The mystery of the Mikhailovsky castle


The Mikhailovsky (or the Engineer’s) castle became infamous immediately after the death of Emperor Paul I, who was strangled in his bedroom in the castle. And no wonder the castle gained bad reputation, since Palace coups and the Emperor’s murder were not a common thing for Russian Empire after all.

Mikhailovsky castle
Paul I

Before its construction the palace became an obsession of the Emperor, who was terrified of possible conspiracies. He personally participated in its design and was looking forward to the completion of the work in order to quickly move to a new place where he thought he would feel safe. That’s why the whole process of the construction of the Mikhailovsky castle was carried out in a terrible rush. “Nothing could be more harmful to health as this housing” – wrote one of contemporaries. “Visible traces of humidity were everywhere in the rooms. And in the hall, where large historical paintings hung, I saw with my own eyes, in spite of the constant fire in two fireplaces, a strip of ice about an inch thick and a width of several palms that ran from top to bottom in the corner”. The new castle was deserted and cold, the painting on the facade was still wet, and only the Emperor and a small retinue dared to live in such inhospitable building. 

After the death of Paul I the Mikhailovsky castle was left without a master. Drawings, that kept secrets of the castle’s vaults, were destroyed by Brenna (an architect of the castle) himself, who left Russia in a year after the murder of the emperor. Since then, something mysterious began to happen in the place. It was told that after midnight in a completely empty and abandoned residence one could hear steps, moaning and sometimes even witness a weak dim light. People began to shun this place. Gloomy dilapidated palace surrounded by notoriety remained empty for almost 18 years.

“It was rumored that the restless soul of the murdered emperor visits the castle.”

And then in the XIX century by the order of the third son of Paul, the Grand Duke Nicholas (the future Emperor Nicholas I) the building housed the Military engineering school. Many interiors were rebuilt and even the name of the palace was changed: in February 1823 Mikhailovsky castle became known as Engineer’s.

Once a team of garrison soldiers, who had been overtaken by a rainstorm, was forced to spend the night in the yet empty palace. Senior officer allowed his subordinates to explore the former royal apartments. Just half an hour later  the soldiers returned with their face twisted of fear and kept feverishly crossing themselves. Reportedly, they had seen a ghost with a candle in his hand. It was rumored that the restless soul of the murdered emperor visits the castle.

Mikhailovsky castle
Mikhailovsky castle
Mikhailovsky castle
The new-built Mikhailovsky castle

Most likely, this hamletian story of the emperor’s ghost appearance was nothing more than a prank of the cadets. But it proves that for a long time after Paul’s death, mystical legends of the emperor’s destiny kept appearing, coloring a history of the Mikhailovsky castle in a dark tone of mystery and secrets.