Tsarskoye Selo (Ца́рское Село́; "Tsar's Village") is a former Russian residence of the imperial family and visiting nobility south from the center of St. Petersburg. It is now part of the town of Pushkin and of the World Heritage Site Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments.
In the 17th century, the estate belonged to a Swedish noble. Its original Finnish name is usually translated as "a higher ground". Max Vasmer, on the other hand, derives this toponym from the Finnish word for island, "saari". In any case, the Finnish name came to be pronounced by the 18th-century Russians as "Sarskoye Selo", later changed to "Tsarskoye Selo" (i.e., "the royal village").
In 1708, Peter the Great gave the estate to his wife—future Empress Catherine I—as a present. She founded the Blagoveschenskaya (Annunciation) church there in 1724, changing the name of the settlement to Blagoveschenskoye, but this artificial derivation quickly went out of use.
It was Catherine who started to develop the place as a royal country residence. Her daughter, Empress Elizabeth and her architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli were largely responsible for the building of the Catherine Palace. Later Empress Catherine II of Russia and her architect Charles Cameron extended the Palace building what is now known as the famous Cameron Gallery. Currently, there are two imperial palaces: the baroque Catherine Palace with the adjacent Catherine Park and the neoclassical Alexander Palace with the adjacent Alexander Park. The Catherine Palace is surrounded by a regular (French) garden and a landscape (English) park, with such 18th-century structures as Dutch Admiralty, Creaking Pagoda, Chesme Column, Rumyantsev Obelisk, and Marble Bridge. The landscape Alexander Park has several Chinoiserie structures, notably the Chinese Village.
By the end of the 18th century, Tsarskoye Selo became a popular place of summer residence among the nobility. The guards' regiments were stationed to the south of Tsarskoye Selo, where Catherine the Great founded in the 1770s the town of Sophia (her own German name being Sophie). The five-domed neoclassical Ascension Cathedral, designed by the Scottish architect Charles Cameron, is the chief monument of that area. In 1808, Sophia and Tsarskoye Selo merged and became one town.
In 1811, Alexander I opened the celebrated Lyceum next door to the Catherine Palace. Aleksandr Pushkin was one of the first graduates, followed by Alexander Gorchakov and Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin. The literary traditions of Tsarskoye Selo were continued in the 20th century by such notable poets as Anna Akhmatova and Innokenty Annensky.
The town escaped the 19th-century industrialization, although it was between Tsarskoye Selo and St. Petersburg that the first Russian railroad was built in 1837. It was also known for its powerful government radio station that was set up here in 1917. In the spring of 1917, Emperor Nicholas II was held under arrest in his favourite residence, the Alexander Palace.
In 1918, the Tsar's Village was renamed by the Bolsheviks into Detskoye Selo (Children's Village) and in 1937 it was renamed again to the town of Pushkin, thus commemorating the centenary of the poet's death.
On September 17, 1941 the German Nazis occupied the town of Pushkin, destroying, ravaging and plundering many historical monuments, buildings and other cultural artifacts, including the famous Amber Room. The Soviets liberated the town on January 24, 1944. After the war, Tsarskoye Selo has been painstakingly reconstructed up to the present. Many rooms in the Catherine Palace have been restored, but much work on the palatial church and the Alexander Palace is still under way.