Thursday Doors/FOTD: Schoenbrunn Palace

July 7, 2019

On our second day in Vienna (and 2nd to last day of our Grand European Tour cruise!), we visited Schönbrunn Palace. This 1,441-room palace was the summer residence of the Habsburg rulers and is a major tourist attraction in Vienna. The palace in its current form was built in the 1740s-1750s during the reign of empress Maria Theresa who received the estate as a wedding present. Her husband, Franz, had the exterior of the palace redecorated in neoclassical style as it is today.

The only female Habsburg ruler, Maria Theresa ruled for 40 years. She and Francis (Franz) I, the Holy Roman Emperor, had sixteen (!) children – eleven daughters, including the Queens of France and Naples, and five sons, two of which were Holy Roman Emperors. Thirteen of her children survived infancy. There is a portrait of her in the palace and when it was pointed out to us, the guide told us the story of Austria’s female empress. We gasped when she told us the empress had 16 children!

The longest reigning emperor of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, Franz Joseph I, was born at Schönbrunn Palace in 1830 and spent much of his life there. He reigned from the end of 1848 until his death in 1916. The end of World War I saw the fall of the Habsburg empire so the palace was given to the Austrian Republic and preserved as a museum.

As with all the palaces we visited in Europe, photography was not allowed inside, so all my photos are of the palace’s exterior and its extensive gardens.

Being able to take pictures on the outside, I managed to photograph several doors and gates for today’s Thursday Doors challenge!

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The ornate entrance gate

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Another “gate” or archway, within the gardens

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Balcony shuttered door

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This one is my favorite!

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More doors with shutters

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For a fee, one can take a horse and carriage ride. I was intrigued by the horses’ “hats”!
20190707_111019Schönbrunn Palace and its gardens were recognized by the UNESCO World Heritage Foundation in 1996 as a remarkable Baroque estate. Many beautiful white marble statues flank its gardens; I posted a few of these a couple of weeks ago for Sculpture Saturday.

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Wait…this guy isn’t a real statue, although he remains motionless until you get close! Perhaps he can sing a few bars of a Mozart symphony!

In spite of the summer crowds and the heat of the day, I enjoyed our visit to this former summer home of the Habsburgs. Here’s a vase of flowers for Cee’s FOTD 2/13/20.
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Historical information from my personal notes and Wikipedia: Schönbrunn Palace.

 

 

 

Thursday Doors: Walking Tour of Bamberg, Germany

Day 7 (July 1, 2019) of our Viking Grand European Tour river cruise was spent in the beautiful city of Bamberg, Germany.  We arrived at the picturesque harbor in the early afternoon.
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Bamberg was founded in 902 and is famous for its symphony orchestra and rauchbier, smoked beer. The city marks the northern end of the Main-Danube Canal. Bamberg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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This is the first interesting door we saw, somewhere along one of the narrow streets of the old town.

We walked through the market square on this hot afternoon and headed for Bamberg Cathedral (official name Bamberger Dom St. Peter und St. Georg), a large structure built in Romanesque architectural style.
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It is the burial place for Pope Clement II and Holy Roman Emperor Henry II, among others.

 

 

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We entered through this door, flanked with statues.

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A main entrance to the cathedral

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Interior door

Inside the cathedral

 

Cathedral clock tower
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We then walked to the Neue Residenz (New Residence) of the prince-bishops on cathedral square, which is L shaped because it was never finished. However, its opulence was immediately evident! The palace was begun in 1604 and the two wings built by Johann Leonhard Dientzenhofer in 1697-1703.
20190701_145545 Neue residenzThe palace has more than 40 state rooms with stuccoed ceilings, in which, as in Wurzburg, we were not allowed to take photos. So I took these photos of doorways outside the building.
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We wandered the expansive, manicured rose garden behind it, the hedges and flowers surrounding statues scattered throughout, presumably of former prince-bishops who had governed Bamberg and lived in the palace.
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20190701_152034d.jpgOver the walls of the rose garden is a view looking down over the old town center of Bamberg.
20190701_152111 Bamberg rooftops from the Rose Garden
20190701_152114 View from Rose GardenHowever, I thought the old palace, or Old Court, was a prettier building. It had been built in the 11th century. Today it houses a history museum.

 

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The Neue Residenz is visible through this arch.

I got a close-up shot of one of its doors, with some beautiful ironwork decoration.20190701_150407
The walking tour continued through the old town center.
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Most impressive was the old Town Hall, which dates back to around 1467. Gothic in style, it received some Baroque and Rococo touches in 1756. The murals on the sides of the building were painted by Anwar Johann.
20190701_153159 The old town hall

 

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This building is wedged between two bridges over the Regnitz River. The photo below, which shows this, is not mine. I downloaded it from a Wikipedia website about Bamberg. Credit goes to:
By Qole at English Wikipedia, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2323883
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The story goes that the town hall was built on an artificial island because the bishop didn’t want to give up any land. An armed (!) conflict between the mayor and the bishop ended with an agreement that the citizens couldn’t build their burned-down town hall on land. The bridges connect the building with the city center.

Kayakers paddle under the bridges.

 

We of course saw much more of the old city center and some members of our tour found a brewery to sample Bamberg’s famous smoked beer.

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Sign above the entrance to Schlenkerla Brewery

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Stumble stones in front of a house denote where Jewish residents of Bamberg lived, who later were killed during the Holocaust. Both of these people died in Auschwitz.

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The resident of this house needs to collect their newspapers!

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Small entrance to a crowded shop

Picturesque buildings lined up along the river – this area is known as “Little Venice.”
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The spires of Michaelsberg Abbey rise above the riverfront.
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After free time, our tour group meeting place was in front of this building, with a bull over the doorway.
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I hope you enjoyed a “walk through Bamberg” with me! This post is also for Norm’s Thursday Doors photo challenge. Check out the posts by other door fans!

 

Thursday Doors: the Würzburger Residenz, Würzburg, Germany

June 30, 2019

On a walking tour of the city of Würzburg, Germany, we first visited the palace of the Prince-Bishop, known informally as the Residenz. The palace was built in Austrian/South German Baroque style, with some influence of the French Style, commissioned by Prince-Bishop of Würzburg, Johann Philipp Franz von Schönborn in 1720 and completed in 1744.

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This is only one façade of this magnificent palace.

When he moved into the first palace constructed, the prince-bishop (these leaders were head of not only the government but also the Church) thought it was rather small – he had fancied something more like the Palace of Versailles outside Paris or Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna.  Having won a lot of money in a court case, he used the funds to build an edifice that would show off his power and importance.20190630_141042
He was supported in this endeavor by, among others, his uncle the Archbishop of Mainz and his brother who was Imperial Vice-Chancellor of Vienna from 1704 to 1734. These supporters had influence among architects and artists of the time, supplying the project with men of renown to design and decorate the building.
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We were not allowed to take photos inside the building, only outside, but I got some splendid shots of doors, facades and gardens outside.
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When Johann Philipp Franz died, his successor, Christoph Franz von Hutton, had no interest in such an opulent palace and ordered all work on it to cease. Work began once more under his successor, including the gardens, and was finally finished in 1744.
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Inside we viewed the remarkable frescoes by Venetian painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, whose techniques make his paintings appear to be 3D.

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This photo, downloaded from Google Images, shows a partial view of Tiepolo’s ceiling fresco.

The palace was heavily damaged by Allied bombing during WWII and restoration has been ongoing since the end of the war. In 1981 the Residenz became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.20190630_141119.jpg
We wandered through the magnificent extensive gardens in back of the Residenz.

From there, I could get better shots of the back of the palace.
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I even found an “ex-door”!
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It was very hot that day – we were in the middle of a heat wave in Europe – and there was no air conditioning inside the building! After our free time wandering the gardens, our tour group gathered on the front steps of the palace, where a group of teenage girls was practicing some sort of choreographed dance. They were in the shade, but even so, their energy on such a hot day was amazing!

I always enjoy witnessing an activity like this informally done by locals – something tours don’t really show you. Würzburg has several other tourist attractions, including the lovely Cathedral, which I will feature in next week’s Thursday Doors!

Historical information was taken from the Wikipedia article Würzburg Reidence.
Photo of Tiepolo’s fresco and the grand staircase from FAB Senior Travel.

 

CWWPC: Ways to go at the Hermitage

Cee’s Which Way Photo Challenge 8/17/16

The Hermitage is the largest art museum in the world, located in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was formerly the tsars’ winter palace. There is no way you can see this entire museum in one day, but what there is to see is more than paintings and sculptures. There are ceilings, floors, tables, thrones, clocks, fountains and more. “Art” at the Hermitage encompasses architecture and any other form that beauty may take.

These are some of the “ways” at the Hermitage.

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The Jordan Staircase

 

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Hall of Portraits

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These floral designs are typical of the beautiful wooden patterns on the floors throughout the museum.

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The Raphael Loggias, commissioned by Catherine II to be a replica of the Raphael Loggias at the Vatican. As you walk down this long hallway, the walls and ceilings are filled with beautiful paintings on every topic imaginable.

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Walk through this ornate doorway to enter another awe-inspiring room full of artistic treasures.

Views from windows at the Hermitage:

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This internal courtyard has a lovely garden with a path around it to admire every view.

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View of pedestrians on a cobblestone street along a narrow canal.

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If you enjoyed this brief journey into the Hermitage, please check out my blog post The Hermitage Museum: 13 Masterpieces you can see in 2 hours.

WPC: Ornate

The word for the Weekly Photo Challenge this week is ornate.

The first thing that immediately comes to my mind when I think of the word “ornate” is Catherine’s Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia. Like many royal palaces, this is a showcase of luxury, with room after room of walls decorated with gold. This style was particularly fashionable during the Baroque period, during which the majority of Catherine’s Palace was constructed.

This large hall was used for receptions or balls.

This large hall was used for receptions or balls.

KODAK Digital Still CameraThese pictures are just representative of the many ornate Baroque decorations found in this palace. The outside of the palace was also done in ornate Baroque style.

KODAK Digital Still CameraWith this display of luxury, I could see why the Russians had a revolution!

One of the rooms of Catherine’s Palace is “The Amber Room”, where photography was not allowed. This room is decorated from floor to ceiling using pieces of amber in various colors. This is a beautiful example of ornate at Catherine’s Palace. (Note: I downloaded these pictures from Google, since we were not allowed to take pictures in the Amber Room.)amber room wall

Amber tabletop

Amber tabletop

On the other hand, ornate does not have to mean “ostentatious”. When I was in Spain in 2010, our group of students visited Granada in the south, particularly the Moorish palace La Alhambra. This palace has been preserved for centuries due to European cultural sensibility, recognizing that such beauty should be preserved for future generations. The Muslims believe that nothing endures forever, except Allah. For this reason, their palaces were not made to be preserved for posterity. Furthermore, they did not “show off” their wealth like the European royals, such as the Russian czars. The outside of the palace of La Alhambra was not ornately decorated – it was stately and formidable, but the walls were plain, completely free of decoration. It was only when you were invited in that you would see the beauty of design.

Below are some pictures I took inside La Alhambra, exquisite examples of ornate.

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A sentence in Arabic "There is no victor but Allah" is repeated hundreds of times along with other repeated designs on ceramic tiles in The Throne Room of La Alhambra.

A sentence in Arabic “There is no victor but Allah” is repeated hundreds of times along with other repeated designs on ceramic tiles in The Throne Hall of La Alhambra.

The Throne Hall was the most important part of the palace, in which important meetings were held and important visitors were received. On the lower part of the walls are beautiful ceramic mosaics. Each mosaic is made up of smaller cut pieces, each one a solid color. In the middle of the wall are messages in Arabic, from the Koran. One of them says ¨”There is no other victor than Allah” which is repeated over 5000 times in the Alhambra. The Throne Hall is the most original part of the palace, that is, it contains more of the original designs and architecture than anywhere else at the Alhambra.

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Detail of ceiling. The ceiling of the Throne Hall is totally original, and it dates from the latter part of the 14th century. It is all made of wood, with cut pieces in mosaics to resemble a heaven full of stars. This represents the Islamic concept of "seventh heaven" (from which the saying is derived). In Islam, when you die you go to first heaven, then to 2nd, then to 3rd, etc., until you get to 6th heaven. To get to seventh heaven, which is Paradise, you must break through the stars and enter Paradise.

Detail of ceiling. The ceiling of the Throne Hall is totally original, and it dates from the latter part of the 14th century. It is all made of wood, with cut pieces in mosaics to resemble a heaven full of stars. This represents the Islamic concept of “seventh heaven” (from which the saying is derived). In Islam, when you die you go to first heaven, then to 2nd, then to 3rd, etc., until you get to 6th heaven. To get to seventh heaven, which is Paradise, you must break through the stars and enter Paradise. Allah dwells in Paradise.

Ornate is a totally human concept, I think. In nature you do not find examples of ornate. Nature’s beauty is in its majesty, color and simplicity. In fact, it is in nature that I find the the most wondrous beauty of all.

Gamla Stan: Stockholm’s “most amazing” statue, old-fashioned “Big Brother” and leaning houses

August 14, 2015 – Stockholm, Sweden (Day 1)

We met our guide, Britt, at our bus and proceeded to Gamla Stan, which means “Old Town” in Swedish, stopping briefly at a lookout point first, with a view of the harbor. Stockholm doesn’t get a lot of cargo ships (perhaps because there is a larger cargo facility in Malmö), but it does get lots of cruise ships, and there are a lot of ferries between Stockholm and Helsinki, Tallinn, and St. Petersburg.

Military ship in harbor

Military ship in harbor, cruise ship coming in

½ of the city of Stockholm is surrounded by salt water, ½ is fresh water from Lake Mälaren, whose easternmost bay is Riddarfjärden which is surrounded by central Stockholm. (More on this lake, and pictures, in Day 2). Lake Mälaren is the third largest lake in Sweden, and provides drinking water for seven towns. The city occupies 14 islands. (Holm means island.) In the metropolitan area, about 1/3 is green, 1/3 is water, and 1/3 is concrete or buildings. One island that used to be a royal hunting ground now has a zoo with Nordic animals. Our first stop on the tour - look out point

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100_1010In Gamla Stan we stopped in a main square flanked by the Stockholm Cathedral (we didn’t go in) and the Royal Palace (Sweden has a constitutional monarchy). The square fills up with tour buses and there was a lot of construction, including scaffolding on part of the palace.

Gama Stan - Old Town Stockholm

Gama Stan – Old Town Stockholm

Stockholm Cathedral and monument to  Gustav IV Adolph (King of Sweden 1782-1809)

Stockholm Cathedral and monument to Gustav IV Adolph (King of Sweden 1782-1809)

Close up of the facade of the Royal Palace

Close up of the facade of the Royal Palace

In spite of the monument to Gustav IV (who was also the last Swedish king of Finland), the most popular monarch was Gustav III Adolph, Gustav IV’s father. He enacted many cultural reforms, and established freedom of religion and of the press. He had a dramatic death in 1792, when he was mortally wounded by gunshot at a masquerade ball. He died 13 days later. Verdi’s opera Un ballo en maschera is based on this story.
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We walked from there to a church, behind which, our guide Britt said, was the “largest statue in Sweden – you’ll be amazed!” There was another tour group already there when we arrived, crowded around something that couldn’t be seen above their heads. As they moved on, we saw a small statue about 6 inches high on a small platform, called “The Iron Boy”.

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The sculptor meant it only to be a self-portrait: a boy who can’t sleep so he sits on his bed and looks up at the moon. However, it’s taken on an almost mythic reputation. Rubbing his head (which is now shiny from so much rubbing) is supposed to bring good luck. Britt said either you come back to Stockholm, you’ll find love, or something else I can’t remember – I rubbed his head because I want and intend to come back to Stockholm! Also in the winter, people knit hats and scarves for him and dress him warmly. All this for a tiny sculpture without a face!

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Britt then led us down the oldest street in Stockholm. She stopped at a doorway marked “No. 7” and told us to look upward. High up on the windows protruded little concave boxlike things which Britt told us were actually mirrors, allowing a person to spy on their next door neighbors to see if anything improper was happening! Big Brother of the 17th century!

The narrow streets of Old Town were crowded with tourists.

The narrow streets of Old Town were crowded with tourists. The only way to keep track of our guide was to follow the sign marked with a red 12.

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The 17th century had its share of Peeping Toms!

The 17th century had its share of Peeping Toms!

Some of the little streets in Old Town were extremely narrow – imagine navigating them in the winter when there are only a few hours of daylight! Down some of these alleyways were pretty gardens bordering small hidden courtyards.

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KODAK Digital Still CameraWe also saw the leaning houses on Stortorget, another plaza in Gamla Stan. The 2nd one, particularly (yellow) – it leans 90 cm!

The leaning houses in Stortorget square - the yellow one leans 90 cm!The Nobel museum is also on Stortorget, along with benches and sidewalk cafes filled with people enjoying this beautiful August day, their last week of summer vacation!

Because there are months in which there is little daylight – in Stockholm, sunrise is about 9 a.m. in December, and sunset is about 3:30 p.m. (farther north, there are only two hours of daylight in December and January!) – the Swedes are sun worshippers: they take advantage of daylight hours and warm weather in the summer to spend time outside. The June Solstice is a national holiday; many people leave the city. Many people own summer homes they go to during summer vacations – those that don’t have one, go to the cottages of relatives or friends.

Unlike the northern part of the United States, Stockholm doesn’t get much snow in the winter; although temperature-wise, its winters are much like ours.

Nobel Museum, history of the Nobel prize

Nobel Museum, history of the Nobel prize

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Stockholm Cathedral bell tower

Storkyrkan bell tower

Stortorget, incidentally, is the oldest square in Stockholm, its historical center from which the city expanded. There was originally a wall surrounding the town and as the city grew, parts of the wall were knocked down and rebuilt farther out.

We walked toward the Lutheran cathedral, Storkyrkan (also known as Stockholm Cathedral), with a clock on the face of its tower, where bells tolled the hour. Nearby, I saw a funny, old fashioned telephone booth that no longer contains a phone, merely a silver plate with graffiti covering the spot where the telephone had been.

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We then returned to our tour bus – a bit disappointing as I wanted to see more of Old Town Stockholm, but we were on our way to another city about half an hour drive from Stockholm. I hoped to be able to spend more time in Stockholm on Day 2.

Another view of the Nobel Museum

Another view of the Nobel Museum

Tour buses alongside the Royal Palace

Tour buses alongside the Royal Palace

Next: Sigtuna, Sweden

The Hermitage Museum: 13 Masterpieces you can see in 2 hours

August 12, 2015

During our cruise in the Baltic Sea, one of the things I most looked forward to was visiting the Hermitage Museum, one of the largest and oldest museums in the world. It has the largest collection of paintings in the world.  The museum, located on the banks of the Neva River, was founded by Catherine the Great in 1764 and has been open to the public since 1852.  (Source) The museum occupies six buildings, but the main complex consists of five buildings plus a theatre.

Hermitage-main-complex          Aerial photo of the main complex downloaded from the Hermitage Museum’s web site.

Even if you had a week to spend at the Hermitage Museum, you could not see everything in the museum.  There are 3,102,917 items in the collection, but not all are on display at the same time. Our tour guide gave us a 2-hour tour of some of the main highlights, from which I chose 13 to highlight here. I hope to someday return to St. Petersburg and visit the Hermitage again, as well as other places of interest I did not get to see.

All pictures herein were taken by myself or my husband, Dale Berman, unless otherwise specified.

The largest building of the Hermitage Museum is the former Winter Palace of the tsars. It is this building that one first enters the museum.

The largest building of the Hermitage Museum is the former Winter Palace of the tsars. It is this building that one first enters the museum.

If you look very closely along the edge of the building pictured above, you can see a massive line of people waiting to get into the museum, which opens at 10:30.  This line continued down the edge of the museum and around the corner for at least a block! We were able to enter at 9:30, a huge advantage, partly because we were able to take pictures without hordes of people in the way!

I will list the 13 items in the order that we saw them, which should allow for a somewhat continuous flow between the two main buildings, the Winter Palace and the Small Hermitage.

  1. The Jordan staircase of the Winter Palace – The main staircase of the museum is called the Jordan staircase, because on the Feast of Epiphany, the tsar would descend this staircase for the ceremony of the “Blessing of the Waters” of the Neva River, an Orthodox celebration of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River. (Note: Some of my information comes from The Magnificent Hermitage Museum: One-day Guide to 10 masterpieces of the St. Petersburg Museum, by Larisa Levanova, e-book downloaded to my Kindle from Amazon.com.)

Jordan StaircaseDSC_0555Ceiling fresco above the staircase

2. Small Throne Room

The Small Throne Room, decked out in red, was built for Tsar Nicholas in 1833 by the French architect August de Montferrand (the same one that designed St. Isaac’s Cathedral). In the alcove behind the throne is a large painting dedicated to Peter the Great, flanked by jasper columns. The floors are covered in inlaid wood patterns. During the days of the tsars, diplomats would pay their respects to the tsar on New Year’s Day in this room.

Note the insignia on the throne and above the painting: it is a two-headed eagle, one of the symbols of the Russian royal family.

Note the insignia on the throne and above the painting: it is a two-headed eagle, one of the symbols of the Russian royal family.

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Wood floor design in the Small Throne Room

Wood floor design in the Small Throne Room

3. Hall of generals’ portraits

KODAK Digital Still CameraKODAK Digital Still CameraDSC_05874. Wooden floor designs – The wood floors are also masterpieces of inlaid wood in a variety of beautiful patterns. The floors pictured are located in the first few rooms we went into.

KODAK Digital Still Camera KODAK Digital Still Camera5. Peacock Clock – Try to time your viewing of this clock to occur on the hour or half hour (which we did not) – bells chime, the golden peacock in the glass case spreads its plumage and its companions, a rooster and an owl, also move around. All we saw was the peacock sitting on a tall tree stump, and below are small creatures and mushrooms, all sculpted of metal. The actual timepiece mechanism is inside the largest, flat red mushroom. A dragonfly which serves as the second hand sits atop the clock mushroom.

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In the middle is the mushroom inside which is the clock mechanism. The dragonfly on top of the mushroom marks the seconds.

In the middle is the mushroom inside which is the clock mechanism. The dragonfly on top of the mushroom marks the seconds.

6. Tile floor mosaic – One floor that was roped off was entirely made of mosaic tiles depicting a circle of mythical beasts and human hunters – spectacular!

KODAK Digital Still Camera7. Rembrandt painting: Return of the Prodigal Son

20150812_0212378. Leonardo da Vinci paintings:  Madonna Litta and Madonna Benois (Madonna and Child). There are two small da Vincis in this gallery; my favorite was the Madonna Benois (Madonna and Child). The Madonna Litta pictures the Virgin suckling her child,framed by two arched windows.

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9. The Rafael Loggias. Empress Catherine II commissioned a replica of the Raphael Loggias at the Vatican. A loggia is a covered corridor, open on one side with vaulted ceilings and archways. This exact copy was painted after that by Raphael and his pupils, by a group of Italian artists. The paintings on the ceiling depict Biblical scenes, and the walls are covered with ornamental paintings with themes taken from mythology, the natural world, and the arts.

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10. Michelangelo sculpture:  The Crouching Boy.

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11. Rembrandt painting: Danae. This painting has an interesting story behind it. In the 1980s, a visitor to the museum, apparently offended by the painting’s nudity, threw acid onto the painting and slashed the canvas several times with a knife! It took 14 years to restore the painting. If you look closely, you can still see faint rivulets where the acid caused the paint to run, but other than that, only the artist would know the difference. Fortunately, Rembrandt had a tendency to paint in layers, so the damaged top layer was removed and the painting touched up. The cloth that covers Danae’s calves and feet in the original was opaque; now it is translucent. Other than that, the restoration was nearly perfect.

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12. Statue of Jupiter. A hall containing various Greek and Roman sculptures, including Aphrodite (Venus of Taurida), a Greek marble statue believed to date from the 2nd century B.C. and found in Rome in 1719, also contained the formidable statue of the god Jupiter, from the Roman Empire, estimated 1st century B.C. This 16 ton, 3.5 meter tall statue was brought from Italy in 1861 and had to be placed on a special foundation. This Jupiter is one of the largest antique sculptures in any museum in the world. In ancient Rome, Jupiter represented loyalty, keeper of the borders and defender of liberty. In his left hand, he holds a scepter and on his right dances the goddess of victory, Victoria. Jupiter enforced his will by thunder, lightning, and the flight of birds, represented by the eagle at his side with its wings spread.

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13. Giant jasper vase, the “Queen of Vases”.  It was carved out of a single piece of jasper and it weighs 19.2 tons (heavier than Jupiter!). This vase was carved in the Kolyvan region of Russia, some 5,000 km from the capital of St. Petersburg. In February 1843, 154 horses were harnessed to a giant sledge to haul the vase to the capital. In the fall of 1849, it took 770 workers to put it into place in the palace!

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There is a cafeteria in the museum for relaxing during or at the end of your visit!

 

St. Petersburg (part 1): Two Palaces – Why Russia Had a Revolution

August 11-12, 2015

Catherine’s Palace
It’s no wonder there was a revolution in Russia, I couldn’t help thinking when we toured the opulent and ostentatious Catherine’s Palace. Some of it was beautiful; some of it was garish. All of it was obviously extremely expensive.

Catherine’s Palace was a gift from Peter the Great to his wife, Catherine I. The first palace on this site, referred to as the “small palace”, was built in the 1720s but was enlarged in the mid-18th century by another architect commissioned by the queen. The resulting palace contains both Baroque and Classical elements.

Arrival at Catherine's Palace

Arrival at Catherine’s Palace

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One of the palace gates

One of the palace gates

KODAK Digital Still CameraCatherine’s Palace was a favorite of the last tsar, Nicholas, and his family. The day before, I had visited another Catherine’s Palace outside Tallinn, Estonia (see my post Touring Tallinn …), also a gift from Peter the Great to his 2nd wife, but much smaller and less luxurious.

Peter been married before but was not in love, so when he met Catherine, he dispatched his first wife to a convent! Women were submissive and had few rights in those days, so I suppose she had to obey. Catherine came from a peasant family and in a Cinderella-type story, they fell in love and were married. Peter & Catherine had several children but most died in childhood. Elizabeth was one of two surviving children, and she took the throne in 1741. Her daughter-in-law was Catherine the Great.

Large hall, probably used for receptions or balls.

Large hall, probably used for receptions or balls.

After a long wait to get in, and then donning slippers over our shoes to protect the floors, our tour group went through room after room of Baroque style gold-leaf decorations.

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KODAK Digital Still CameraSince this palace belonged to Peter the Great’s beloved second wife, her monogram would be included on some of the decorations, which looked like a 3 with a vertical line through it. The “3” is the y sound, which is how Catherine is spelled and pronounced in Russian: “Yeh-Katerina.”

Catherine I's monogram

Catherine I’s monogram

Fireplaces of blue tile in each room are beautiful contrasts to all the gold.

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Formal dining room - the paintings on the wall depict animals having killed and are preparing to eat their prey. These gruesome images were supposed to increase the diners' appetites!

Formal dining room – the paintings on the wall depict animals having killed and are preparing to eat their prey. These gruesome images were supposed to increase the diners’ appetites!

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the palace and grounds were turned into a museum, while other buildings in “Tsars’ Village”, as the town surrounding Catherine’s Palace was known, were turned into educational and health facilities for children. The Bolsheviks thus renamed the town “Children’s Village.” In 1937, the country commemorated the 100th anniversary of the death of the poet Pushkin, and the village was once again renamed; the town of “Pushkin” is still called by this name today.

The furnishings are mostly replicas, because the palace was used as Nazi headquarters during WWII, and when they left, they destroyed it. Restoration was done with the aim to recreate the palace interior as much as possible to its original design. Someone on our ship joked that if you want job security in Russia, get a job in restoration!

This painting depicts how the palace looked after the Nazis left, having set the interior on fire. The outer walls are standing, but the interior was mostly destroyed.

This painting depicts how the palace looked after the Nazis left, having set the interior on fire. The outer walls are standing, but the interior was mostly destroyed.

Photos taken after the Nazis left

Photos taken after the Nazis left

Restoration begins.

Sorting out the artifacts: Restoration begins.

Most of the rooms are designed in Baroque style, but when the palace was expanded in the mid-18th century by another architect commissioned by Empress Elizabeth, it was done in Classical style.

Our guide, Katrina, gave a running commentary on the walls, columns, floors, décor, paintings, furnishings, dishes, etc. as we passed along; as usual when I visit palaces, all the luxury in room after room eventually overwhelms me and I stop really paying attention; the fact that the audio equipment didn’t work very well didn’t help.

KODAK Digital Still CameraHowever, like at other palaces I’ve visited, there is always at least one room that really stands out while all the other rooms blend together in a blur. In this case, the room that made an impression on me was the Amber Room, which is showcased in books about the palace, since no photography is permitted, unlike the rest of the palace. It really is quite spectacular. The walls, moldings and furnishings are all made of amber.

amber room - picture frame

amber room wallThe light colored amber – usually the most desired – is the oldest; the darkest is the youngest. The variety of colors is quite amazing. Pieces of different color amber were fitted together mosaic style to form the layers on the walls, etc. There’s also a table whose top is a mosaic of different colored amber.

amber room - crownamber room tableamber room - detailNote:  All pictures of the Amber Room were downloaded from Google Images.

One of the last rooms we visited was in Classical style – the walls were green and the white wall décor had more angular lines and more secularized themes. Although sumptuously decorated also, it didn’t have gold cherubs, statues, moldings, etc. which are the hallmarks of Baroque ornamentation.

KODAK Digital Still CameraThe gardens outside were mostly sculpted and symmetrical in design.

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There were other smaller buildings on the property.

There were other smaller buildings on the property.

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Peterhof

Peterhof is not just one palace – it is an estate containing a large park with fountains, gardens, and other buildings. The Grand Palace is what you first see when you arrive by car or bus. Like other Russian palaces, it is huge and is often referred to as the “Russian Versailles”. Versailles was the inspiration for Peter the Great’s desire to build an estate outside the new city of St. Petersburg.

The Grand Palace and the Grand Cascade, which consists of 64 fountains and 200 bronze statues.

The Grand Palace and the Grand Cascade, which consists of 64 fountains and 200 bronze statues.

The first palace built on the grounds was “Monplaisir”, a much smaller structure, designed by and for Peter himself, situated on the Gulf of Finland. It is what you see when you arrive or depart from the pier. Marly Palace (a much smaller Baroque mansion on the grounds, meant to be an intimate retreat) and another two-story building on a nearby island, to be used as a dining room, were also built before the grand palace.

Small palace, called

Small palace, called “Monplaisir”, was designed by and for Peter the Great himself.

Gardens in front of

Gardens in front of “Monplaisir”

Landscaping of the grounds had begun by the early 1720s, but work on the site stopped when Peter the Great died in 1725 and Peterhof was left abandoned until Peter’s daughter Elizabeth took the throne in 1740. Elizabeth commissioned Bartolomeo Rastrelli, who had already completed the Summer Palace in St. Petersburg, to build an opulent royal palace. The completed palace is long and narrow and not as ornate as Catherine’s Palace. We did not go inside, which was okay with me, but instead had time to explore the grounds.

KODAK Digital Still CameraKODAK Digital Still Camera 100_0729 KODAK Digital Still Camera KODAK Digital Still Camera KODAK Digital Still CameraFountains were an integral part of the plan conceived by Peter for this estate, and each succeeding generation outdid the previous one by adding more sumptuous and ingenious fountains throughout the grounds. The Grand Cascade, in front of the grand palace, is composed of 64 fountains and over 200 bronze statues and other decorations. At the center is a statue of Samson wrestling with a lion.

In the center of the Grand Cascade is this bronze statue of Samson wrestling with the lion.

In the center of the Grand Cascade is this bronze statue of Samson wrestling with the lion.

There are also unusual fountains such as the Chess Cascade  and the Joke Fountains – here’s where the children have fun. One of these sprays water on a person who steps on a particular stone. Another is like a water fall that starts and stops, which you can stand under.

Chess Cascade with mythical animals at the top

Chess Cascade with mythical animals at the top

One of the "Joke" fountains - you don't know when the water will start or stop. The children love it!

One of the “Joke” fountains – you don’t know when the water will start or stop. The children love it!

The gardens were absolutely beautiful. Catherine the Great oversaw the first landscaped garden at Peterhof, the English Park. Everywhere we walked were more fountains, more gardens, but none of them the same.

Near Monplaisir Palace

Near Monplaisir Palace

KODAK Digital Still Camera KODAK Digital Still CameraBeing on our own by this time, my husband and I took a route through a small part of the park, but by no means did we see all of it – in one afternoon, that would have been impossible.

This rocky beach on the edge of the Peterhof estate borders the Gulf of Finland. The small yellow building on an outcrop of land in the distance was meant for use as a dining room for entertaining guests.

This rocky beach on the edge of the Peterhof estate borders the Gulf of Finland. The small yellow building on an outcrop of land in the distance was meant for use as a dining room for entertaining guests.

100_0779We met the others in our group at the hydrofoil dock, and took a hydrofoil back to St. Petersburg.

hydrofoil boat