste Alexandre Le Blond. But the palace was erected by the hands of Russian people, these having transposed the ideas on paper into the palpable construction one can admire nowadays.

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The architectural design of the palace is a mixture of traditional Russian elements and novel features, imported from Europe, which consisted of the newest developments both in the structure and the design of buildings.

At the interior, the palace is decorated with paintings, molds, marble, vintage and modern Italian sculptures, textiles, tapestries, Russian and Dutch tiles. Although there is quite a variety of decorative elements, they are tastefully arranged so you don’t feel overwhelmed when entering a room.

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The beautiful museum contained a numismatic collection, as well as statues, documents, books, and paintings and was considered the cultural center of Sankt Petersburg at that time.

But when Prince Alexander Menshikov lost his status, his possessions were impounded by the state and the palace came under the patronage of the First Cadet Corps.

The edifice was preserved to its original design as it was subjected to restoration during the 1970s. When this work was completed, the palace, now transformed into a museum, was opened for visitations from 1981 onward. The objects on display are not solely the private collections of prince Meshinkov, but include items belonging to the Imperial Family, as well as collections of the nobility.

Apr 27

Peterhof Palace (Palatul Peterhof)

Peterhof Palace is actually an ensemble of palaces and gardens, located in Sankt Petersburg, built by the order of Peter the Great. Peterhof is considered the Russian equivalent of the Versailles Palace, but once you gaze on the majestic edifice you might find yourself among the group of people who consider the comparison to be detrimental to the magnificence of the Peterhof.

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Peter the Great did draw inspiration from the Versailles upon designing the estate, but the result exceeds the original by long. Empress Elizabeth, the Tsar’s daughter was extremely fond of the palace, in as much that she extended the entire domain.

The first step was to enhance the Grand Palace and then the gardens. The exterior underwent massive transformations as they were adorned with an impressive number of fountains, to which a cascade was added: the Grand Cascade.

Peterhof was no longer the official royal residence under Catherine the Great, who chose Pushkin instead. But Tsar Nicholas I changed this and Peterhof become once again the imperial dwelling. It was during the reign of Nicholas I that the Cottage Palace was constructed – back in 1826.

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WWII left its imprint on this estate. The German armies pillaged the palace, together with other residences found in the area. But Peterhof was not left to chance. The ensemble of parks and palaces was the first to be reconstructed. The restoration work, conducted by the military engineers and by the impressive number of volunteers who signed up to help with the revival of Peterhof (more than 1.000 people), was completed in 1947.

 

The Grand Palace

The Grand Palace is the focal point of the ensemble and was the first one to be erected. The construction work was initiated in 1714 by the architect Jean Baptiste Le Blonde, but the palace was finalized 7 years later (in 1721).

Tsar Peter the Great was extremely passionate about the imperial estate in as much that he urged the constructors to undertake a massive work load in a short period of time. Thus, the Lower Park was arranged, the Sea Canal was built, as well as the Marly and Monplaisir Palaces, and the Hermitage (but this was partially constructed in this timeframe).

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When the Grand Palace was finished, this seemed unfit for the overall presentation (especially since the landscaping was so exquisitely performed), so the Tsar ordered the architects to make it worthy for the imperial residence by enlarging it.

But the death of Peter the Great in 1725 represented a turning point for the palace as this was practically abandoned. It was not until the Tsar’s daughter, Elizabeth, became empress that the construction work was continued at Peterhof. Bartolomeo Rastrelli was appointed by the empress to erect a unique edifice, worthy of the imperial family.

The architect did not want to replace the initial building, but to incorporate it in his design. As surprising as this might be, the new palace is the epitome of elegancy, without being too overbearing. The architect knew exactly what architectural style and decorative elements to use for the palace.

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The edifice is reflexive of the neoclassical and minimalist styles. The interior is extremely extravagant and even though this had to be redesigned after the Second World War, when so many damages were inflicted on the palace, the unity of the elements is preserved. Thus the edifice maintains its magnificence in its entirety.

The first thing that tourists cast their eyes on while entering the Grand Palace is the grand staircase. The décor abounds in frescoes, golden statues and exquisite pieces of furniture. The lavishness of the edifice is obvious from the bejeweled elements of decoration, porcelains and fine silks which adorn the rooms. The imperial private chambers, which are extremely luxurious, are decorated in the 19th century style.

Visiting hours for the Grand Palace:

Tuesday – Sunday: from 10:30 until 17:00;

Monday: closed (as well as in the last Tuesday of each month).

 

Fountains

When Peter the Great first envisaged the Peterhof Palace, fountains were an intrinsic part of its design. In fact, it was precisely his determination to incorporate fountains in the ensemble that led to the decision to change the site for the construction from Strelna to Peterhof.

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The reason was that the land in Strelna did not benefit from enough water so as to make the complex system of fountains come to life.  His desire was met to the fullest. Not only did he get the fountains he so badly desired, but his followers completed his work by adding inventive elements to the waterpark.

One such outstanding system is the Grand Cascade which is made out of 64 fountains, more than 200 bronze sculptures, bas-reliefs and other impressive elements of décor. The entire system draws the water by means of the pipes located in the Grotto. This is situated behind the Grand Cascade and it was originally used as the site for small parties.

Some of the most renowned fountains from the array are the Chess Cascade, the Pyramid Fountain and Joke Fountains. In this latter collection, there is one fountain which sprinkles water on those that pass by, if they happen to walk on a certain paving stone. (You can now understand why these are called the Joke Fountains).

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Naturally, the fountains are not functional throughout the year. These are usually turned on at the end of May and the moment does not go unnoticed. There is a festival held in that specific day which involves all sorts of performances, fireworks and classical music. The fountains are not turned on all at once, but each sector in its own due time. It is truly an amazing “event”.

Marly Palace

The Marly Palace was built by the orders of Peter the Great and served as his retreat place. The edifice is constructed in the Baroque style and it is a reflection of a Parisian edifice, the Marly Le Roi royal hunting house.

The construction of this palace consisted first of digging two ponds (a quadrilateral one and a semicircular one) which were meant to enclose Marly Palace. Johann Brounstein, the architect behind the structure, constructed a one-floor edifice, but the result did not satisfied the Tsar who wanted a grandeur palace.

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As a consequence, an additional story was constructed in 1723. But even if the two floors were constructed separately, these combine harmoniously, forming a unity. The image conveyed is wonderful. The palace, with its serene appearance, is mirrored in the clear water of the ponds.

After the death of the Tsar, no one used the Marly as dwelling any more. In turn, the edifice was transformed into a storehouse for the Tsar’s personal belongings, such as clothes, pieces of art, furniture, or objects of décor. In fact, many of these are still preserved at Marly, and thus being available for tourists.

Visiting hours for Marly Palace:

May – September: Tuesday – Sunday: 10:30 – 17:00;

Monday closed;

October – April: Saturday- Sunday: 10:30 – 17:00.