The Grand Menshikov palace, is the oldest construction of Oranienbaum. In its courtyard and its surroundings, one can plainly feel the spirit of that time, the epoch of transformation and battling for the entrance to the Baltic sea. It is situated almost at the water level of the gulf, connected with the sea, directed to it, as if embodying the main goal of all the work of Peter I's time - the affirmation of Russia on the coast of the freed sea.
A.D. Menshikov, particularly participated in the creation of the palace, having been pledged on his order, on the border of the naturally formed elevation. For the construction of his residence, the Grand duke invited the foreign architects: F. Fontana, J.F. Braunstein and I.G. Schädel.
The compositional center piece of the palace, is a two-story block enthroned with the princely crown, adjoined by the single-story rounded galleries, with two pavilions. At its footsteps, by the masters Vitzslav and Graz, a regular garden was created, decorated with sculptures and fountains. The guests were arriving at the palace by the Sea canal, dug out in 1719.
The sumptuous appearance of the palace, its grand extent and rich interiors, evoked admiration and amazement. At the homestead, there were many "wonders" expecting the guests. For example, in the center of the eastern gallery, there used to be a "Turkish bath", with a glass ceiling, that was visited by the emperor Peter I himself. The halls and the living rooms, were decorated with stuccoes, paintings on canvases, tapestries, marble, lead-gilded window frames and the walls of many rooms, were faced with Dutch and German tiles. There were two special resting rooms, thought for the emperor, the bedroom and the front room. Their adornment was relatively simple, only the fireplace and the walls were faced with Dutch tiles.
The unbelievable luxury of the Grand Duke's suburban residence, even swept away the Peterhof at the time. But after Menshikov got in proscription, all his estates were confiscated into the state treasury. In 1743, the empress Elizabeth Petrovna granted Oranienbaum to the heir of the Russian throne, the Grand Duke Peter Feodorovich, thereafter the emperor Peter III.
Specifically in Peter Feodorovich's time, here, the eastern pavilion of the Great Menshikov's Palace, received its current name - "Japanese". By the decree of the Grand Duke, a collection of expensive porcelain was placed there. The legend says, that precisely in the "Japanese" pavilion, on the 29th of June 1762, after having ruled for only 186 days, the emperor signed renunciation from the throne, in honor of his wife, who became the empress Catherine II, and the new landlady of Oranienbaum.
On early stages of its existence, Oranienbaum was destined to become the witness of the main tragedies during the era of the palace coups. But the XIX century, was the time of the relative calm, when the Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, became a true guardian angel of the residence. The new landlady, was looking and finding different forms of self-expression, having made Oranienbaum completely different and ingenious, without loosing its former beauty. In the middle of the XIX century, the palace interiors were altered by the designs of the prominent architects: A.I. Stakenschneider, H. Bosse, L. Bohnstedt, G. Preuss, in the style of Eclecticism, fashionable at the time, when it was allowed to blend the various style elements. Oranienbaum, was transferred in possession from Elena Pavlovna, to her daughter Catherine Mikhailovna, and later to her grandchildren - the German Dukes, Mecklenburg-Strelitz.
In 1918, the palace was transferred under the management of the Local council, and was under the protection of the property committee ("commissariat") of the Republic. Inside the Great palace, in different times there were: the hospital, the agricultural school, the carpenter's college and its dormitory. In 1934, the building of the palace were transferred to the Navy - the space of the Church's pavilion, was divided by inter floors ceilings, and the unique iconastas of the XXVIII century, was dismantled. Only in 1995, the handover of the Great palace to the Museum reserve, has begun. It opened its doors to visitors, as a museum, in September 2011.
During the three-century history of the Grand Menshikov palace, the times of prosperity were often followed by periods of oblivion and decay. Nevertheless, the palace avoided the catastrophic destructions, the radical rearrangements and preserved until our days, as one of a very few authentic monuments of the Russian architecture, of the first half of the XVIII century.