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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hotel Museum Celebrates Russia's Most Famous Thespian Family

Some St. Petersburg visitors will now be able to enjoy at least one of the city's museums without even having to leave their hotel. Theater buffs staying at the Nevskij Palace Hotel in the city center can check out the hotel's new memorial museum, dedicated to one of Russia's most famous theatrical dynasties, the Samoilov family.


"The Nevskij Palace didn't leave much of the old St. Petersburg atmosphere when it remodeled the building," says Natalya Metelitsa, the new museum's assistant director. "But now guests can experience that atmosphere without leaving the building."


The hotel, which comprises several old houses along Nevsky Prospekt, was built partly from the 19th-century home of Vasily Samoilov, an actor with the Alexandrinsky Imperial Theater. When permission was given to create the hotel, one of the conditions laid down by the city was that Samoilov's apartment should be preserved.


Between 1803 and 1948, the Samoilov name was a continuous feature of theatrical posters throughout the city. Thirteen members of the family ultimately graced the Russian stage, creating a cultural dynasty adored by St. Petersburg theater-goers.


"Vasily Samoilov knew European theater well and traveled often," says Roza Sadykhova, who created the exhibit. "In many ways he created the concept of the city's theater, a European concept. The Samoilovs were not part of the Russian theater clan. In the last part of the 19th century in Samoilov's house Russian artists and poets like Aivasovsky, Repin and Nekrasov were frequent visitors."


After Vasily's death, the house was sold and most of his possessions were auctioned off by the actor's third wife. Because of this, Sadykhova says, accurately restoring all six rooms of the apartment was impossible. Only one of the rooms is a faithful representation of the actor's living style; another room features memorabilia belonging to the entire family dynasty and a third commemorates the St. Petersburg theater culture itself, with photographs, props and a huge collection of costumes, including some from an 1840 production of "Hamlet."


Until a few months ago, the objects featured in the Vasily Somoilov room were stored in the modest Tsaritsyno apartment of the actor's great-granddaughter, Esther Somoilov.


"I remember how I danced on that table," she says, pointing out a huge writing table in the museum. "Over 150 years the dynasty fell into inevitable decline. Unfortunately, we had to sell a huge theater chandelier to one of the nouveau riche. The ceilings in our apartment were too low to hang it, and the museum couldn't afford to buy it."


Ferdinand Wieland, the Nevskij Palace's general manager, said he was pleased by the addition of the museum. "I am very glad that our hotel now includes a part that belongs beyond a doubt to the Russian people," he says, adding that the museum plans to purchase a number of Russian cultural objects now located abroad to bring back to Russia to be auctioned off by the museum.