Thinking about the historical past of my motherland (from the architectural point of view) I found an interesting trend: in 17-18 centuries very rich Russian aristocrats used to build their great summer estates not for living there but just for entertainment.
Can you imagine that? They spent enormous amount of money, invited famous architects, planted fabulous Versailles-style parks and decorated them with various follies, filled all this with precious art and sculptures, kept an enormous staff for maintaining them – AND THEY NEVER ACTUALLY LIVED THERE! From time to time they held balls and carnivals there, gave dinners and receptions , theatrical performances, brought hundreds of guests- and then just returned home – to even more luxuriant palaces, I presume.
Here are some of such great summer country estates of the Russian nobility I’ve seen.
Kuskovo was the summer country house and estate of the Sheremetev family. Built in the mid-18th century on over 300 (!) hectares. The twenty-six rooms of the palace were designed for entertaining and impressing guests on state occasions – and that’s all! No bedrooms, no homely living rooms, but absolutely everything is lavishly decorated. The surrounding park is full of other “little” palaces, some were used for storing paintings, some for dining, some for having a little rest while promenading around the park. There were two huge orangeries as well. Count Sheremetev entertained in a grand style; his outdoor entertainments in the park attracted as many 25000 guests. Entertainments included his famous theater and orchestra with serf actors.
Ostankino Palace is another former private opera theatre of Sheremetev family built in 1792-1798 . The palace is built of wood but you would never guess it. It is masterfully plastered and painted inside and outside to look like stone and marble – amazing! The park, only partly survived, contains several garden buildings such as Egyptian and Italian pavilions. Again, the Count Sheremetev didn’t LIVE there, he just brought his friends to listen to the opera. But he had to keep and support the actors (serfs) and orchestra, commission stage sets and costumes plus maintain the buildings themselves.
Arkhangelskoye Palace (18th-19th centuries) belonged to the Golitsyn and the Yusupovs families. When Prince Yusupov acquired it in 1810 he wanted it just for his vast art collection. He never lived there.
And the last one but not the least – the Petroff Palace. Built in 1776—1780s it was a travel palace on the road from St Petersburg to Moscow. The Tsars and their court used to stop there just before entering Moscow in order to have a rest and to spruce themselves up a little and then to proceed to the Kremlin Palace where they actually stayed.
I wonder if such “entertainment” palaces on the grand scale existed in other countries? Or was it the particular whim of the immensely rich Russian nobility?