THE CATHERINE BLOCK
During Monplaisir's early period vegetables used to be grown opposite the auxiliary structures within the western limits of the garden and then a small stone orangery was built on the site. In 1748-49 Rastrelli used its foundations with an undercroft to erect a new stone palace, larger than the Dutch House, for Elizabeth Petrovna. The main facade of this palace looked onto the Monplasir Garden and had a porch with its door leading to the Lower Park. The decoration of the palace took a long time and was finished only in the 1750s.
The Baroque interior of the Elizabethan Palace existed for a little more than thirty years. Already in 1785-86 it was completely altered (except for the parquet design and the tiled stoves in some rooms) by the Italian architect Giacomo Quarenghi, invited to Russia by Catherine the Great. As a result the smooth colouring of the walls, the pilasters and the snow-white reliefs replaced the whimsical gilded carvings, the shine of mirrors and the bright fabrics.
The first decades of the nineteenth century saw some more refashioning of the interiors. In several rooms, the ceilings and the coves were decorated with paintings in the Empire style. The work has been ascribed to Giovanni Scotti.
Before World War II the Catherine Block stood next to the wooden galleries originally intended for the "Hill Palaces" (the future Great Palace). Not used there, they were erected to Rastrelli's design near the Peter's orangery and after the construction of the Catherine Block were linked with the latter by a special passage.
In this wooden wing there were the private apartments of Catherine II, then Grand Duchess Yekaterina Alexeyevna, in which she lived for fifteen years at the court of Elizabeth. It was from here that she made her first steps to glory. On June 28, 1762 the wife of the Russian Emperor Peter III left her Peterhof house to come back a day after the coup d'etat, accompanied by the Guards as the Empress, and to win later the name of Catherine the Great.
Catherine recollected about this event in her Memoirs: "I slept quietly at Peterhof, and at 6:28 in the morning Alexei Orlov entered my room and said: 'It is time to get up - everything is ready to proclaim you.' I took a seat in a carriage. We went to the Izmailovsky Regiment... Soldiers gathered, kissed me... and they began to take the oath." In commemoration of this event the palace was named the Catherine Block. It was used for formal dinners and annual balls of the graduates of the Smolny Institute for Girls of Noble Birth inaugurated by Catherine II in St Petersburg in 1764.
In 1926 the Catherine Block was conversed into a museum. During World War II the decor of the interiors suffered considerable damage and wooden galleries were burnt. In 1987 after the completion of restoration works the museum has been opened again.