The first stone building in the city, the Menshikov Palace was built to the grandiose tastes of Prince Alexander Menshikov, Peter the Great’s closest friend and the first governor of St Petersburg. It is now a branch of the Hermitage, and while only a relatively small part of the palace is open to visitors, its interiors are some of the oldest and best preserved in the city.
Menshikov was of humble origins (he is said to have sold pies on the streets of Moscow as a child), but his talent for both organisation and intrigue made him the second-most important person in the Russian Empire by the time of Peter’s death in 1725. His palace, built mainly between 1710 and 1714, was the city’s smartest residence at the time (compare it to Peter the Great’s tiny Summer Palace across the river). Peter used Menshikov's palace for official functions.
The 1st floor displays some stunning Dutch tile work, intended to fortify the rooms against humidity to help ease Menshikov’s tuberculosis. Original furniture and the personal effects of Menshikov are on display and each room has a fact sheet in English explaining its history. Vavara’s Chamber is particularly evocative of how the aristocracy lived during Peter’s time, while the impressive Walnut Study also stands out.
Also of note is the magnificent Grand Hall, where balls and banquets were held, including the infamous reception for Peter's dwarf wedding, in which Peter and his court sniggered as some 70-odd dwarfs from all over Russia attended the wedding and the subsequent drunken party of Peter's favourite dwarf.