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Kremlin: Terem Palace
 
 

The Terem Palace (Palace of Chambers) was built in the inner courtyard of The Great Kremlin Palace in 1635-1636 by the Russian architects Bazhen Ogurtsov, Antipy Sharutin and Larion Ushakov on the site of the earlier palaces built for Vassily III and Ivan the Terrible by order of Tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov.

The Terem Palace is a real gem of Russian artistic culture due to its original decoration, bright exuberance and the marriage of flight of the imagination and clear-cut architectural composition.

This fabulous building has five stories. Its basement was used for household cells and storerooms. On the first floor there were workshops where garments were made and kept for the tsar. The tsar and tsarina’s bedrooms were on the second and the third floors. Finally, the Upper Terem with a gilded roof is on the flat roof of the Terem Palace proper and is surrounded by a balcony, or the Upper Stone courtyard.

The architecture and décor of the palace are typically representative of the Russian tracery-like architecture. Its carved and painted ornaments almost seem like embroidery. The carved decorative elements on the brick walls of the palace are made of white stone. The builders used all the materials, forms and decorative elements at their disposal to decorate the most wondrous chambers. The portals, cornices and window-frames are all covered with bright white-stone carvings, painted ornaments and colorful relief tiles, which add to the atmosphere of the building. The double windows of the upper floors, with their triple arcades and hanging decorative weights, are crowned by triangular or broken frontons propped by pilasters. Their broad surfaces are filled in with the interlaced floral patterns and figures of double-headed eagles and other mythological birds and beasts.

The multi-tier silhouette of the building is completed by a high pyramidal canopy roof. The gilded roof with an open work grille on top is visible from afar. The palace was rebuilt many times over the past centuries. The original paintings were restored during the 1960s. Prior to the rebuilding in the 19th century, the Upper Stone Courtyard of the Terem Palace was an open place surrounded by a parapet with “Golden Railings”. Three tiers of the iron railing have survived to the present day. This fine piece of craftsmanship, gilded and painted with its delicately interlaced spirals and fairy-tale beasts, is indicative of a great variety of designs and the author’s rich imagination. In the past, anyone winding his way through the dark passages of the Terem Palace could admire many such railings forged of iron or cast of copper.

A white-stone carved staircase leads to the gala halls of the Terem Palace. In days long past it was called the Golden Porch. The staircase has upper and lower landings. The arch above the upper landing id adorned with a decorative weight made in the shape of a lion’s head. The banisters and steps are decorated with intricate carvings while the walls are decorated with colorful paintings. The entrance to the Palace is “guarded” by stone lions standing upon their hind legs.

The tsar’s living apartments on the third floor of the palace consist of a suite of five adjoining rooms. Very few guests were honored to be admitted to the tsar’s presence in the upper rooms. The first room of the Terem Palace was the Front Vestibule, or Anteroom. It was also called the Refectory. Every day the boyars gathered there to wait for the tsar. Sometimes banquets were held there. In the second room- the Council or Duma Chamber- the tsar held sessions with the boyars. The next room, the most majestic, is the Throne Hall, or the tsar’s study. The gilded emblems of all the Russian territories adorn the Hall’s purple walls. The next room is the bedroom. It gives access to the Prayer Room. It is covered with painted figures of saints. There are 17th-18th century icons in two gilded carved encasements here. All the rooms in the Terem Palace are small and low and about the same size; each has three windows and a vaulted ceiling. The supports of the vaults are decorated with bas-reliefs depicting birds, beasts and double-headed eagles.

The doorframes are low and decorated with painted and gilded stone carving. In those days the floor was laid in oak blocks and then covered first by felt and then by green or red cloth. On solemn occasions carpets were spread on top of the cloth. The stained glass in the windows is made of various squares and triangles and the wooden windowsills are finely carved which all gives a fabulous effect when the sun shines through the colored glass.

Tiled stoves used to be an essential element of the living rooms’ interior. They are tiled with various relief and multicolored tiles. The ornamental patterns and motifs are interconnected, so forming a picture on the surface of the stove. There is usually a flower or a rosette in the middle, and the border is filled in with scrolls and twining plants. The stoves were restored in the mid-19th century on old models, so the patterns reproduced are very close to the original but the colors are strongly distorted.

The furnishings in Old Russian living rooms were sparse and simple. The benches along the walls were used for both sitting and sleeping on and often had in-built chests underneath. Sometimes, there would also be a few chairs and cupboards. However, by the early 17th century there were beds with beautifully carved baldaquins, carved guilt armchairs and Western-style cupboards in the tsar’s rooms.

The original wall paintings in the tsar’s rooms have not survived. The inventories and memories of contemporaries handed down until today give some idea about the old paintings. For instance: “ The wall paintings were distinguished by bright colors, an abundance of gilt and intricate ornamentation”.

The tsar’s rooms were repainted nearly every year by the best court artists. The wall paintings which have lasted to this day were created in the mid-19th century. They are based on sketches by Fyodor Solntsev, an Academician of painting.

During receptions of foreign ambassadors the tsar’s rooms were decorated with even greater luxury so as to convince the foreigners of the strength and power of the Russian state and its sovereign. Persian carpets and colorful fabrics were spread in front of them all along the way. Numerous guards and servants dressed in valuable cloths given to them by the treasury for such occasions lined the passages and stairways of the palace.

Despite the numerous rebuilding and additions, the 17th-century Terem Palace has largely retained its original splendor.

The harmony of the outward appearance and the interior decoration of this unique monument of history and art are truly remarkable. It testifies to the high skills of Russian architects and painters, their rich imagination and a high level of intellectual culture.
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