The Winter Palace was the official residence of the Russian monarchs from 1732 to 1917.
The green-and-white palace has the shape of an elongated rectangle, and its principal façade is 250 meters (820 feet) long and 30 meters (98 feet) high.
The Winter Palace has 60,000 square meters (645,835 square feet) of floorspace.
The palace is a marvel of Baroque architecture and boasts 1,786 doors, 1,945 windows and 1,057 elegantly and lavishly decorated halls and rooms, many of which are open to the public.
The palace was constructed on a monumental scale that was intended to reflect the might and power of Imperial Russia. From the palace, the Tsar ruled over 22,400,000 square kilometers (8,600,000 square miles) (almost 1/6 of the Earth’s landmass) and over 125 million subjects by the end of the 19th century.
Palace was built and altered almost continuously between the late 1730s and 1837, when it was severely damaged by fire and immediately rebuilt.
Following a serious fire, the palace’s rebuilding of 1837 left the exterior unchanged, but large parts of the interior were redesigned in a variety of tastes and styles, leading the palace to be described as a “19th-century palace inspired by a model in Rococo style”
It was designed by many architects, most notably Bartolomeo Rastrelli.
As the formal home of the Russian Tsars, the palace was the setting for profuse, frequent and lavishentertaining.
The dining table could seat 1000 guests, while the state rooms could contain up to 10,000 people—all standing, as no chairs were provided.
The palace’s rooms, halls and galleries were heated to such a temperature that while it was sub-zero outside, exotic plants bloomed within, while the brilliant lighting gave the ambiance of a summer’s day.
The ground floor contained mostly bureaucratic and domestic offices, while the second floor was given over to apartments for senior courtiers and high-ranking officials.
The principal rooms and living quarters of the Imperial Family are on the first floor, the piano nobile. Access to the private rooms, for members of the Imperial Family, from the exterior was usually through the Saltykov Entrance (centre in the photo below) which was reserved for use by only the Tsar,
Tsaritsa and grand dukes and grand duchesses.
The principal or Jordan Staircase of the Winter Palace is so called because on the Feast of the
Epiphany the Tsar descended this imperial staircase in state for the ceremony of the “Blessing of the Waters” of the Neva River, a celebration of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River. The staircase is one of the few parts of the palace retaining the original 18th-century style. The massive grey granite columns, however, were added in the mid 19th century.
The Grand Church of the Winter Palace is located on the piano nobile in the eastern wing of the Winter Palace, and is the larger, and principal, of two churches within the Palace. It was designed by Francesco Rastrelli, and has been described as “one of the most splendid rooms” in the Palace.
St George’s Hall (also referred to as the Great Throne Room) is one of the largest state rooms in the Winter Palace. The Hall, which served as the palace’s principal throne room, was the scene of many of the most formal ceremonies of the Imperial court.
The Small Throne Room, also known as the Peter the Great Memorial Hall, was created for Tsar Nicholas I in 1833, by the architect Auguste de Montferrand. Following a fire in 1837, in which most of the palace was destroyed, the room was recreated exactly as it had been before by the architect Vasily Stasov.
The Alexander Hall was created following the fire of 1837 by Alexander Briullov. The room commemorates the reign of Emperor Alexander I and the Napoleonic Wars. Decorated in an unusual Gothicised version of classicism, the walls contain twenty-four medallions commemorating Russia’s victory over the French, created by the sculptor Count Fyodor Tolstoy.
The Malachite Room was designed in the late 1830s by the architect Alexander Briullov for use a formal reception room for the Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna, wife of Nicholas I. It replaced the Jasper Room, which was destroyed in the fire of 1837.
In 1905, the Bloody Sunday massacre occurred when demonstrators marched toward the Winter Palace, but by this time the Imperial Family had chosen to live in the more secure and secluded Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe Selo, and returned to the Winter Palace only for formal and state occasions.
Following the February Revolution of 1917, the palace was for a short time the seat of the Russian
Provisional Government, led by Alexander Kerensky. Later that same year, the palace was stormed by a
detachment of Red Army soldiers and sailors—a defining moment in the birth of the Soviet state. On a less glorious note, the month-long looting of the palace’s wine cellars during this troubled period led to what has been described as “the greatest hangover in history”.
On 30 October 1917, the palace was declared to be part of the Hermitage Museum.
Today, the palace, as part one of the world’s most famous museums, attracts an annual 3.5 million visitors.