With its orange-brick façade and gilded church spire, hemmed in by the waters of the Fontanka and Moika Rivers, Mikhailovsky Castle offers an enchanting first impression, but it’s the palace’s somber history that will stick in the minds of visitors. Built between 1797 and 1800 during the short reign of Emperor Paul I, the castle was the result of the enigmatic leader’s near-obsessive fear of being assassinated. Claiming that he was visited in a dream by the Archangel Michael and advised to build a castle on the site of his birthplace, the Tsar did just that – erecting a supposedly impenetrable fortress underlain with secret tunnels and protected by fortified ramparts, drawbridges and a moat. Somewhat ironically, fate stepped in, and just a month after moving into his safeguard the Tsar was murdered in his sleep.
Today, the beautifully preserved castle is a branch of the Russian Museum and hosts a number of temporary museum exhibits, as well as a permanent exhibition focusing on the building of the royal residence and the elaborate assassination plot of Paul I.