The Winter Palace - History and Facts | History Hit

The Winter Palace

Amy Irvine

15 Jul 2022
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About The Winter Palace

The Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg was the official residence of the Russian Imperial Family until the Russian Revolution in 1917.

History of The Winter Palace

The Winter Palace was built in 1732, and continual improvements and revisions were made during the 18th and 19th century. In 1837, the palace was severely damaged by fire which destroyed nearly all the palace interiors, but was immediately rebuilt within one year on orders from Tsar Nicholas. The palace was constructed on a monumental scale, intended to reflect the might and power of Imperial Russia. From the palace, the Tsar ruled over 8,600,000 square miles (almost a sixth of the earth’s landmass) and over 125 million subjects by the end of the 19th century.

Several architects participated in designing the Winter Palace, most notably Bartolomeo Rastrelli in the Elizabethan Baroque style. The palace’s principal facade is 215 metres long and 30 metres high, and covers an area of 233,345 square metres. (It has been calculated that the palace contains 1,886 doors, 1,945 windows, 1,500 rooms and 117 staircases!)

Alexander II was the last of the Tsars to genuinely use the Winter Palace as a main residence. After his assassination in 1881, it was clear that the palace was too large to be properly secured. Alexander III and Nicholas II consequently both set up their family residences at suburban palaces, yet the Winter Palace remained in use for official ceremonies and receptions.

In 1905, the Winter Palace bore witness to the Bloody Sunday massacre where thousands of striking workers marched towards the palace in peaceful protest and were met by troops with orders to fire at will. Although Tsar Nicholas II wasn’t responsible, this event marked the beginning of the end for the Imperial family.

The official opening of the first Duma took place at the Winter Palace in 1906, and Nicholas II returned to the palace to accept the salute of troops departing for war in 1914. However, after Nicholas II’s abdication and the February Revolution of 1917, the palace operated briefly as the seat of the Provisional Government. In October that year, Bolshevik-led revolutionary forces besieged and then stormed the palace – an iconic moment in the Russian Revolution and formation of the Soviet state that was to rule Russia for most of the 20th century.

The Winter Palace today

The palace dominates Palace Square and the south embankment of the Neva River and plays a central political, symbolic and cultural role in Russia. (The palace is adjacent to the site of Peter the Great’s original Winter Palace, built in 1708, which is now the site of the Hermitage Theatre.)

In 1917, the Winter Palace and its precincts were declared part of the now world-famous State Hermitage Museum.

Getting to The Winter Palace

It’s hard to miss the Winter Palace and the Hermitage if you’re in St Petersburg. The nearest metro stop is Admiralteyskaya, a 5 minute walk away.