Gatchina is a small Russian town with a mysterious name. A large industrial, scientific and educational centre in the Leningrad region with a modern residential area, it nevertheless cherishes "Old Gatchina" and its quiet, cosy streets.
Gatchina has gained worldwide fame as a popular suburb of St. Petersburg - it is the former residence of the Russian Emperors with a unique palace-and-park ensemble.
The development of Gatchina was greatly affected by cultural influences from different nations, especially the Europeans. That is why one can see here places resembling Italy, France, England and Germany. The pride of Gatchina`s citizens is the Palace-Museum, which boasts superb collections of Russian, European and Oriental art.
In the early days of its history Gatchina experienced considerable influence of the Scandinavian neighbours. From olden times Slavonic and Finno-Ugric tribes have peacefully coexisted on this land. Today there still is a large group of Finnish people among Gatchina`s multinational population. Finnish churches stand next to the town`s Orthodox cathedrals.
In the XVIII century when Saint-Petersburg was being built after the Russian victory over Sweden, new buildings were also erected in Gatchina's grange on the remaining Swedish defenses. The old foundations and building materials were used to construct the buildings. The Round Threshing Barn with its crenellated tower and the Cloth Factory still remind us of those times.
The brilliant age of Catherine II and the brief reign of her son Paul I changed radically the destiny of the small settlement Gatchina was in those days.
At that time Italian, English and French masters worked at Gatchina along with their Russian colleagues. For many of them it was in Russia that they were able to put their expertise into practice and to develop their skills, having absorbed the culture and traditions of the Russian people.
Having received the Gatchina estate as a present from Catherine II, Count Grigory Orlov, Catherine II`s powerful favorite, built a country castle on the banks of a beautiful lake surrounded by picturesque parks and vast forests for entertaining and hunting.
The Italian architect Antonio Rinaldi, who had already been working in Russia for 40 years, designed the palace, which entered the history of architecture as an outstanding example of the early Classical style.
The Gatchina Palace resembles a romantic medieval castle, an elegant palazzo of the Italian Renaissance and a typical Russian country house at the same time. To line the galleries, staircases, basements and facades of the palace Antonio Rinaldi used the local limestone, with its "colour of captured sunlight", which had been used by Gatchina`s citizens for building since olden times.
In the spirit of knights' castles an underground passage was dug leading from the palace to the bank of the lake. It consisted of a 120-meter tunnel, running beneath the meadow and illuminated from above through small windows, and ending with a cave, decorated by big stones. The cave giving onto the lake was named in honour of the forest nymph Echo. Words pronounced here echo inside the tunnel, entertaining tourists and giving rise to the legends about supernatural inhabitants wandering the resonant halls of the old castle at nights.
For more than 200 years the tall watch towers of the Palace have extended upwards into the sky. One can go up to the top of the towers by their spiral stone staircases.
How much they have seen from their height! Times changed as well as the owners of Gatchina … but the clocks on the towers untiringly marked the passage of time...