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In Notre Dame Fire, Echoes of the 1837 Blaze That Destroyed Russia's Winter Palace

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04/17/2019 09:17 PM
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In Notre Dame Fire, Echoes of the 1837 Blaze That Destroyed Russia's Winter Palace
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On Dec. 17, 1837, a fire broke out at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Now the site of the famous State Hermitage Museum, back then it served as the primary residence of the czar and his family.

Standing in the heart of the Russian capital, with 60,000 square meters of floor space and 1,500 rooms, the Winter Palace was among the world's grandest buildings. The Russian poet Vasilii Zhukovskii wrote that the palace was "the representation of all that is Russian, all that is ours, all that relates to the Fatherland."

Originally completed in 1762, the palace had undergone a renovation just prior to the fire. Historians aren't precisely sure how the fire started, but they do know that defects from the renovation allowed the flames to spread quickly through the palace's attics. By evening the structure was completely ablaze, a spectacle visible from miles away.

Informed of the fire while at St. Petersburg's Bolshoi Theatre, Czar Nicholas I rushed to the palace, only to learn that the building couldn't be saved. The best the monarch and his personnel could do was salvage prized possessions and prevent the fire's spread to the Hermitage, where the emperor's art collection was housed.

By the morning of Dec. 19, only the structure's skeleton remained and an unknown number of people had died. The ruined palace "stood sullenly like a warrior," one witness observed, "powerful but covered with wounds and blackened by the smoke of unprecedented battle."

"The northern capital has lost her greatest ornament," a local newspaper lamented.