Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Hunt Is On for Royal Treasure

ST. PETERSBURG — When the events of 1917 hit Petrograd, members of the Imperial family who hadn't yet been driven abroad by the mass demonstrations demanding their blood made a mad dash from the city, carrying all the valuables they could.

But some royals — either fearing their treasures would be looted by the angry hordes or that the massive collections of jewels, gold, art and other valuables would be too unwieldy — buried their heirlooms, hoping the 1917 uprisings would be short-lived.

Amid harsh criticism from all sides, State Duma Deputy Konstantin Sevenard is banking on this version of events.

Sevenard announced last week he knows the whereabouts of a long-lost royal cache in the city now called St. Petersburg. In particular, he claims to know the location of the treasures of legendary ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya and her husband, Great Prince Andrei Romanov.

The booty, according to Sevenard, is buried 10 to 20 meters underground in the family's former mansion on the Petrograd side, which now houses the Russian Museum of Political History. After the family's flight, the mansion housed a division of the provisional government until it was taken over by the Bolsheviks. Vladimir Lenin often addressed the masses from its balcony at 4 Ulitsa Kuybysheyeva.

"This will be a very important archeological find on a global scale, because such major hiding places haven't been found for a long time," said Sevenard.

He anticipates finding priceless china, works of art, sculptures, weaponry, and ancient Roman artifacts, which he claims were collected by Kshesinskaya.

Sevenard also said he would finance the project — which by his estimates will cost about $1 million — and then donate the treasures to the city.

"I think that this will be an exceptional gift to city on the occasion of its tricentennial," he said, referring to the 300th anniversary of the city in 2003.

Sevenard, who is the great grandson of Kshesinskaya's brother, says he learned about the hiding places from descendants of the Romanovs in France in the early 1990s. He said that information was confirmed last fall when the museum underwent repairs on its utilities systems and two of the hiding places were discovered.

"We haven't dug up the valuables yet. The work will probably begin in August" after approval to dig is granted by the Culture Ministry, Sevenard said.

Sevenard's methods and possible motives for treasure hunting have rankled a number of people.

"I am almost positive that there is no treasure there, that this is some sort of mistake or legend," said Yevgeny Torshin, an archeologist at the Hermitage Museum which, along with the archeological arm of the Russian Academy of Sciences, has been enlisted to review on the matter.

Doubt runs even thicker in the corridors of the Culture Ministry.

"There is no proof that something has been buried in this place," said Anna Kolupayeva, head of the ministry's museum department.

According to Yevgeny Artyomov, the director of the Russian Museum of Political History, Kshesinskaya fled her estate during the February Revolution. From then on, "Revolutionary life was active here day and night through November of 1917," he said.

Artyomov said it would be impossible for Kshesinskaya to have buried her valuables, especially 10 to 20 meters below ground, amid such turmoil.

"It's absurd. It's a fantasy. No treasures are located on the territory of the estate," he said.

Sevenard, however, was equally scornful about his critics, chalking up their doubts to resentment toward Russia's imperial history. "They are all afraid of everything," he said.