Catherine the Great’s rooms restored to former glory

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Conservation of the interiors at the Russian imperial family’s summer home wins heritage award

By Emily Sharpe. Web only
Published online: 21 March 2014

Workers pull up the floors of the Agate Rooms at Tsarskoe Selo. Photo: Boris Igdalov

A project to restore Catherine the Great’s Agate Rooms at Tsarskoe Selo, the former summer residence of the Russian imperial family near St Petersburg, is one of 15 conservation initiatives to be recognised with a prestigious European heritage award. The winners of the annual EU Prize for Cultural Heritage/Europa Nostra Award were announced today.

Remarkably, these 18th-century interiors, decorated with marble, parquet floors, bronze ornaments, gilded ceilings and coloured jasper from the Ural and Altai mountains, survived the Second World War—although not without significant damage and losses. Another well-known room at Tsarskoe Selo, the Amber Room, was not so fortunate: its panels carved from precious amber were looted by the Nazis and then disappeared. Their whereabouts continue to puzzle scholars.

Prior to the project, which began in 2010 and finished last year, the suite of rooms designed by the Scottish architect Charles Cameron, had not undergone any major restoration treatment. The jury praised the “quality of the science” involved in the project, noting “the special problems” that geological materials can present.

Other conservation projects to receive awards include the restoration of Abbotsford, the home of the Scottish poet and novelist Sir Walter Scott on the banks of the River Tweed in Scotland, and efforts to clean, reinforce and correct the harmful post-Second World War restoration of a 16th-century basilica designed by the Italian architect Andrea Palladio in Vicenza.

A further twelve awards were given to projects in the areas of research, dedicated service, education, training and awareness-raising. Six grand prize winners, selected from the 27 laureates, will be announced at a ceremony in Vienna on 5 May.

The Agate Rooms after restoration. Photo: Boris Igdalov

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