Tsarina Anna – The Ice Palace Story

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The Story of Tsarina Anna and the Ice Palace Wedding

One of the most famous dynasties in the world is the Romanov dynasty, representatives of which ruled Russia from 1613 up to the famous October Revolution of 1917. Some rulers are well-known all over the world. Almost everyone has at least heard of Peter the Great, the person who opened Russia to the West, made Russia a European state, and founded St Petersburg. There is also Catherine the Great, one of the wisest women in Russia history who was not Russian by origin but claimed to be Russian in her heart.

However there have been many other representatives in the Romanov dynasty who are probably not that well-known but nevertheless have some fascinating stories and even myths connected with their names. For example, Tsarina Anna, the niece of Peter the Great who ascended the throne after Peter II. She died at the age of 14 in sudden and strange circumstances, leaving Russia without an heir to the throne. The story of Tsarina Anna is both strange and mysterious.

In 1730 the Supreme Privy Council – an advisory body which was in power at that moment in Russia – invited Anna to become the Empress of Russia. She was forced to sign a document which restricted her authority reasonably leaving the power intact with the Council. She became Empress on the 28th of January 1730, however on the 1st of March the Council was abolished and Anna henceforth had full authority over Russia.

Anna was fond of all kinds of festivities. In her times enormous sums of money were spent on entertainment. She loved expensive clothes and was a very enthusiastic hunter. Her contemporaries say she loved shooting birds and rarely missed which was not very typical of a Russian woman at that time.

Among the things that amused her most was organizing weddings. In the winter of 1740 she decided to marry a jester from her court Prince Michael Golitsyn (at that moment he was nicknamed “Kvasnik”), a nobleman who had fallen from grace, to an ugly girl from the court called Avdotia Buzheninova. For the wedding which was to take place on the 6th of February 1740 Anna specially entrusted the architect Peter Eropkin with the task of constructing a palace made of ice on the frozen Neva River.

The wedding itself was extremely humiliating. The newlyweds rode through the main streets of the capital in a cage placed on the back of an elephant. Specially for the occasion Anna ordered representatives of all the nations living on the territory of the Russian Empire in St Petersburg to attend the wedding (nowadays there are more than 150 different nations). So no wonder altogether at that point more than 300 people arrived for the Empress’s amusement. During the ceremony they were to follow the elephant dressed in their national costumes. More than this, all of them were riding different amusing animals – wolves, deer, and even camels.

After the procession came to the Ice Palace, the guests had a dinner and the dancing started. With all the guests dressed up it was quite a scene. And in the end Tsarina Anna made the newlyweds spend their wedding night in the Ice Palace. Although the winter that year was severe, the couple survived their first night together in the building made of ice.

By the way the palace itself was amazing: it included an 80-foot facade and was three stories high. There were even sculptures of animals made of ice and a real ice stove which unfortunately was of little use in such severe weather. As the winter was very cold the palace survived until March when eventually it started to melt.

In the history of Russia this story is considered to be one of the best examples illustrating pure tyranny of the person in power. Even the contemporaries of Tsarina Anna were disgusted by how much money and effort had been spent on such a useless event, and how humiliating and mean the whole “performance” had been.

While the Ice Palace is no longer in place, visitors to St Petersburg can enjoy a boat tour on the same Neva River where the famous Ice Palace was built.