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Among many splendid former Romanovs’ residences in environs of St Petersburg, Gatchina definitely stands out as a unique and different one. It looks more like a European medieval fortress than as a royal palace. It was not conceited as an imperial residence but destined to become one from the end of the 18th century.
Gatchina is located to the south of St Petersburg ; 42 km from the city center, and 25 km from the famous Tsarskoe Selo. The first mentions about Gatchina trace back to the 15th century, at that time it was known as a village of «Hotchino». Later on the territory was gained by Swedes and came back to the Russian Empire in time of Peter the Great.
The first owner of these lands became Peter’s sister Natalia, but after her death in a couple of deals it was commissioned by the crown. In 1765 Catherine II presented the estate to her favourite Gregory Orlov, who started the construction of a hunter’s palace with a regular English park nearby. The architect Antonio Rinaldi succeeded to create a building that became an essential part of Gatchina landscape. Two wings connected by the central gallery were laid with local limestone. The whole building resembled a modest and accurate European fortress, not a baroque palace.
Gregory Orlov died in 2 years after the construction had been finished and Catherine gifted the estate to her son Paul. In his time Gatchina obtained a city status and went through extensive developments. Vincenzo Brenna, the court architect of Paul I, reconstructed the main Palace and created the ensemble of the whole city.