The multi-faceted Ropsha Project
Not far from Petersburg, approximately 40 kilometers to the Southwest
of the city, there is a unique historical and cultural monument which
has with justification been entered in the list of UNESCO world heritage
sites - the celebrated Ropsha estate. It survived the war and barely managed
to avoid becoming one more link in the splendid necklace of museum-preserves
in the St Petersburg area and in order to avoid being erased from the
face of the earth it calls out for our assistance.
The State Hermitage's Volunteer Service was created through the efforts
of enthusiastic supporters in the days preceding the three hundredth anniversary
of the founding of St Petersburg. It continues to develop successfully
and gains experience while helping departments of the Hermitage to implement
projects within the museum and educational programs. The Volunteers could
not quietly stand by while a very valuable monument of world culture perishes.
Having been given an opportunity to acquaint themselves with the history
of Ropsha through documents and outstanding works of art which once were
located in the Ropsha palace, they worked out a multi-faceted program
to save and revive the ensemble. This program includes a number of interesting
One of the projects to be undertaken by the State Hermitage's Volunteer
Service jointly with the Ropsha General Education Secondary School is
creation of a Christmas Tree Museum on the territory of the palace and
ROPSHA. Christmas Tree Museum
The museum is dedicated to the history of celebrating the New Year in
Russia and, in particular, the history of how the main symbol of this
holiday, the Christmas tree, made its appearance in our country. In the
future the museum should become not only a place for exhibiting children's
artwork but also an active center of children's creativity. School children
will take a very active part in.the creation of the museum dedicated to
the history of New Year celebrations. According to the plans, new museum
exhibitions in Ropsha will display the results of competitions for the
best creative works by children held by the State Hermitage at the initiative
of the Volunteer Service.
Ropsha was not chosen by accident as the site for establishing the future
museum. The appearance of Christmas trees in Russia is inseparably linked
with the name of one of the owners of the Ropsha estate - Empress Alexandra
Fedorovna (nee Princess Charlotte of Prussia), the wife of Emperor Nicholas
I. "Alexandra Fedorovna brought with her from her native Germany
the tradition of lovely family holidays for children and introduced them
into the life of the tsarist family. On Christmas Eve, an entire forest
of Christmas trees was set up in one of the halls of the palace. Each
member of the family and some close friends found gifts under a Christmas
tree. The small children received toys, while the older ones got books,
clothing, silver items; and the adults were given precious trifles and
sometimes even furniture."
The Ropsha estate was itself a Christmas gift to Alexandra Fedorovna
from Nicholas I. This took place 180 years ago, on New Year's Eve, 31
December/ 1 January 1826. "I present to My Dearest Wife, My Alexandra
Fedorovna the farmsteads of Ropsha and Kipen, with all of the settlements,
buildings and institutions belonging to them." (citation from the
Complete Laws of the Russian Empire).
Gifts made by children
One of the principles of bringing up children in the imperial family was
to teach them the value of work. On Christmas and New Year's, Emperor
Nicholas I accepted only those gifts which were made by his children themselves.
It was Alexandra Fedorovna who brought into the family the tradition of
homemade gifts. The Russian Empress had spent her childhood in Eastern
Prussia, in Koenigsberg (nowadays, Kaliningrad), where the Prussian royal
family was forced to flee from Napoleon. This was a very complex time
in the life of the royal family: in their exile, they were in dire need.
However, all her life Charlotte preserved the memory of how as children
they made their own decorations and "precious things" made of
flowers as gifts for their mother, Queen Louise.
Children's contribution to the preservation of the cultural heritage
The creators of the Christmas Tree Museum attach great importance to opportunity
they have been given to make a contribution to the cultivation in children
of a respect for the history and traditions of our country, as well as
to a respectful behavior towards monuments of architecture and art. Today
the Ropsha estate, a unique monument of architecture is in a pitiful state.
The creation of a new museum and center of children's creativity in Ropsha
will help to draw attention to the problem of the estate's dilapidation.
It is very important that every participant feel that he is not only taking
part in educational projects of the State Hermitage but also is making
a contribution to the rebirth of a unique monument of the world's heritage.
In order to achieve these objectives, a concept has been developed which
comprises a whole complex of different undertakings. Besides the competitions
of children's artwork carried out by the State Hermitage with support
from and cooperation with the committees on education of St Petersburg
and the Leningrad Oblast, there are plans for implementing a program of
activities together with enterprises and institutions involved in different
types of activity and representing different forms of ownership but having
a common goal - to draw attention to the problem of saving our cultural
heritage. Among the successful projects is a fruitful collaboration with
the Russian Post Office, which has spilled over into a number of joint
educational programs and measures. By carrying out joint events and holidays
devoted to different monuments located on the territory of the Ropsha
estate as well as numerous memorial events related to the history of Ropsha,
we should attract the public's attention to the problem of saving this
Fish Hatcheries Center
The organization of festive events in Ropsha has been possible thanks
to close cooperation between the Volunteer Service and the Federal Breeding
and Genetic Center for Pisciculture. The only building on the territory
of the ensemble which is being carefully preserved by staff of this oldest
scientific center in Russia, occupied with issues of raising fish stocks
since the 18th century, is the former building of the Paper Factory, built
according to architectural plans by Yu. Felten. This building has regularly
been the venue for concerts and with the participation of the State Hermitage's
Volunteer Service, it is where exhibitions have been arranged.
The Ropsha School
Collaboration with the Ropsha General Education Secondary School, which
was founded with the direct participation of Empress Alexandra Fedorovna,
is valuable for the implementation of what may be the most important area
of work by the volunteers - the social dimension, oriented towards work
with children. This gives the volunteers the opportunity to become acquainted
with the peculiarities of life in the Russian countryside. The plans are
to set up the first exhibition of the Christmas Tree Museum precisely
within the regional museum located in the Ropsha school. One important
phase in the joint work will be marked by the school's being renamed in
honor of Empress Alexandra Fedorovna.
One of the aspects of implementing the Volunteer Service's international
educational project for creation of a Christmas Tree Museum is the organization
The work on each project includes not just methodical development of
documentation and active cooperation with departments of education and
with schools all around Russia, but it also entails the preparation of
new proposals that may be interesting for Russian and foreign benefactors
who are not indifferent to the fate of the palace and park ensemble in
Ropsha, a site which has great importance not just for Russian history
but for world history.
Information about these and other projects of the State Hermitage's Volunteer
Service may be found on the internet site www.ropsha.ru . The development
of this site is yet another important informational project of our enthusiastic
volunteers, who are united under the roof of one of the greatest museums
of the world.