Russian palaces enhance visitors' understanding of the country's history by illuminating how the tsars lived. History seems alive at museums and monuments throughout the country, including the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and Mamayev Kurgan in Volgograd, for example. While there is much to be learned in the country's churches (don’t miss out on seeing St Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square) there is also much to be discovered in the Russian palaces where emperors roamed the hallways and some of the biggest decisions in the history of the country were made. Before the Russian Revolution in 1917, the tsars lived opulently, and luckily for visitors some of these imperial palaces in Russia have survived the years.
The Winter Palace is located in St Petersburg, and it was the home of the Russian tsars from the 1700s through to the Russian Revolution. The present Winter Palace is in fact the fourth palace on the site and was built adjacent to Peter the Great’s original Winter Palace. Located on the Palace Square, this baroque palace was built to provide a sense of the power of imperial Russia. It is very large and strong in architectural form, with more than 1,500 rooms. This St Petersburg Palace gained significance when it was stormed in 1917 during the revolution. The attack of the palace became symbolic for the revolution, as workers fought against social hierarchy.
By this time, however, the imperial family was no longer living in the St Petersburg palace, but spent most of their time in the more secure Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo; the imperial family returned to the Winter Palace only for the most formal occasions. After the revolution, the building was looted and revolutionaries enjoyed all the fine wines the imperial family had stored in their cellar. Today, the building of this St Petersburg Palace has been transformed into part of the Hermitage Museum, home to millions of pieces of art and artifacts of Russian culture.
Other Russian palaces that attract many visitors are the palaces at Tsarskoe Selo, including Alexander Palace and Catherine Palace. While both of these palaces were taken by revolutionaries as well, and ultimately the Nazis, they have been somewhat restored to display to visitors what life was life for the imperial family. The stunning gardens at these palaces are especially well known. The palaces are closed to visitors on Tuesdays, but it is open for the rest of the week.
Another of the grand Russian palaces is Peterhof Palace. Built as the summer residence for Tsar Peter the Great, this palace is often called the Russian Versailles. Located outside of the then-capital city of St Petersburg, this palace allowed the emperor to be outside of the city but still close by when he was needed. After being looted by the Nazis, this palace has undergone restoration efforts since the conclusion of World War II. Today, visitors can take a guided tour to see what Peter the Great had in mind for his summer residence. The palaces will transport you back to a different time in history and perhaps provide further understanding for the reasons behind the revolution.