Kadriorg Palace, or “Catherine’s Valley,” was commissioned by Peter the Great of Russia for his second wife, Catherine I. Surrounded by 70 hectares of wooded parkland with an ornamental lake, formal gardens, and several museums, the complex sits on the edge of Kesklinn district of Tallinn. The palace, designed by famed Italian architect Nicola Michetti, is an exquisite example of Petrine Baroque architecture, which flourished in St. Petersburg in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The Great Hall at Kadriorg is pristine white, with light streaming in through its many windows and an exuberance of stucco ornamentation. Stylized monograms of Peter and Catherine are crafted on opposite walls above the highly ornate fireplaces. The ceiling has a beautiful mural, depicting a scene from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The goddess Diana is seen bathing in a celestial spring along with her nymphs, while an enraptured Actaeon watches, as yet unnoticed.
Aside from a few paintings of members of the Romanov dynasty, little else remains to suggest that the palace was once a royal residence. Its rooms now exhibit paintings and art objects from Russia and the rest of Europe. A formal garden graces the back of the palace, with precisely laid gravel paths, flower beds, and fountains.
When Peter commissioned his summer palace, Tallinn had capitulated to his victorious army. However, the Great Northern War was still raging elsewhere in the region. Catherine often accompanied her husband during his military campaigns and when in Tallinn, stayed in a modest cottage, since Kadriorg was still under construction. Unfortunately, Peter did not live to see the completion of his summer palace and Catherine lost all interest in it after his death.
It was not until the reign of Nicholas I that extensive renovations began in Kardiorg Palace. Once complete, the Tsar and his family began spending their summers in the palace. Members of the royal court followed and soon a district of elegant summer villas grew around Kadriorg. However, the popularity of Kadriorg as a summer destination waned with the cessation of the Crimean War. Being accessible once more, the salubrious weather of the Black Sea coastal retreats was preferable to the cool, damp, northern summers on the Baltic. Today, the palace houses a museum showcasing European art from the 16th to the 18th centuries.
Know Before You Go
A visit to the House Museum of Peter, a short walk from the palace, is recommended. Its modest size and interiors, reflect a life of simple domesticity lived by Peter and Catherine, when in residence.