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1837: Fire in the Winter Palace

On the evening of 17 December 1837, smoke began pouring into the Fieldmarshals' Hall from the ventilation system. Firemen were called in to investigate the ventilation system, basements and attics, and discovered a smoking bast mat which they doused with water. But this was not the source of the fire, and only a few minutes later the wooden wall of the Hall collapsed and flames spread through the palace rooms. Today we know that the fault lay with errors in Auguste Montferrand's design, leaving only narrow ventilation canals between highly inflammable wooden partitions, canals which were in some cases half-filled with building rubbish. Emperor Nicholas II rushed back from an evening at the theatre, but he realized that it was impossible to stop the raging elements and the operation became a matter of salvaging everything they could from the flames rather than seeking to extinguish them. In order to prevent the flames spreading to the Small Hermitage and the collections housed there, the passages linking it with the Winter Palace were disassembled. This unprecedented fire destroyed the entire interior decoration of the sumptuous Imperial residence and with it a whole era in the history of the Palace.




The Fire in the Winter Palace in 1837
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