Yusupov Palace was once home to one of the richest aristocratic families in the Russian Empire.
It also became infamous as the setting for an extremely bizarre murder; that of Grigori Rasputin.
On a cold winters day in 1916, the young owner of the Palace, Prince Felix Yusupov carried out his plan to have Rasputin knocked off.
It took potassium cyanide, 4 gunshots, and being dropped in the Neva River before the mystic and confidante of the last Russian emperor finally met his end.
The story is compelling enough, however, the fact the room where the initial assassination efforts took place is open to the public, makes for an essential dark tourist spot for those visiting St. Petersburg.
The Yusupov Palace is a striking, large yellow building on the Moika River embankment. Construction began in the 1770s, and upon completion, the 3-story Neo-classical building dominated downtown St. Petersburg.
The palace was originally built for Andrei Shuvalov, a privy councilor to the court of Catherine the Great.
However, in 1830 the manager of the imperial court, Prince Boris Yusupov purchased the property. The family was adding it their portfolio of 56 other properties they owned throughout the Russian Empire.
Designed by the famous French architect Jean-Baptiste Vallin de la Mothe no expense was spared.
The interiors were refurbished to meet the refined tastes of the Yusupov’s and up until the early 20th century, the palace was their main residence in St. Petersburg.
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The Yusupov Family
The Yusupov family descended from the ruler of the Nogai Horde. For all intense and purposes, (from a historical perspective) their noble status was equal to that of the Romanovs.
However, when it came to money in the bank and range of assets, the Yusupovs were arguably wealthier than the Russian imperial family.
With wealth comes power, and the Yusupovs could wield it. The family had been in with the Tsars since arriving in Moscow during the reign of Ivan the Terrible.
Demonstrating a shrewd gift for keeping the royals happy alongside growing the family fortunes, the Yusupovs were rewarded with lands and titles by subsequent tsars.
However, by the time the last Yusupov, Prince Felix became head of the family, the writing was on the wall for the aristocracy. The Bolsheviks were gaining support and for many of Russia’s old guard time was running out.
The prevailing politics of the street must have had an impact on young Felix. He found it “grotesque” to be surrounded by such grandeur and chose to live a small apartment on the palace grounds rather than the building proper.
The Prince’s unusual ways did not go unnoticed. Noble families of the Russian Empire would gossip about his sexuality (he liked to dress up in woman’s clothes) and the fact he lived so frugally.
That being said, like many Yusupovs, Felix was very close to the imperial family and his position in the royal court was never brought into contention.
On December 17, 1916, Prince Felix and accomplice Grand Duke Dmitry Pavlovich carried out their plan to murder Rasputin.
They saw him as a mere Siberian peasant who had managed to crawl his way into the inner circle of the last Russian emperor, Nicholas II.
Rasputin had developed a reputation as “a holy elder” and a healer. His gifts had led to a cure for the tsar’s son, Alexei, who suffered from hemophilia.
In the eyes of Nicholas II, Rasputin could do no wrong. In the eyes of the rest of the court, the “Peasant” exerted too much influence and needed to be banished.
On the day of the murder, Felix and the Grand Duke lured Rasputin to the prince’s apartment and offered him Madera and cakes laced with potassium cyanide.
However, the poison failed to work on Rasputin. One theory posits that the sugary cakes mixed with wine neutralized the poison. Either way, Rasputin was very much alive at the end of their soiree.
Frustrated, Yusupov picked up a pistol and shot Rasputin in the heart.
Again, the healer refused to die. Instead, he jumped at the young prince and tried to strangle him.
In the fight, more shots were fired. It is believed that at some point Rasputin succeeded in fleeing through a side door into a gated courtyard.
Here Rasputin was shot in the back, his body falling to the floor. The conspirators then took him back inside and a final bullet was aimed at his forehead.
Still, he clung onto life. One more step was required to actually expire Rasputin.
Felix and the Grand Duke wrapped his body in broadcloth and tired him with chains before throwing him into the Neva River.
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Where is Yusupov Palace?
- Address: Ulitsa Dekabristov, 21А, St Petersburg, Russia, 190000
- Admission fee: 450 rubles ($7) for a self-guided tour. 700 rubles ($11) for a tour with an audio guide.
Yusupov Palace Today
Yusupov Palace is packed with a fascinating history. There’s the apartment where Rasputin was first poisoned and shot of course; however, it is also worth the visit for the spectacular interiors.
The palace provides insight into how some of the wealthiest individuals of the Russian Empire lived.
The Rasputin Museum
The first port of call for any dark tourist visiting the palace is the Rasputin Museum.
This is situated in the basement and what was once Prince Felix’s humble apartment. It is also the site of the assassination.
Here you will find a grim recreation of the assassination using wax figurines. There is also information on the facts surrounding the murder and the subsequent investigation.
This is mostly in Russian, so opt for the audio guide that is available.
You can also pay extra for an English speaking tour guide. They will take you around the entire palace and are worth it in the Rasputin section just to hear them regale old ghost stories about the mystic’s demise.
Apparently, museum guards often hear steps in the basement at night even though they know the area to be empty.
With his alleged magical powers, Rasputin is said to prowl the palace corridors looking to enact his revenge on those that took his life.
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The Palatial Theatre
The theater inside Yusupov Palace is where you will find some of the building’s most extravagant interiors. Much of the original late-18th century splendor remains.
To revel in the grandiose atmosphere it is possible to watch a music and stage performance here; assuming you are lucky enough to be in St. Petersburg during a production. (Click here for details of Yusupov Palace’s event calendar).
Performances aside, the beauty of the empty stage will not be lost on you. The palatial theatre is a work of art.
Although modest when compared to other parts of the palace, the chapel boasts a history that makes it worth a peek inside.
It is still open for services at 10 a.m. every Wednesday so make it for then if you can. If that’s not convenient, arrive and transport yourself back in time to imagine the many important sacraments that have taken place within its walls.
The marriage of Felix Yusupov’s daughter Irina was held here as was the marriage of his mother and father.
Other areas of the Palace
Much of the palace is completely open for the public to explore. These sections demonstrate the aristocratic lifestyle of the Yusupov family.
The grand carved Oak Dining Room is as splendid as it sounds. The White Column Hall and colorful Moorish Drawing Room are also worthy of note.
Furthermore, many of the exhibits not only belonged to the Yusupov princes but are also placed exactly as they were before the Revolution began and the subsequent forced exile of the family.
One area I would have liked to have seen is unfortunately closed off to visitors. The courtyard where Rasputin attempted to flee from his murderers is now occupied by a local kindergarten.
Featured Image: Unknown author / Public domain