One of the best things about living in St. Petersburg is the ring of interesting day trip destinations that lay in the city’s suburbs. Gatchina is the name of an 18th century Imperial Palace built on the order of Catherine the Great and the town where it is located. The best way to get to Gatchina using public transportation is to take either bus number 431 or marshrutka 18 or 18A from Moskovskaya Metro station. You can also take the train from Baltiyskiy Railway station.
In 1765 Catherine the Great bought the village and surrounding lands for one of her “favorites,” Count Grigoriy Orlov, and construction began on the palace and park. After Orlov’s death, Gatchina was given to Catherine’s son, Paul. The palace was remodeled by the future tsar Paul I to more closely resemble a fortress. Gatchina was then passed to Paul’s son Nicholas I, who used it as his official summer residence, as did his son, Alexander II. Alexander III spent most of the first two years of his reign based at Gatchina, terrified of being assassinated like his father. During the Revolution and Civil War, Gatchina was the site of two major events – the final fall of Kerensky’s Provisional Government in 1917, and Trotsky’s defeat of the final advance of the White Army from Estonia in July 1919. In recognition, the town was renamed Trotsk, after Trotsky, for six years in the 1920s. The palace and park were opened to the public soon after the Revolution, and served as a museum until the Nazi occupation in 1941.
Compared to Царское Село (Tsarskoe Selo/Catherine Palace), Gatchina is a quiet suburban oasis without the hordes of vendors catering to tourists. Student tickets are very affordable at 120 rubles for the full palace tour (as of May 2014). The palace is lovely with an unusual Italian-style façade overlooking a large square in the front and acres of gardens all around. Costumed tour guides and actors lend a festive air to a tour of the palace, sometimes musicians even play piano and violin in the ballroom while guests walk through. Visitors have the option to join a group with a guide or simply lead themselves. In a group tour, the Emperor Paul and his wife Maria Fedorovna will often greet their visitors themselves! One of the things that makes Gatchina unique is the attached Orthodox Church, which can be accessed through a walkway in the Palace, and is still working and serving the local population. Sections of the palace have not been renovated since before the Second World War, leaving exposed the original brick and plaster. Gatchina is also built upon a large system of tunnels, originally used for both storage and as a potential escape plan. Short 20-minute tours of these tunnels are available daily. Some of the original artwork remains in Gatchina, but most are replications. Additionally, there is a large Asian art exhibit in a modern extension to the palace and several rooms of Russian art.
The town of Gatchina itself is not a bad place to stop for lunch with several locally-owned restaurants and even a KFC for the less adventurous! If you have access to a car, I would strongly recommend taking a drive around Gatchina. Large sections of the town are almost exclusively filled with дачи (dachas- summer cottages) that are uninhabited most of the year. On my visit, I stumbled upon a small wood where I found a quiet pond and locals gathering water from a fresh water pump! If you are interested in seeing a less-restored palace or just getting off the tourist track a bit, Gatchina is a wonderful place to enjoy history, beauty, and a calm afternoon.Gatchina Palace –
Государственный музей-заповедник “Гатчина”
Open Tue – Sun, 10 am – 6 pm
The ticket office closes at 5.00 p.m.
Closed on Mondays and the first Tuesday of the month
Student tickets for palace and park: 120 rubles