The Ice House – The Most Expensive Royal Joke

tpsdave (CC0), Pixabay

Anna of Russia, who ruled the country from 1730 to 1740,  certainly knew how to have fun. But many think that the empress often went too far in her jokes. Everyone still remembers (any many still judge) the famous Ice Wedding of 1740. Several years prior the event, knyaz Mikhail Golitsyn wedded a catholic woman and converted to a new religion during his trip it Italy. When empress learned about this she decided to punish knyaz by taking away his privileges and making him one of the many royal buffoons. He had to bear humiliation and sarcastic commentaries of royalty, serve them drinks during feasts. One day, Anna Ioannovna decided that he hadn’t had enough. She decided to wed him to one of her favourite clowns, kalmyck dwarf Avdotya, who was well known among the palace royalty for her very unpleasant looks.

Empress started preparations with great enthusiasm. The wedding was ought to take place in a giant Ice House that was supposed to be built on the Neva river. This project was probably one of the most ambitious architectural endeavours of the time.

The workers prepared big ice blocks, then stacked them and poured water over the structure. The winter of 1739 – 1740 was terribly cold, so water froze over the ice blocks almost immediately, fastening them together. Facade of the house was 16 meters long and 6 meters high, the roof was decorated with ice statues. Inside there were a guest room, a room for eating, a bedroom and a toilet. The bedroom had mirrors, a table, several candelabras, a bed for two, and a fireplace with firewood. All made of ice, of course. The interiors of the other rooms were also rather stunning. They had various furniture, statues, clock, playing cards and other decor. All of the items were, once again, made solely from ice and then painted in different colours. The House even had an ice sauna! And it was fully functioning one! The ice logs were covered with oil and then set on fire.

Such a grandiose project required a lot of work, the best architects and engineers spent many sleepless nights trying to find ways to bring it to life. The main architect of the ice structures was Pyotr Yeropkin, the creator of the first city plan of St. Petersburg, and the scientific part of the project was led by Georg Kraft, a physicist and a mathematician.

What is more, the house was not the only ice structure on the Neva river. In front of the main house 6 ice cannons were placed, as well as 2 mortar guns, all of them were even able to produce real shots. On the both sides of the Ice House two pyramids were built. Inside them was a hollow space where the servants hanged big lanterns.

On the way to the house impressive ice gates were built. On them one could see pots with ice plants, the plants even had branches and leaves. On the branches sat birds, also carved out from ice. Near the gates the workers placed two sculptures of dolphins, oil that was prior lit on fire was pouring out of their mouths. Another jaw-dropping sculpture right by the main house was a life-size ice elephant. On his back sat a figure of a Persian man, created from ice as well. The memories of the contemporaries say that during the day this elephant released the water jets that were 4 meters high, and during the night — jets of burning oil.

The wedding and all the preparations that went into it were shocking not only for the foreigners that got a chance to see it, but also for Russians themselves. Despite the grandeur and the decadent beauty of it, many people were furious that empress had spent so much money and effort on a practical joke that went too far. Was it too much? Probably. But was it spectacular? Definitely.

The Ice House and it’s complimenting structures stood through the whole winter, melting only in the April of 1740. All we have left from it are the memories of those who have seen it and the drawings of 18th century.

What do you think?

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