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The Italian Palace: history and contemporaneity

The Italian Palace is an object of historical and cultural heritage of federal (all-Russian) significance, one of the largest and most beautiful palaces of the first quarter of XVIII century.

In February 1724, by Peter I's decree, the "suite" houses were distributed between "flag officers and naval captains". Interestingly, according to the house distribution log, the first two houses on the west side of the canal are registered as belonging to the emperor. However, there is no reliable information about Peter I's residing in this house. After a severe fire that happened in Kronstadt in the summer of 1764, "the deputies and the commander-in-chief" were ordered to "take provisional residence in the Italian house of His Imperial Majesty". Soon the palace was completely transferred to the Navy. The building housed the Chancellery of Kronstadt Canal, the port customs and other institutions.

At the end of May 1771, a conflagration ruined the building of the Marine Noble Cadet Corps in St. Petersburg almost completely. The cadets, temporarily garrisoned in Galernaya Harbour, urgently needed a new premise. Count I.G. Chernyshev, Vice-President of the Admiralty Panel, applied to Empress Catherine II: "If Her Imperial Majesty decides most graciously to transfer the Marine Cadet Corps to Kronstadt and occupy the Italian house and the whole suite up to the channel for this need, then it would be necessary... to transfer the customs stationed there... and the guardhouse and everything left from the local garrison quartered there... "In early August, most of the cadets were already sent to Kronstadt, and the classes began on October 14. Many interior rooms of the palace were re-designed. An observatory was arranged on the turret of the building for astronomical observations. The square in the "suite" became the front courtyard of the building.

Among the inmates of the corps of the Kronstadt period were many admirals and seafarers, who became prominent with time, including Admirals I.F. Krusenstern, F.F. Bellingshausen, M.P. Lazarev, V.M. Golovnin, P.P. Ricord, G.A. Sarychev, D.N. Senyavin and others.

On December 8, 1796, shortly after Emperor Paul I's accession to the throne, the monarch ordered to transfer the Marine cadet corps to St. Petersburg. Two days later, half of the cadets left Kronstadt, and by October 1798 all of them had moved to the capital.

In 1798, the building of the Italian Palace was been transferred to the newly established Navigation College. Somewhat later, the palace hosted the 1st Training Naval Depot and Sea Cadets School. In 1827, the Navigation College was transformed into the First Navigators' Naval Unit.

Originally, no significant changes were made to the building, although it was in a poor condition. The question of capital reconstruction of the Italian Palace was raised only in the late 1820s and was protracted for almost twenty years. At the end of 1829, Emperor Nicholas I issued a decree to transfer the Training Marine Crew to Minich's house. But only in 1843, following the Emperor's decree, the repair and reconstruction of the Italian Palace was started. The commission set up for that purpose was headed by the commander of the First Navigators' Naval Unit Major-General A.K. Davydov; drawing up of work charts was entrusted to architect A.N. Akutin; architect V.P. Stasov's proposals and recommendations proved to be of significant importance.

In 1843-1848, two large 3-storeyed extensions were made (to the northern and western buildings); the arches of the first-floor gallery were laid; the fourth floor was raised in the southern building, and an octagonal wooden turret with a mast was erected. The turret housed an observatory of the Navigators' Naval Unit with a communications mast. A major overhaul of all old premises was carried out simultaneously.

In 1856, the 1st Navigators' Naval Unit was renamed and was known as Navigation College until 1867. The trainees of these educational institutions subsequently became famous seafarers, hydrographers, participants and supervisors of hydrographic expeditions. Among them are A.P. Andreev, V.M. Babkin, P.K. Pakhtusov, I.S. Sergeev and others.

In 1867, an Artillery Department was opened at the Navigation College, so the college got the name of Navigation and Artillery College.

In 1872, Naval Technical College was established (based on the Navigation and Artillery College and the Naval Engineering College transferred from St. Petersburg). In 1896, it was renamed Emperor Nicholas I Naval Technical College, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the autocrat who had fundamentally reformed the college.

In 1898, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the educational institution, it was renamed Emperor Nicholas I Naval Engineering College. Large-scale construction work was carried out before 1900. The new 4-storied building was a continuation of the southern part of the building facing the Italian Pond. Downstairs, an apartment for the head of the college was arranged; the other floors house a museum, drawing and training classes. Parallel to Obvodny Canal, a new "western" building was erected. Its 3-storey section housed a kitchen and a huge dining room (assembly hall), while the 2-storey annex was adapted for infirmary.

Many prominent shipbuilders, theorists and practitioners of military and civil shipbuilding in Russia graduated from the Naval Engineering College. Among them: K.P. Boklevsky, I.G. Bubnov, V.P. Vologdin, E.Ye. Gulyaev, V.P. Kostenko, N.N. Kuteinikov, A.P. Shershov, Yu.A. Shimansky and many others.

After 1918, the building housed various institutions - courses for "red commander", labour schools, Palace of Education. It suffered seriously from fires twice - in 1919 and in 1921, when it was on fire for more than a day. By 1925, the building was renovated. The internal and external appearance underwent significant changes. Most probably, it was then that the half of the middle section of the building was demolished.

From 1926, the added southern and western buildings housed the Baltic Sea Central Club of the Red Army and Naval Forces, changing its names. The remaining sections of the building accommodated the Headquarters of Baltic Sea Naval Forces and its departments, as well as the editorial office, print shop of the fleet newspaper and other divisions. Before the war, the palace was a place for the Naval Political College.

With the outbreak of the Great Patriotic War, when the fleet returned from Tallinn, the Italian Palace served as the Headquarters of the Baltic Fleet. In 1944-1993, the Naval Officers Club was placed in the premises of the Italian Palace. From 1993 to 2012 it housed a Sailors' Club and  Vishnevsky Baltic Fleet Drama Theatre.

Since 2012, according to the Directive of the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy No. ДФ-17 as of September 7, 2009 and following the orders of Senior Naval Officer in St. Petersburg No. 41 dated September 12, 2012, and No. 67 of November 23, 2012, the premises occupied by the Sailors' Club and Baltic Fleet Drama Theatre were transferred to the Federal State Institution "Central Naval Museum" under the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation in connection with the reorganization, for the building to house the exhibition of the branch "Kronstadt Fortress" of the Central Naval Museum, which used to be located in Kronstadt Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker Naval Cathedral, before the latter's restoration.