Gatchina is situated at a distance of 43 kilometers from the downtown of St Petersburg (the excursion will take us 5 hours) and Gatchina village was first mentioned in 15th century chronicles. Peter the Great presented Gatchina to his sister Natalya Alexeevna. In 1765 Catherine the Great acquired the land and gave the estate as a gift to her lover Count Grygory Orlov. Between 1766 and 1781 Italian architect Rinaldi created a beautiful palace for him. We believe he took famous Blenheim Palace, residence of the dukes of Marlborough (and birthplace of Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill) in England, as a sample for his future masterpiece.
After Orlov’s death Catherine passed the estate on to her son and heir Paul, whose architect Brenna redesigned it. After Paul’s death the estate remained neglected until Alexander III made Gatchina his permanent residence (Alexander was terrified of revolutionary elements and felt unsafe after his own father was assassinated).
The grounds were badly damaged during WWII when the area was occupied by the German forces for two years. Now only several of the 500 rooms of the palace are open to the public but show a magnificent collection of antique bas-reliefs, porcelain, and wonderful mouldings of Rinaldi. The gem of the rooms is White Hall (see pictures below).
A secret underground passage leads to a grotto on the edge of Silver Lake. Gatchina Park weaves around the estates White, Black, and Silver lakes. The park lands were mainly designed by a pair of Englishmen, Mr Sparrow and Mr Bush. At the end of White Lake there is a lovely little Temple to Venus on the Island of Love. Silver Lake never freezes over in the winter, may be this was the reason that the (see picture) first Russian submarine (which is now on display in Maritime Museum in the downtown of St Petersburg) was tested here in 1879.
Not far from Temple to Venus there is another little pavilion – Birch Cabin (see pictures), which looks just that from the outside, but inside is an unexpected luxurious room lined with mirrors.