These pictures below are from the book “TSARSKOE SELO V OTKRYTKAX KONTSA XIX — NACHALA XX VEKA” (“Tsarksoe Selo in Postcards of the Late 19th — Early 20th Century”) by Aleksandr Sochagin. IP Kompleks. St. Petersburg, 2002.

TSARKSOE SELO MEANS “Tsar’s Village.” By very odd coincidence it was built on an area originally known as Saris hoff, back when the land was under Swedish rule.
The Arsenal. See image 12-02
‘Saris hoff’ in Russian becomes ‘Sarskaja myza’ or ‘Sarskoe Selo,’ which has nothing to do with Tsars per se.

The ‘T,’ you could say, didn’t get put in ‘Tsarskoe Selo’ until Empress Elizabeth. She had been very frugal until ascending the throne, at which time her financial habits changed dramatically and Tsarskoe Selo duly began its ascent. What had been a simple estate house was rebuilt into an opulent palace and the surrounding parks were filled with such amusements as an early roller coaster and a giant menagerie Elizabeth used for her hunts. The most unlikely addition, though, was a dining hall where five tables rose out of the floor. The dishes, in turn, rose out of the tables, so guests could dine without being disturbed by servants. The tables were then lowered, clearing the floor for dancing.

Tsarskoe Selo especially prospered during the reign of Catherine the Great. After some distractions with her grand “Greek Project” that caused her to try building a new city—Sophia—nearby, Catherine returned to the business at hand and put a great deal of effort into developing Tsarskoe Selo. Much of this effort involved rebuilding Elizabeth’s creations, which had been inspired more by pomp and instant gratification than by solid construction principles.

After Catherine came Paul, her deranged son, who took particular relish in undoing everything his mother had done. Tsarskoe Selo suffered under Paul’s reign, which happily was only 5 years long on account of Paul’s timely demise.

Future Tsars were better disposed towards the town. Alexander I had most of Paul’s mischief undone, and from this point, Tsarskoe Selo really became a model town, for Russia and Europe alike.
The Tsar’s Station. See image 12-08
On October 30th, 1837 town residents watched as Russia’s first train made a 15-minute, 3.5 verst inaugural trip to nearby Pavlovsk (amusingly, the train was pulled by horses since the steam engine was still on order from England). By 1905 this railway would link St. Petersburg with Vladivostok, 7 time zones and over 6,000 miles away. In 1887 Tsarskoe Selo became the first city in Europe to be completely lit by electricity; in 1902 it got some of the most advanced water, sewage and waste water treatment facilities available.

But what was, at the turn of the 20th century, the vanguard of Imperial achievement and power very shortly became its deathbed. The political situation in the country was becoming increasingly tense; attacks on government officials in St. Petersburg intensified and after the near-revolution of 1905,
The Tsar’s Station. See image 12-12
Nicholas II made Tsarskoe Selo his permanent residence, rarely risking a trip to Petersburg. He lived out the final days of the Empire in the Alexander Palace, surrounded by regiments of his Imperial Guard.

I really should add that if you’ve never visited this town, the pictures here will certainly give you a skewed perspective of it. The parks and palaces suffered terrible looting and destruction during the Nazi occupation, but since then a tremendous restoration effort has been made. The Catherine Palace and Park is now one of the most popular tourist spots in Russia, and it’s a splendid sight.

Location: Russia / Pushkin (Tsarskoe Selo became Detskoe Selo—Children’s Town—in 1918 and Pushkin in 1937)

Photography: Summer 2002, Fall 2003

Dacha of Princess Yusupova. See image 12-13

Dacha of Princess Yusupova.