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Friday, February 26, 2016

The Winter Palace, St. Petersburg

 I am returning to some thoughts from my trip to Russia last spring, and feeling very grateful that we made the trip.  Such an incredible country, with a complicated past and an uneasy relationship with the west.  St. Petersburg was the most European city we visited, and it wasn't hard to see where the discontent of the Russian peasantry came from in looking around.  There was conspicuous consumption on the part of the privileged on view on literally every street at the time that tensions rose high.
The Winter Palace is one such building that exudes opulence.  Peter the Great lived on the site starting in 1708, but the building has been greatly changed since that time.  
Empress Anna Ioannovna was the first of Peter's descendants to reconstruct the palace. In 1731, she commissioned an Italian, Rastrelli, who at the time was the recently appointed court architect and he would go on to become the recognized master of late baroque in Russia.  He was commissioned to create a new, larger palace on the site. Completed in 1735, the third Winter Palace served for only 17 years before Rastrelli was again asked, this time by Empress Elizabeth (Elizaveta Petrovna), to expand the building. After two years proposing different plans to adapt the existing building, Rastrelli eventually decided to completely rebuild the palace, and his new design was confirmed by the empress in 1754.  Catherine the Great has a wing in her style, but Elizabeth's palace is what we largely see today.  Not to be missed, especially as it houses the world famous Hermitage Museum--but the architecture is a marvel in and of itself.

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