The House of Romanov, Russia’s last royal family, looms large in the country’s captivating history. Their legacy of opulent architecture and exquisite objet d’art is scattered around Russia, revealing the real world of the Romanovs. Here’s our definitive list of palaces, monasteries, eggs and icons.
It was at the Ipatievsky Monastery a 16-year-old Mikhail left during a huge civil war, to become the first Romanov Tsar. After accepting his fate, he was blessed by the holy image of Our Lady of St Theodore, which now lies in the Epiphany Monastery nearby, which is Moscow’s oldest. Known as the “Black Virgin Mary of Russia,” Our Lady of St Theodore is one of the country’s most venerated icons.
Opening in the Shuvalov Palace in 2013, with the intention to repatriate lost valuables to Russia, the Fabergé Museum contains over 4,000 works of art including gold, silver and porcelain treasures. Most famous among its collection, however, are the group of nine Imperial Easter Eggs created by Fabergé for the last two Russian Tsars. In addition to works by Fabergé, there’s also Russian contemporary jewellers such as Sazikov, Khlebnikov and Ovchinnikov.
The royal regalia of Russian monarchs is kept in the Kremlin. Highlights of its gorgeous hoard include the Cap of Monomakh and the Kazan crown – two of the oldest symbols of Russian sovereignty. Though Ivan IV’s ivory throne, Alexander Mikhailovich’s diamond throne, and Orlov’s diamond 189-carat-diamond (in the Armoury) get a lot of attention, too.
One of the most beautiful rooms in the world, the Amber Room was created in Prussia as a gift to Peter the Great by Frederick I. Later updated on the orders of Empress Elizabeth, its intricate combination of amber, wood, gold-leaf gilding and carving were an interior design marvel. During WW2, the Amber Room’s contents were stolen and kept in Konigsberg Castle – to this day their whereabouts remain a mystery. Painstakingly reconstructed at Catherine Palace, the Amber Room re-opened in 2003 and it now looks as impressive as ever.
This striking church owes its name to the place the last Tsar and his family were taken captive and shot. Once the patch upon which Ipatiev House stood, the imperial family were murdered in its basement in 1918 as the White Army approached. Today, it’s a beautiful Byzantine Revival church, completed in 2013. There’s an even more striking church of the same name in St Petersburg, where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated.
Catherine the Great was succeeded by Paul, who was petrified of falling victim to a coup. Building St Michael’s Castle as an impregnable base to rule from, he was murdered in a plot backed by his own son (Alexander of Tolstoy’s War and Peace) within its walls. Now part of the Russian Museum, housing its portrait gallery, the palace is unusual due to the fact each of its four facades is styled differently to fit in with its surroundings.
For a comprehensive history of the Romanovs there is the wonderful Simon Sebag Montefiore book, The Romanovs: 1613-1918
Murder, intrigue, crime and punishment… St Petersburg has it all. Those fascinated by the more ghoulish side of history will love these significant spots from fiction, and real life.