The St Michael's Castle
The St Michael's Castle occupies a special place among the palaces of St Petersburg. Bringing to a close the first hundred years of construction in the Imperial capital, the building is a unique fusion of the finest achievements of eighteenth-century architecture. It is named after St Michael the Archangel (patron saint of the House of Romanov).
The history of the St Michael's Castle dates from 1781-82, when the future Tsar Paul secretly visited Europe under the pseudonym of Count Severny. Returning to Russia, he decided to build a new royal residence based on his European impressions. Several architects were invited to contribute to the design. In the 1780s, one version was created by Henri-François-Gabriel Violle, a Swiss artist working at the prince's court. At this early stage, the future Emperor mostly sought advice from European architects. The most important elements, however, were subsequently developed by Vasily Bazhenov, a Russian architect who moved from Moscow to St Petersburg in 1791.
Paul's mother, Catherine the Great, died in 1796, paving the way for the start of construction. The foundation stone was laid in November 1796. Construction of the palace was carried out at breakneck speed. On 8 November 1800, the St Michael?s Castle and the chapel were ceremonially blessed in the presence of the Imperial family and court. The majestic building was situated on the island washed by the River Fontanka and River Moika. Canals were made along the Southern and Western facades. The bridges across the canals were guarded by the sentries.
All four facades of the St Michael's Castle are different. Decorated with massive marble obelisks, the southern facade was particularly expressive and monumental. A porphyry frieze hung above the entrance, proclaiming in gilded bronze letters: Your home is befitting of an object of worship for years to come.
The northern facade looks onto the Summer Garden. Flanked by bronze statues of Hercules and Flora, it is reminiscent of an Italian Renaissance villa. The steeple with a graceful gilt spire crowns the Church façade.
An equestrian statue of Peter the Great in the guise of a Roman emperor was set in the centre of Connetable Square in the 1740s. The statue was cast according to the design of Carlo Bartolomeo Rastrelli.
The palace interiors included sumptuous state chambers, intimate private apartments and enfilades of long, narrow rooms housing the emperor's art collection — the Raphael Gallery, the Laocoön Gallery, the Arabesques Gallery and two Antique Rooms. Many parts of the interior were made according to the drawings by Vincenzo Brenna and Carlo Rossi. Johann Mettenleiter, Antonio Vigi, Pietro and Giovanni Batista Scotti added to monumental decoration of parade rooms.
Paul only spent forty days in the St Michael's Castle. On the night of 11/12 March 1801, he was murdered in his bedroom in a palace coup.
Soon after the assassination of Paul I all masterpieces were removed from the castle and its front rooms became flats. The St Michael's Castle was presented to the Central College of Engineering in the early 1820s. In February 1823, it was renamed the Engineers Castle. Throughout the following century, the college altered the structure and interior decor to suit its own needs. Even in its dilapidated state, the St Michael's Castle has lost none of its former grandeur. Many famous Russians were educated at the Central College of Engineering. The writers Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Dmitry Grigorovich, the scholars Ivan Sechenov and Pavel Yablochkov, the composer Cesar Cui and the military heroes Count Edward Totleben and Roman Kondratenko all studied there.