The Big Gatchina Palace (Большой Гатчинский дворец) was built in 1766-1781 in Gatchina town (Russia) by Antonio Rinaldi project for count Grigori Grigoryevich Orlov that was a favourite for Ekaterina II. The Big Gatchina Palace located on the hill above lake Serebryannoe. It combine themes of a medieval castle and a country residence. Palace interiors is a model of russian classicism at the turn of XVIII—XIX centuries. The Big Gatchina Palace was one of the favourite resting place for Tsar's family.
The Empress took such a great liking of the Gatchina Palace and park, that at Orlov's death in 1783, she bought it from his heirs and presented it to her son, the future Emperor Paul I.
Paul I was the owner of Gatchina for eighteen years, he invested much resources as well as used his experience from his travels around Europe to make Gatchina the exemplary town and residence. During the 1790s, Paul expanded and rebuilt much of the palace, and renovated palatial interiors in the sumptuous Neoclassical style (illustration, left). Paul I graced the park with numerous additions, bridges, gates, and pavilions, such as "The Isle of Love" , "The Private garden", "The Holland garden" and "The Labyrinth" among many other additions. In 1796, after the death of his mother, Catherine the Great, Paul became Emperor Paul I of Russia, and granted Gatchina the status of the Imperial City - official residence of the Russian Emperors.
A remarkable monument of Paul's reign is Priory Palace on the shore of the Black Lake. Constructed for the Russian Grand Priory of the Order of St John, it was presented to the Order by a decree of Paul I of Russia dated August 23, 1799.
After Paul's death the grand palace and park were owned by his widow, Maria Feodorovna, from 1801 to 1828. Then Emperor Nicholas I was the owner from 1828 to 1855. He made the most significant expansion of the palaces and parks, adding the Arcenal Halls to the main palace. The Arsenal Halls served as the summer residence of Tsar Nicholas I and his court. In 1851, Tsar Nicholas I opened the monument to his father, Paul I, in front of the Gatchina Palace. In 1854 the railroad between St. Petersburg and Gatchina was opened. At that time the city of Gatchina's territory was expanded by incorporation of several villages and vicinity.
Alexander II of Russia used Gatchina Palace as his second residence. He built a Hunting village and other additions for his Imperial Hunting Crew, and turned the ares south of Gatchina into his retreat, where the Tsar and his guests could indulge in living country-style among unspoiled wilderness and woods of north-western Russia. Alexander II made updates and renovations in the Main Gatchina Palace.
Alexander III of Russia made Gatchina his prime residence, after experiencing a shock and stress of his father's assassination and the palace became known as 'The Citadel of Autocracy' after the Tsar's reactionary policies. He lived most of his time in Gatchina Palace. Here Alexander III made his official state announcements, diplomatic receptions, theatrical performances, masquerades and costumed balls, and other events and entertainment. During his reign, Alexander III introduced major technological modernization in the Gatchina Palace and parks, such as electric lights, telephone network, non-freezing water pipes and modern sewage system.
Nicholas II, the last Russian tsar, spent his youth in the Gatchina Palace. His mother, Empress Maria Fedorovna, widow of Alexander III, was the patron of the city of Gatchina and Gatchina Palace and parks.