Palace Intrigue

Of all the city's extraordinary palaces, the Yusupov is probably the most historically significant. It is the only one that has survived more or less intact—and also the site of one of the 20th century's most notorious murders.

In 1830 Prince Nikolai Yusupov purchased this property on the Moika River as a family home. He and his descendants modified the original struc­ture many times, adding halls to display their art collection as well as a sumptuous theater that is like a miniature version of the Mariinsky. By the time the family fled the country, during the 1917 revolution, the home was an eclectic but utterly pleasing mélange of styles, from classical to Art Nouveau, with a bit of orientalist piquancy.

The last of the Yusupovs to live here were Felix and his wife, Irina, the niece of the czar Nicholas II. It was re­­portedly a happy, if unconventional, marriage. By his own account, Felix enjoyed dressing in women's clothing and cavorting with gypsy bands. He was, however, also a strident patriot. In 1916 he and several accomplices decided to rid Russia of the man they viewed as the greatest threat to the empire: Grig­ory Rasputin, the peasant healer with extraordinary— and pernicious—power over the imperial family. One De­­cem­ber night the conspirators lured Rasputin to the cellar, where they poisoned and shot him be­­fore throwing his body in the ice-covered Neva River. The cellar scene is now a tableau vivant of wax figures à la Madame Tussauds.

When the palace was appropriated by the gov­ern­ment, more than 1,000 paintings and rare manu­scripts were found in a secret room. They were even­tually dis­­tributed to museums, but the rest of the place re­­­­- mains as it had been. One can easily imag­ine the Yusupovs enjoying a concert in the music room, Irina primping in the Silver boudoir, or Felix re­­clin­ing in the Moorish drawing room wearing his mother's jewels. At 94 Naberezhnaya Reki Moiki; 7-812/314-9883;