The palace and park at Gatchina dates back to the time of Empress Catherine II. In 1765, the tsarina gave her favourite, Count Grigory Orlov, a lavish gift – the Gatchina estate. The picturesque landscape, spring-fed lakes with connecting tributaries and rivers made it possible to create here the unique landscape park with the palace of remarkable architecture as its focal point.
The design for the palace was developed by the Italian architect Antonio Rinaldi and the construction began in 1766. According to the contemporary records, the Empress and her suite visited Gatchina several times to inspect the construction. The building works were completed by 1781. The palace that emerged as a result looked like an Italian palazzo with facades faced with natural stone, Pudost limestone. The three-storied Central building with flanking pentagonal towers is connected with semicircular galleries to the one-storied service wings, rectangular in plan with inner courtyards. Along with the palace, an English landscape park was laid out, among the first of the kind in Russia.
The brilliant nobleman Grigory Orlov was not destined to live in the new estate as he died in early 1783. The empress Catherine II bought back the estate from the count’s heirs and on August 6 of the same year presented it to her son, the Grand Duke Paul Petrovich. Shortly thereafter Gatchina was to become his favourite residence. The palace was altered somewhat under the architect Vincenzo Brenna. In keeping with the pace of fashions, the state rooms were remodelled, formal gardens, park pavilions, stone gates and bridges emerged. Following the ascension of Paul I to the throne in 1796, Gatchina became the imperial residence that the contemporaries referred to as an impregnable fortress with surrounding ramparts, moats, sentry boxes and barriers. The Emperor Paul I was assassinated in a coup at the Mikhailovsky Castle on March 12, 1801. After his death the Dowager empress Maria Feodorvna came to own the Gatchina estate. On January 21, 1827, she bequeathed the Gatchina estate with the adjacent lands “for permanent ownership” to the Emperor Nicholas I and his line of male hairs.
In the reign of Nicholas I, the Palace underwent a major reconstruction and acquired its present-day look. The Kitchen and Arsenal Wings were dismantled completely and then erected anew as they did not meet modern criteria of comfort. In keeping with the fashion of the time, the Arsenal Wing was designed to accommodate both the private and state rooms for the Imperial family. In the Kitchen Wing, the chapel was completely rebuilt. To keep the memory of Paul I, his private rooms and the 18th-century state apartments in the Central building were carefully preserved, although it did undergo some alterations, namely, heating was replaced, parquet floors repaired, new pieces of furniture, sculptures and drapery were introduced in some of the halls. All the stages of reconstruction were carried out under the direction of the architect R.I.Kuzmin from 1844-1856.
Nicholas I and his son Alexander II seldom visited Gatchina. They came here mostly to attend balls, receptions for crowned heads and important noblemen, or to participate in imperial hunts. The Emperor Alexander II was mortally wounded on the Catherine embankment (now Griboedov canal) on March 1, 1881. He was succeeded by his son, Alexander III, who chose Gatchina as his principal residence. On March 27, the tsar’s family moved to the Gatchina Palace, which remained their beloved home for many years. In May 1917, the Provisional Government issued a decree on the establishment of artistic and historical commissions in the towns of Peterhof, Tsarskoye Selo and Gatchina for the purpose of “acquisition, recording and inventorying the movable and immovable property of the former palaces”. One year later, on May 19, 1918, the Gatchina Palace opened to the public. The Palace and its parks suffered significant damage during World War II. Restoration work began as late as 1976. The first 18th-century state rooms were opened to the public in 1985, including the Anteroom, the Marble Dining Room, Paul’s Throne Room and the exhibition installed on the second floor of the Central Building.References:
The Veste Coburg is one of Germany's largest castles. The hill on which the fortress stands was inhabited from the Neolithic to the early Middle Ages according to the results of excavations. The first documentary mention of Coburg occurs in 1056, in a gift by Richeza of Lotharingia. Richeza gave her properties to Anno II, Archbishop of Cologne, to allow the creation of Saalfeld Abbey in 1071. In 1075, a chapel dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul is mentioned on the fortified Coberg. This document also refers to a Vogt named Gerhart, implying that the local possessions of the Saalfeld Benedictines were administered from the hill.
A document signed by Pope Honorius II in 1206 refers to a mons coburg, a hill settlement. In the 13th century, the hill overlooked the town of Trufalistat (Coburg's predecessor) and the important trade route from Nuremberg via Erfurt to Leipzig. A document dated from 1225 uses the term schloss (palace) for the first time. At the time, the town was controlled by the Dukes of Merania. They were followed in 1248 by the Counts of Henneberg who ruled Coburg until 1353, save for a period from 1292-1312, when the House of Ascania was in charge.
In 1353, Coburg fell to Friedrich, Markgraf von Meißen of the House of Wettin. His successor, Friedrich der Streitbare was awarded the status of Elector of Saxony in 1423. As a result of the Hussite Wars the fortifications of the Veste were expanded in 1430.
In 1485, in the Partition of Leipzig, Veste Coburg fell to the Ernestine branch of the family. A year later, Elector Friedrich der Weise and Johann der Beständige took over the rule of Coburg. Johann used the Veste as a residence from 1499. In 1506/07, Lucas Cranach the Elder lived and worked in the Veste. From April to October 1530, during the Diet of Augsburg, Martin Luther sought protection at the Veste, as he was under an Imperial ban at the time. Whilst he stayed at the fortress, Luther continued with his work translating the Bible into German. In 1547, Johann Ernst moved the residence of the ducal family to a more convenient and fashionable location, Ehrenburg Palace in the town centre of Coburg. The Veste now only served as a fortification.
In the further splitting of the Ernestine line, Coburg became the seat of the Herzogtum von Sachsen-Coburg, the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg. The first duke was Johann Casimir (1564-1633), who modernized the fortifications. In 1632, the fortress was unsuccessfully besieged by Imperial and Bavarian forces commanded by Albrecht von Wallenstein for seven days during the Thirty Years' War. Its defence was commanded by Georg Christoph von Taupadel. On 17 March 1635, after a renewed siege of five months' duration, the Veste was handed over to the Imperials under Guillaume de Lamboy.
From 1638-72, Coburg and the Veste were part of the Duchy of Saxe-Altenburg. In 1672, they passed to the Dukes of Saxe-Gotha and in 1735 it was joined to the Duchy of Saxe-Saalfeld. Following the introduction of Primogeniture by Duke Franz Josias (1697-1764), Coburg went by way of Ernst Friedrich (1724-1800) to Franz (1750-1806), noted art collector, and to Duke Ernst III (1784-1844), who remodeled the castle.
In 1826, the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was created and Ernst now styled himself 'Ernst I'. Military use of the Veste had ceased by 1700 and outer fortifications had been demolished in 1803-38. From 1838-60, Ernst had the run-down fortress converted into a Gothic revival residence. In 1860, use of the Zeughaus as a prison (since 1782) was discontinued. Through a successful policy of political marriages, the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha established links with several of the major European dynasties, including that of the United Kingdom.
The dynasty ended with the reign of Herzog Carl Eduard (1884-1954), also known as Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, a grandson of Queen Victoria, who until 1919 also was the 2nd Duke of Albany in the United Kingdom. Under his rule, many changes made to the Veste in the 19th century were reversed under architect Bodo Ebhardt, with the aim of restoring a more authentic medieval look. Along with the other ruling princes of Germany, Carl Eduard was deposed in the revolution of 1918-1919. After Carl Eduard abdicated in late 1918, the Veste came into possession of the state of Bavaria, but the former duke was allowed to live there until his death. The works of art collected by the family were gifted to the Coburger Landesstiftung, a foundation, which today runs the museum.
In 1945, the Veste was seriously damaged by artillery fire in the final days of World War II. After 1946, renovation works were undertaken by the new owner, the Bayerische Verwaltung der staatlichen Schlösser, Gärten und Seen.
The Veste is open to the public and today houses museums, including a collection art objects and paintings that belonged to the ducal family of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, a large collection of arms and armor, significant examples of early modern coaches and sleighs, and important collections of prints, drawings and coins.