The Winter Palace – Russian Travel

We set out at nine o’clock to explore the Winter Palace. It forms a quadrangle with several courts, about the size of the palace in Berlin, but the exterior of the latter is much more imposing; it has one story more and the great dome. The Winter Palace, with all its pillars half inserted into the walls, is decorated with limestone, and painted all over with an ugly brownish-yellow tint. But next to this, and connected by arcades, is the palace of the Empress Catherine, nearly as large as the other, to which she gave the curious name of Eremitage. With this palace and the French house in which we live, the Imperial residence has a front of eight hundred feet. It is said that six thousand people live in it, and tales are told of sheep and even cows that are kept on the roof.

It is well known that the Winter Palace was burned with all its treasures of art, and was re-built by the Emperor Nicholas within a year. It was necessary to heat the rooms all winter to keep the mortar liquid for use. A great salon fell through just after the Emperor had left it. The palace stands as finished, another evidence of the Emperor’s will. It has a very fine staircase, and is in so far splendid that it contains an incredible succession of grand salons. One is two hundred feet long. The interior decoration is, of course, very faulty. Nearly everything is white and gold, often only whitewashed walls, but ornamented by colossal and mostly fine pictures of Russian victories.

On the other hand, the rooms inhabited by the Imperial family facing the Neva and the Admiralty Square are beautiful, especially those of the Empress-mother. It seems as tho her son had done everything to make her a comfortable and attractive home in the North. The painting and sculpture are the most costly productions from all countries. The view from the well-secured windows with the large reflecting panes is the finest to be had here. A winter garden, with a splashing fountain, terminates the suite of apartments.

Above this, in the third story, are the apartments of the Emperor, fitted up comfortably, but without much elegance. Here are many reminders of Berlin and of the late lamented King, whom the Emperor esteemed especially. Here are the great Kruger pictures of the Berlin parade, of Kaliseh, and a quantity of other interesting portraits. Here was the telegraph which discharged the commands of the autocrat like lightning over his spacious empire. A circular staircase descends into the apartment of the Empress.

But, besides this, there is on the ground floor of the palace also, on the northeast corner, a little vaulted room with one window, in which the mighty Emperor really lived; he who ruled over one-tenth of the inhabitants of the earth; he for whom Greeks, Catholics, and Protestant Christians, Mohammedans, Jews, and heathen pray in four quarters of the globe, and on whose territory the sun never sets, and in some parts of which does not rise in six months—here lived the man whom his people loved, whom Europe hated, because they feared him, but whom they were forced to respect; whose personal appearance calmed the wildest insurrections; at whose order, in the first cholera epidemic, the frantic multitude sunk upon their knees, begged pardon of God, and delivered up their ringleaders; who by his will en-tangled Europe in a war which broke his heart. Here he died.

This room has been left as the Emperor last saw it. Here is his little iron camp-bed, with the same sheets, the coarse Persian shawl, and the cloak with which he covered himself. All the little toilet articles, the books and maps of Sebastopol and Cronstadt—all lie unchanged; even the old torn slippers, which I believe he wore twenty-eight years, and always had mended. The almanae, which was set every day, marks the day of his death. The bed stands crosswise in the center of the room, and the monarch’s last look probably fell through the great reflecting panes, over the wide, proud Neva that he had bound by his bridge, upon the golden cupola of his Isaac Church, and upon the sun that dips into the sea behind the strong bulwarks of Cronstadt. The Emperor Nicholas died of grief at the course of the war. This antique character could not bend his will. He had to die.