Mikhailovsky Castle

Mikhailovsky Castle is one of the most mysterious buildings in Saint Petersburg. It bears the stamp of individuality of its owner, Paul I, a mystic and exceptional Russian emperor, who died in the castle.

The site near two rivers - Moika and Fontanka - next to the Summer Garden, was chosen by Catherine I. She ordered to put up a modest Summer Palace there. The construction works were completed during the reign of Anna Ioannovna. Next Russian Empress, Elizaveta Petrovna, ordered to destroy the palace, reminding her of years of suffering and humiliation, while she was waiting for her turn to ascend the Russian throne. She ordered architect Rastrelli to put up a new Summer Palace - a large and luxurious building, where Empress Catherine II desired to accept official congratulation on the occasion of ascending the throne. In the Summer Palace Paul I, the son of Catherine II and the heir of the Russian throne, was born and spent his youth. When he became the emperor, he refused to live in the Winter Palace, as he was in constant fear of attempts on his life. Inclined to mysticism, Paul I is believed to say: "I want to die where I was born". He ordered to reconstruct the Summer Palace and start to put up the new official royal residence - the Mikhailovsky Castle, named in honor of Archangel Mikhail, as the castle was founded in the day of archangel commemoration.

The question of the authorship of the mastership of Saint Petersburg architecture is as mysterious as everything connected to the Mikhailovsky Castle. For two hundred years the historians can't decide, which one of two outstanding architects of the time of Paul I - Brenna or Bajenov - designed the castle. During the last 20 years the authors of the official architecture reference books changed their minds. Recently the sketches by Paul I, who participated in the castle designing, were found. To repay historical fairness, nowadays both Brenna and Bajenov are considered to be the authors of the castle design.

The new royal palace was shaped as a medieval castle. Its look harmonized with mystical spirit of the emperor. From four sides the castle was surrounded by waters of the Moika River, the Fontanka River and two canals, which were specially dug. To leave the palace and depart to the city, one should use the hanging bridges, which were raised in the nights. The royal residence, isolated from the city, inspired fear and trembling.

The scheme of the castle depicts the square with round corners and eight-cornered inner yard. The castle looks different from different sides, as the architects used the motifs of French classicism, Italian Renaissance and even gothic. The spire decorating the castle reminds us of gothic and early Petersburg architecture. The unusual for the Northern capital look of the Mikhailovsky Castle excluded using the traditional for Petersburg facades colors. The brick-red color of the castle corresponds with its mysterious image, but it brings discord to traditional Petersburg architecture. In 1800, in front of the palace the monument to Peter I was put up.

The interior planning of the castle is complicated and stands out for the space forms varieties. In the castle there are oval, round, square and oblique-angled halls and rooms. Nowadays in the castle, there are some original interiors. They are the gala stair-case, decorated with marble, Raphael Gallery, the Throne Hall, the Oval Hall and the church with fresco by Scotti.

Paul I hurried with the castle building. On February 1, 1801 the emperor with his family moved to the new residence, which was not dried and ventilated thoroughly yet. In the Mikhailovsky Castle, which was built in such a hurry (1797-1800), Paul lived only for 40 days. According to historical documents and memoirs all those days were filled with premonition of tragedy for the emperor. According to numerous legends, Paul I saw his ancestor Peter I coming to the palace to warn the emperor about forthcoming death. Paul I used to say that he saw in the mirrors his own reflection with his neck wringed. The emperor was full of dismal presentiments, which were to come true. In the night from 10 to 11 of March Paul I became the victim of the coup d'etas. A group of conspirators headed by brothers Zubovs, Palen and Bennigsen stealthily went to the emperor's bedroom, and Paul I was throttled. There is a version, according which the throne heir Alexander I knew about the planned attempt on his father's life and gave his silent approval for the assassination.

About twenty years after Paul's murder the castle was empty. Nobody of the royal family wanted to live in such a dismal place. In 1819, the castle was given to the Engineering School, and since 1823 the building gained its second name - Engineering Castle. It was the place where the best representatives of native technical intelligence got educated. Among the students of the school was the famous Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Nowadays the Mikhailovsky Castle belongs to the Russian Museum. Some of the rooms are under construction, but many halls are opened for the visitors. The castle still impresses as a mystic construction. Russian poet Anna Akhmatova confessed that the mystery of the Mikhailovsky Castle never leaves her in peace: "I always feel that behind these windows Paul is being assassinated".

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