Konstantinovsky Palace, Strelna, Petersburg
Family home of the Konstantinovichi branch of the Romanovs.
Formerly a Swedish chancellor's estate, Strelna was chosen by Peter the Great as a place for his future summer residence in 1714. Jean Baptiste Le Blond, famous for his work with André Le Nôtre at Versailles, was commissioned to prepare designs for the would-be palace and park. Le Blond envisaged the palace as a Chateau d'Eau, situated on a round island. The gardens were laid out to Le Blond's design, but the master's death prevented him from completing a more elaborate project for the palace.
In 1718, a temporary wooden palace was constructed in Strelna. It had been used by the Russian royalty as a sort of hunting lodge, and has been faithfully preserved to this day. After Le Blond's death, the commission to build the grand palace passed to Nicholo Michetti, a disciple of the great Carlo Fontana. A cornerstone was laid in June 1720, but next year it became apparent that the place was ill-adapted for installation of fountains, the reason why Peter decided to concentrate his attention on the nearby Peterhof. Disappointed Michetti left Russia, and all works in Strelna were suspended.
On ascending the throne in 1741, Peter's daughter Elizabeth intended to complete her father's project. Her favourite architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli was asked to expand and aggrandize Michetti's design. But Rastrelli's attention was soon diverted to other palaces, in Peterhof and Tsarskoye Selo, so the Strelna palace stood unfinished until the end of the century.
Leib Guard reception at the Constantine Palace. A 19th-century painting.
In 1797, Strelna was granted to Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich(second son of Paul I) and his wife Grand Duchess Anna Feodorovna (aunt of Queen Victoria). Despite a great fire in 1803, the Constantine Palace was completed by 1807. Andrei Voronikhin and Luigi Rusca were held responsible for architecture of its upper storeys. After Constantine's death, the palace passed to his nephew, and the Konstantinovichi branch of the Romanov dynasty retained its ownership until the Revolution.
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Just in case you mistakenly heard that it was all ice and snow in Russia, take a peek at the Big Bikini Exposition. This is right on the river Moskva in Moscow!
Moscow has been the capital of Russia for almost its entire history. The exception is during the period of the Russian Empire, which lasted from 1721 until the Russian Revolution 1917. For these two centuries the capital was St. Petersburg. The Russian Empire was the second largest contiguous Empire in world memory; only the Mongol Empire had been greater.
Check out what's happening north of Mongolia these days, in Chita
Although you may not have heard of Sochi, on the Black Sea, they're building up quickly and hope to host the 2014 Olympics.
Other periods of Russian history include the Tsardom of Russia, from Ivan IV to Peter the Great, and the Grand Duchy (14th-16th centuries).
The earliest period of Russian history was ruled by the Novgorod Republic and Kievan Rus, which was the first Russian state dating back to 800AD in Kiev.
Modern Russia remains one of the world's superpowers. They launched the earth's second satellite, called Sputnik 1, and were the first country to put a human being into orbit around earth. (The first one is called the Moon.)
After the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia became a federal republic of 83 states.
Text by Steve Smith.