Still commonly known by its post-war name of Lomonosov, the estate at Oranienbaum is the oldest of the Imperial Palaces around St. Petersburg, and also the only one not to be captured by Nazi forces during the Great Patriotic War.
The history of Oranienbaum goes back to the beginning of the XVIII century, when the closest fellow campaigner of Peter the Great, Alexander Danilovich Menshikov, constructed a homestead with a palace and a regular park opposite Kronstadt.
After Menshikov’s death, Oranienbaum passed to the state, and was used as a hospice until, in 1743, it was presented by Empress Elizabeth to her nephew, the future Emperor Peter III. This way, Oranienbaum became the residence of the smaller courtyard. On the territory of the Upper Park, a “funny” fortress was constructed for the amusement of the future emperor. It was called “Petershtadt”, and was built according to all the rules of the art of fortification. Nowadays, the resembling fortification gates and the palace of the overthrown emperor, remind us of the short reign of Peter III.
Antonio Rinaldi, the Italian-born architect was commissioned by Peter in 1758 to build a modest stone palace next to the fortress, and this has survived.
After Peter was deposed, Rinaldi was commissioned by Catherine the Great to build the Chinese Palace, in the Upper Park, as her official country residence. However, Catherine spent little time at Oranienbaum, which she had grown to hate during her marriage to Peter, and by the end of the 18th century the estate had been turned into a Naval Cadet College. The palace became an Imperial residence again in the reign of Alexander I, and retained that status until the Revolution, when it was immediately opened as a museum. Although never captured by the Germans, Oranienbaum was bombarded during the war and, while the Grand Menshikov Palace survived intact, its restoration was given much lower priority than the more famous estates at Peterhof and Tsarskoe Selo. Today, the small but elegant park has been almost completely restored, while the full restoration of the palaces has finally gained momentum over the last decade.
After the revolution of 1917, Oranienbaum palaces have been nationalized. The palace constructions accommodated new services: educational and military institutions, as well as hospitals. The hardest trial for the former grand duke’s residence, was the Second World War, when Oranienbaum appeared in the Nazi besiegement. The defenders of the legendary Oranienbaum “pocket”, after having withstood the enemy onslaught, kept that small piece of land, that became the defense base. Thanks to the courage of the Russian soldiers, the residence preserved the authentic palaces and pavilions in addition to keeping the museum collections.
In 1948 the town was named after Lomonosov, in honor of the great Russian scientist who, in 1754, founded a colored glass factory near to Oranienbaum, in the village of Ust-Rudica.
Nowadays, Oranienbaum, that has remained in oblivion for a long time, is starting to resurge. The doors of the Grand Menshikov Palace have been opened to visitors, the park is being put in order and, after a long and difficult restoration, part of the Chinese Palace interiors is open.