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Church of the Grand PalaceThe town of Pushkin (formerly Tsarskoye Selo), just outside St Petersburg, has a marvelous ensemble of palaces and parks. It is particularly famous for its impressive baroque Catherine Palace where Catherine the Great lived and died. The palace was almost totally destroyed during World War II, but has risen like a phoenix from the ashes due to the unparalleled restoration effort undertaken since the war.

The present-day palace was designed by Bartolomeo Rastrelli, the Royal architect, who created the Winter Palace and the Smolny Cathedral. Most of the restored interiors date back to the times of Empress Elisabeth, daughter of Peter the Great, though there are some early 19th century interiors too. Catherine the Great used to live in a separate wing of the palace, and when she was in her sixties she would still walk through the whole palace on her way to church.

Visit the palace, stroll along the alleys of the park with its numerous pavilions, ponds and sculptures. Next to the palace there is Lyceum (Litzei), a 19th century school for the elite, where the famous Russian poet Alexander Pushkin and many other celebrities studied.

Further down the road there is the Aleksandrovsky Palace which must be familiar to those who have read Macey's "Nicholas and Alexandra". The family of the last Russian tsar Nicholas II used to like this palace and it is from here that the whole family left, in 1917, for Yekaterinburg where they were brutally murdered. (Unfortunately, the palace is NOT open to the public).

(The Catherine Palace is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.. Closed Tuesday and the last Monday of the month)

The Pavlovsk PalaceJust a few miles away from Pushkin there is Pavlovsk, the residence of Paul I, the son of Catherine the Great. A magnificent palace on a hill overlooks an English-style landscaped park, with a beautiful river running through it.

(The palace is open 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Fridays and the first Monday of the month).

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