It stands testament to the end of an era and its story of survival is remarkable – abandoned before completion, subjected to fire twice, damaged in World War II, and the subject of faltering restoration attempts for more than century, the beautiful palace of one of the last Ukrainian hetmans finally stands in all its glory. Kyrylo Rozumovskiy was once lauded by royalty, but his bid to gain more autonomy for Ukraine led to a fall from grace. What does a man who has lost all power do? In this case he builds a palace. What’s On details the palace’s amazing backstory and then goes on a tour.
The former ghost-town city of Baturyn in the Chernigiv region was gifted to Rozumovskiy by Empress Elizabeth in 1750 to allow him to transfer the capital of the Hetmanate (Ukrainian Cossack State) from Glukhiv to Baturyn soon after he was elected hetman. He transformed the city; setting up manufacturing, schools and a hospital with plans to establish a university. Rozumovskiy had grand designs and in 1754, he invited Italian architect Antonio Rinaldi, who had earned great prestige for his construction of the palace of Caserta near Naples, to look at possible designs for the city... But that was not to eventuate.
Rozumovskiy’s intentions to gain more autonomy for Ukraine were not met with enthusiasm by Imperial Russia and he was stripped of his role as hetman in 1764 and exiled from returning to his homeland. Only in 1794 did he return to Baturyn, his ego appearing unbruised. He still had grand plans and decided to establish a grandiose palace and park for himself. Thus, he commissioned Scottish architect Charles Cameron, a favourite of Empress Catherine II, who had designed palaces in Tsarkoye Selo, Pavlovsk and other places. However, this would be the first and only time one of Cameron’s designs would be realised in Ukraine. In 1799, construction of the neoclassical 55-room, three-storied palace along with two outbuildings and the park began.
Death, Demise And Resurrection
Rozumovskiy never got to see his dream home completed; in 1803 he died, aged 74. His death changed everything, decoration work on the palace stopped and it was abandoned. And so began its long decline. In 1824, a fire broke out that practically gutted the building.
The issue of restoration was first raised at the XIV All-Russian Archaeological Convention in 1908. Plans to restore it appeared to gain further traction the following year when Rozumovskiy’s great-grandson, Kamil Rozumovskiy, donated money for restoration with the idea of establishing a folk art museum. In 1911, the palace was placed under the guardianship of the Society for Preservation and Protection of the Architectural and Ancient Monuments in Russia and restoration began – an architect from St Petersburg, Oleksandr Bilogrud, oversaw the work until 1913.
But history was to intervene, World War I and the Russian Revolution led to the work being abandoned. A second fire extensively damaged the palace in 1923 and by this time the outbuildings were completely ruined. During World War II, the façade walls and decorative elements were seriously damaged. The second half of the 20th century saw several restoration attempts, which preserved the state of the palace, though none were completed. In 2002, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine adopted the Comprehensive Programme for Hetman Capital Monument Preservation and work began. In August 2009, the renovated palace complex opened – complete for the first time in its 200-year history.
Looking At The Dream
Rozumovskiy’s dream is now realised and it is impressive as we found out when we visited. The palace complex consists of the palace and the rebuilt outbuildings located on both sides of an extensively landscaped park. The main façade of the palace is decorated with a loggia featuring eight columns and offers a magnificent view of the river Seim valley. The opposite side of the façade is decorated with Tuscan columns and a balcony.
Inside the palace, on the ground floor, we are greeted by portraits of Rozumovskiy and the architect Cameron. The interiors are decorated with replicas of Rozumovskiy family portraits and portraits of Alexander I, his wife Elisabeth Alexseyivna and Catherine II. On the ground floor there is also a chapel with an altar and icons from the 18th century. A key part of the display is a priceless heirloom – Rozumovskiy’s own broadsword, which was presented to the palace by descendant Gregor Rozumovskiy at its official opening.
The dining hall is decorated with figures from Greek mythology, a theme we find will repeat throughout the palace. The dining table is huge, seats 20 and is adorned with 11 large candelabra from the 19th century. It’s opulent and it is honestly hard to take it all in in just one visit – you leave with a sense of awe, not just at the original ambition of Rozumovskiy, but also at the fact this place has risen again like a phoenix from the ashes.
Unfortunately, Ukraine is often too cash-strapped to finance the revival of historical monuments; this palace is one of the few positive exceptions. Hopefully it will become an example to follow.
by Oleksandra Obushna