September 2013 was marked by the opening of the so-called Agate rooms – private bath complex of Catherine II. This pavilion, equally called ”The cold bath” was created in the second half of the 18th century by the Scottish architect Charles Cameron. He was considered to be an expert in bath construction. Before he was invited to Russia he had thoroughly studied ancient architecture in Rome.
At the same time, an expedition led by Yakov Dannenberg found jasper deposits in the Urals. Thus, Catherine II came up with an idea of having interiors fully decorated with jasper. In the 18th century they called a certain type of jasper ”a meat agate” because it was red with white streaks. This is why the whole complex was then named Agate rooms.
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The pavilion consists of several rooms including a Great hall, a study of the empress and her library. The ground floor was intended for taking a bath, while the first floor was the place where the empress could write letters or read books. The magnificent interiors of the pavilion are a fine example of the Russian stone carving. For the design of the walls and the doors Russian craftsmen used the technique known as ”Russian mosaic.” First, the stone was brought to the Tzar’s village. Then the masters sliced it to get small thin pieces of jasper. In order to fix the mosaic properly they installed limestone slabs on the walls. In the end, the surface was ground and polished.
The Agate rooms was an ideal place of solitude and rest for Catherine II. Unfortunately, during the World War II the pavilion was looted by Nazi Germany. The restoration, started several decades after the end of the war, lasted for three years. Russian restorers used 25 tons of jasper, and this is not surprising when one door-wing decorated with agate mosaic weighs for about 300 kilos!
Another peculiarity of this project was that the museum authorities decided not to recreate every detail but to use the European method of preservation of the original design. The idea was to keep the pavilion in the way it was created by Cameron and to show the impact of the time.
The Agate Rooms can be seen as part of our St Petersburg Tours and St Petersburg Shore Excursions.