hidden europe 65

Erasing the tsar

by hidden europe

Picture above: The Hermitage Pavilion at Tsarskoye Selo near Saint Petersburg (photo © Natalia Rumyantseva / dreamstime.com).


In the Russian town of Pushkin, not far from St Petersburg, there’s a district called Tsarskoye Selo – a sweep of palaces and gardens which was once the summer home of the Romanov family.

The preceding article explores how historical narratives are shaped over generations, and how street names reflect a historical understanding that now seems outdated. But what happens when there is a great caesura? A very good example is Russia’s October Revolution, which brought the Bolsheviks to power in autumn 1917.

When it came to the touchy subject of toponyms, the key early imperative for the new Bolshevik government was to remove a Tsarist overlay in the country’s place names. The politicisation of Russian cartography with all manner of places named after party leaders, living or dead, only came much later.

One of the very first place names to be changed was Tsarskoye Selo (Царское Село), which means ‘Tsar’s Village’. It’s an understated name for the grand sweep of palaces and parkland which was the summer haunt of the Romanov family just south of Saint Petersburg.

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