Gatchina: St. Petersburg’s Unknown Palace

Treasures and Ghosts

The palace holds a remarkable collection of paintings, sculpture, engravings, decorative art works, rare books and hunting weapons, which once belonged to Gatchina’s owners, starting with Orlov. The Paul I rooms, the Empress Maria Fyodorovna rooms and the Alexander III family members’ rooms have been restored to their original glory. The Paul I Upper Throne room is one of the most sumptuous in the palace, designed by the Italian architect Vincenzo Brenna. Displayed in the Maria Fyodorovna Throne Room are 59 paintings depicting landscapes or bucolic scenes, making it one of the most interesting halls in the palace. Other highlights include the Grecian Gallery, the Chesma Gallery and the State Bedchamber.

The palace owes much of its enigmatic feel to the 120-meter-long underground passage connecting the palace with the charming Echo Grotto, famous for its acoustic qualities, on the shore of Silver Lake. As popular legend has it, the ghost of Paul I is still attached to the tunnel. The passage was built during Orlov’s time and was often used by Paul I, who fancied gags and intrigues. There is a secret door in the former Grand Bedroom on the second floor that provided access through a back staircase to the emperor’s dressing room on the ground floor, and then to the basement, which was connected to the passage. Paul I adored using them to surprise his guests, disappearing and reappearing in various places in and outside the palace.

In 1799, Paul I built the Priory Palace for the knights of the Maltese Order, of which the Russian tsar was elected as the grand master. Designed by the architect Nikolai Lvov, it is the only rammed-earth building that has been preserved in Russia since the 18th century. The small and charming Priory Palace has become one of the symbols of Gatchina.