To Russia - A Voyage of Understanding
Story and Photos
by Helen Azar

May 2004

KOSTROMA.

One of the first places we visited in Russia was the Ipatiev Monastery in Kostroma, where the Romanov dynasty "originated" with the 16-year-old Mikhail Romanov. This is the entrance archway to the Ipatiev Monastery.

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I believe this monastery was built some time in the 14th century. Unfortunately the state has no money for the upkeep of places like this, so even though they are visited by thousands of tourists every year everything looks pretty shabby, as you can see.

Kostroma turned out to be a much smaller town than I expected, it can almost be called a village.

Pictured below is the wall (called 'the kremlin') surrounding the Ipatiev Monastery and below that, the quarters where boyars Romanov stayed.

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MOSCOW

Next, we went on to Moscow. Some of the Moscow cathedrals:

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Thought I'd throw in an 1896 picture of Nicholas II's Moscow coronation procession, at the entrance to the Red Square.

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I took the picture below 'almost' at the same spot. Today, this building is a museum of Russian history.

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ST PETERSBURG

Finally, St Petersburg...

This is the Cathedral On The Spilled Blood, built on the spot where Alexander II, Tsar Liberator, Nicholas II's grandfather, was assassinated.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usImage Hosted by ImageShack.usImage Hosted by ImageShack.us As we walked around the cathedral, at the front entrance we saw a large gathering of locals who were carrying icons and singing "God Save the Tsar". Turns out, they were honoring Nicholas II's birthday (which was actually the next day, 19th of May). Image Hosted by ImageShack.usImage Hosted by ImageShack.us

The Russian people seem to have done a complete turn-around in their feelings towards the last Tsar, he is now posthumously honored as he never had been during his life.

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That same day, I made sure to visit and photograph Grigori Rasputin's last residence, 64 Gorohovaya Street, located within 15-20 minutes walking distance from the Winter Palace.

It is now a private residence and no one, other than professional guides, seems to realize that some important historical events took place here. According to the Yussupov Palace guide, Rasputin's former apartment was recently sold, after spending a few years (!) on the real estate market. Evidently, some original Rasputin belongings came with the place. The guide was not sure who purchased it and what they were planning to do with it. The front door to the building is now bricked up (it was open and accessible to anyone before the building was sold).

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Windows of Rasputin's apartment (2nd floor):

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View of the windows from inside the courtyard.

TSARSKOE SELO

Below is the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoe Selo. This was the main Tsarskoe Selo palace where official receptions were conducted. It is a lot larger and much more opulent than the Alexander Palace. It was built in the 18th century for Catherine I, wife of Peter the Great. Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

A dress that belonged to Catherine II (The Great):

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Hussar uniform that belonged to Nicholas II: Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

Judging by this uniform and some other clothing I saw, the last Tsar was a pretty small man.

ALEXANDER PALACE EXTERIORS

That's me in front of the Alexander Palace gates. Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

Here are some more views of the Alexander Palace exterior and groundsÉ. Image Hosted by ImageShack.usImage Hosted by ImageShack.usImage Hosted by ImageShack.usImage Hosted by ImageShack.usImage Hosted by ImageShack.usImage Hosted by ImageShack.us

Footnote:

Across the street, third house down, is the cottage that once belonged to Anna Vyrubova (it is mentioned in many books about the last Imperial family).

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Today, this cottage is the local justice of the peace office.

ALEXANDER PALACE INTERIORS

Below is Alexandra's mauve boudoir (restoration was based on some old photographs of the room).

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This is the original chair that belonged to Alexandra (next to it is a picture of Alexandra taken in this chair) Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

Two of the remaining weaved baskets that Alexandra collected: Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

Below is the sitting room with many of the original items including rugs and embroidery done by the Grand Duchesses.

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A doll that belonged to one of the Grand Duchesses.

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As I walked around the palace and looked at some of these items, I was trying to get the feel for the family who lived here less than ninety years ago, but most of the time it was pretty difficult with all the visitors mulling about. Nevertheless, at some moments it was possible, especially when encountering personal items such as this doll or embroidery. The most distinct feeling I got during moments like that was intense sadness (for some reason this doll really got to me).

Uniforms that belonged to Olga and Alexei Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

Part of restored New Study with portrait of the heir in its original place.

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Official court clothing of the last Imperial family:

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Below, more pictures of Nicholas's New Study:

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Nicholas's cabinet where he met with officials: Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

THE WINTER PALACE

Winter Palace and the Palace Square in 1913, during the tercentennial celebrations of the Romanov Dynasty.

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Winter Palace and Palace Square in 2004. Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

Nicholas and Alexandra on the Winter Palace balcony in 1914, during WWI proclamation.

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As the same balcony looks in 2004:

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View of the Palace Square from the Winter Palace, during WWI proclamation, 1914:

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Same spot on Palace Square, 90 years later, 2004

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MARYINSKY THEATER

The Maryinsky was the theater most frequented by the Imperial family. This is the imperial loge, its appearance still very close to the way it used to look before the revolution.

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YUSSUPOV PALACE

View of the Yussupov Palace across Moika Canal in the early 1910's: Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

View from the same spot in 2004:

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*Notice that the church in the background is gone and an unsightly communist-era building stands in its place.

Grand staircase, the entrance to the Yussupov Palace.

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The basement room of the palace, where Rasputin was killed by Felix Yussupov, et al. In my opinion, they would have done better by getting rid of the tacky-looking wax figures.

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Below: original page from Rasputin's diary and his death certificate:

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ST PETER AND PAUL FORTRESS

View of St Peter and Paul Fortress where all the Romanov Emperors and their families were interred.

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The spire of St Catherine Cathedral at St Peter and Paul: Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

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Above are the tombs of Peter the Great and Catherine II (The Great)

Below, tombs containing the remains of the last Imperial family (minus one sister's and Alexei's remains that were never found):

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Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana:

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Grand Duchesses Maria and Anastasia:

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In conclusion, I'd like to say that this trip was an amazing experience. In order to understand how Russian history evolved, or the history of modern world that was so strongly influenced by Russian history, you really need to experience it by going over there in person. There is no way that reading or hearing about it will give one the same sort of understanding. Visiting older Russian places like Kostroma and Moscow revealed so much about the Russian people and clarified so many things to me that were otherwise so hard to understand. Visiting these places made this history come alive like nothing else did, it is now something real to me, rather than an interesting story resembling fiction. It's very difficult to convey the feelings you get walking onto the Palace Square for the first time and seeing the Winter Palace in front of you, or walking around the Alexander Palace and park. I hope to return to St Petersburg soon so I can see things I didn't get the chance to see during my trip, as well as revisit some of the places I already saw.

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