3 unusual palaces of the most mysterious Russian emperor, Paul I

Vadim Razumov
Paul I did not enjoy a long life, caused considerable controversy in his lifetime, and left behind numerous riddles and secrets when he was gone. Many of them are reflected in the architectural masterpieces associated with him.
Paul I

1. A tragic palace - Saint Michael's Castle

Paul spent the most tragic moments of his life in Saint Michael's Castle: this is where he was assassinated. When he launched the construction of the castle, Paul had no inkling of what was to come. He hoped to make it his favorite residence, an indestructible and beautiful fortress, where he and his family would lead a comfortable and quiet life.

Paul was actively involved in the work on the grand project. Guided by his wishes, architects Vasili Bazhenov and Vincenzo Brenna created a unique palace unlike any building in St. Petersburg. Everything, starting from its unusual layout to its unique yellow-orange color – legend has it that it was inspired by the color of the gloves of the emperor’s mistress - makes Saint Michael's Castle stand out among the other palaces and splendid residences of St. Petersburg.

Residents of and visitors to the city still consider it one of the most mystical places in St. Petersburg. They say that at night the ghost of the assassinated Paul I can be seen in the windows of Saint Michael's Castle. A portrait of the emperor in one of the palace halls is said to move of its own accord.

2. An 'amusement' palace - Gatchina

The second architectural attraction closely associated with Paul I is the Gatchina Palace. Visually, it is very different from most country palaces and residences of Russian emperors. It looks like a medieval European castle in the Romanesque style.

Gatchina main palace

The palace was built for Grigory Orlov, a favorite of Paul's mother Catherine the Great. Pavel Petrovich, who hated his mother's numerous lovers and blamed them for his father's death, was glad that later Gatchina became his. He found much comfort in the thought that the favorite residence of his adversary now belonged to him. 


Paul I made changes to the appearance of the palace. He turned the Gatchina residence into an amusement castle. Parades and roll calls were regularly held on the parade ground in front of the palace. Gatchina had a toy army and fleet.

Gatchina palace

Here, not far from the main palace, architect Nikolai Lvov built the Priory Palace, which served as a residence for members of the Order of Malta.

The Priory Palace

In other words, in Gatchina, the emperor created a whole world, which reflected his, often unusual, interests.

Gatchina palace

3. A romantic palace - Pavlovsk

Perhaps, the happiest residence not only for Pavel Petrovich but for his entire family was the Pavlovsk Palace. A magnificent mansion in the neoclassical style with a huge picturesque park with its numerous amusements, pavilions and small architectural forms - this residence can safely be called a masterpiece of Russian classicism. 

Pavlovsk was presented to Pavel Petrovich and his wife, Empress Maria Fedorovna, to mark the birth of their first son, the future Russian Emperor Alexander I. Paul I was not entirely happy with the palace's exterior: his mother had it made in the classical style, while the future emperor preferred the look of European castles. Still, Pavel Petrovich's wife was very fond of the Pavlovsk Palace.

Here they spent the most joyful moments of their married life: welcomed the birth of their children, spent quiet family evenings together, raised their heirs. Future threats and conspiracies had not yet become part of their everyday life. That is why the Pavlovsk period could be described as the happiest in Paul's life.

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