Ice Russia. Russia, being the coldest country of the world, is naturally the place where the first known ice palace (20 meters tall and 50 meters wide) appeared. Russia had done the most amazing Ice show that for almost three centuries, was not surpassed by anyone in the world. It was in the cold winter of 1739–1740, in St. Petersburg, when Russian Empress Anna Ivanovna gave an order to build a palace made of ice in St. Petersburg. The garden was filled with ice trees with ice birds and an ice statue of an elephant. The outer walls were lined with ice sculptures. Before the palace there were artillery pieces also made of ice. The palace was also furnished with furniture made of ice, including an ice bed with ice mattress and pillows. The whole structure was surrounded with a tall wooden fence.
The palace and the surrounding festivities were part of the celebration of Russia’s victory over the Ottoman Empire. She ordered the architect Pyotr Yeropkin to design the building. It was built under the supervision of Georg Kraft, who left a detailed description of the palace.
The festivities involving the Ice Palace included a mock wedding of two jesters. Prince Mikhail Alekseyevich Galitsin had married an Italian woman. Empress Anna saw this as an affront because she was a Catholic, not Eastern Orthodox. The wife died soon after but Anna did not forgive Galitzine and decided to punish him in an unusual manner. She first ordered him to become a jester.
The Empress selected prince Galitsin a new wife, an unattractive Kalmyk maidservant Avdotya Ivanovna Buzheninova. She forced the prince to marry her and displayed the newlyweds in a procession where they rode an elephant, dressed as clowns, and were followed by a number of circus freaks and farm animals. In the palace the newlyweds were closed naked into an icy nuptial chamber under heavy guard. The couple survived the night because the bride traded a pearl necklace with one of the guards for a sheepskin coat.
Empress Anna died the following year and the castle did not survive the next summer. The Russian reading public was made aware of Anna’s mock palace in 1835, when Ivan Lazhechnikov (1792–1869) described her escapade in The Ice House, one of the first historical novels in the language. The novel was made into a film as early as 1927. The Mirrored World (2012), a novel by the author of The Madonnas of Leningrad, also depicts this episode in history.
Now, traditional winter festivals of ice sculpture take place all over Russia – in Moscow, Khabarovsk, Irkutsk, Penza, Novosibirsk, Angarsk, Cheremkhovo, Shelekhov, Krasnoyarsk, Ulyanovsk and many other cities. The most successful teams represent Russia at the World Festivals and Championships of ice sculptures, which are understandably held in countries with cold winters – Sweden, Canada, USA (Alaska), China, Great Britain, Japan. It has become a tradition for talented Russian sculptors (Vladimir Zhikhartsev, Sergei Loginov, and Vitaliy Lednev) to get prizes and awards at such competitions.