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Gatchina, the name of both the town and the palace and park ensemble, dates back to distant times. The Gatchina Palace origin ally was a hunting lodge of grigory Orlov, a favorite of Catherine the Great. Later it became the residence of the Russian Emperors Paul 1, Nicolas 1, Alexander 2 and Alexander 111. It is remarkable not only as a work o art, but also as a witness to many most important historical events, political and intimate secrets of the royal family. In 1499 Gatchina was known as the village of Khotchino. In the early 18th century it belonged to Peter I's beloved sister Natalia Alexeyevna, then passed to the Kurakin princes. In 1765 Catherine II presented it to her favourite, Count Grigory Orlov, who shortly afterwards commissioned Antonio Rinaldi to create a huge palace and park there. In 1783, after Orlov's death, Gatchina became the residence of Catherine II's son and heir to the throne, the future Emperor Paul I. The Gatchina palace and park ensemble is one of the finest specimens of early Russian Neoclassicism. The palace, faced with local limestone and resembling a medieval English castle, was erected between 1766 and 1781. The interior decor was created by Russian masters according to designs by Rinaldi and Vincenzo Brenna. At the same time, Russia's first landscaped park was laid out. In the 1790s, the Gatchina palace was partly rebuilt by Brenna and in the 19th century it was again reconstructed by the architect Roman Kuzmin. Today visitors can enjoy the decor of the Anteroom, the Marble Dining-Room, the Throne, White and Picture Halls. The superb parquetry designs, painted ceilings, stuccowork, bronzes, furniture and gobelins are of immense artistic value. The palace's former art collections containing Russian and Western European paintings, porcelains, and Oriental objets d'art, are gradually being restored to their former owner. Visitors can also explore a mysterious subterranean passageway leading from the palace to the Echo grotto. On display is a remarkable collection of fire- and side-arms by I6th-20th century masters, begun by Count Grigory Orlov. On the parade ground, in front of the palace, is a bronze monument to Paul I, sculpted by Ivan
Vitali (1850-51). The Gatchina gardens and parks are laid out in a picturesque fashion and abound with diverse vegetation, planted with due regard to the different hues of leaves and needles. There are numerous bridges, terraces and spectacular stone staircases. The Eagle Pavilion on Dlinny (Long) Island, the Venus Pavilion on the "Island of Love", the Birch and Admiralty Gates, the Forest Hothouse (architect Brenna), the Aviary (architect Andrean Zakharov) never fail to catch the attention of visitors. The Prior's Palace, made of tamped earth, looks like a medieval castle (1797-99, architect Nikolai Lvov). Gatchina's famous parks are centered around its picturesque lakes and ponds - the White and Silver Lakes, the Carpiev Pond - and the islands and peninsulas in-between.