Near the Zubov Block of the Catherine palace a unique complex of structures was built in 1779-1795. It makes up an integral architectural complex that harmonizes well with Rastrelli’s part of the palace. This is where the Agate Rooms are situated.
In the early 1770s Catherine had a desire to have in her garden a “Greek-Roman rapsody”. She made a request to European artists who corresponded with her “to search in Greek or Roman antiquity ….a house that is a complete set of furnishings.” Catherine was advised to put up an “ancient house” of the Roman Thermae type.
The construction was entrusted to Charles Cameron as he lived in Italy for a long time and for more than 20 years studied the architecture of ancient baths and even wrote a book about them. In the architectural ensemble created by Cameron, the central place is given to the Cold Bath Pavilion or the Agate Rooms. Its composition betrays the architect’s infatuation with Roman thermae. Its layout, outward design and the interiors are done with an exquisite taste and tact – all in this building is pervaded with the spirit of antiquity.
The exterior of the Agate rooms is remarkable for its elegant simplicity and clear-cut proportions. The upper floor is high and light. It is plastered with strucco of tender-yellow colours, against the background of which stands out the profiled cornice band, semicircular terracotta-coloured “Pompeian” niches with stone statues standing in them and with high rectangular “French” balconies with elegant railings. In the upper part of the walls are placed round moulded bas-relief medallions with mythological compositions. The central front is adorned by sculpture of dark bronze: copies of ancient statues and busts, and statues depicting the four elements – Air, Water, Fire and Earth – works by the French sculptor Lamber Sigisbere Adam.
But Cameron’s unrivalled skill as decorator especially revealed itself in the design of the interiors of the Agate Rooms. Employing the motifs characteristic of the imperial structures of Rome, the architect attained in them a combination of intimate volumes and monumental decoration. In the wealth of its decoration the pavilion is on a par with the state rooms of the Catherine palace.
The principal hall of the Agate rooms that served as a place for amusements, games and feasts, is designed like a hall in Diocletian’s Thermae. The matt tender peach-colour artificial marble of the walls, the grey-pink Olonets marble of the eight Corinthian columns, the white Carrara marble of standard lamps shaped like ancient female figures with gilded lamps, and porphyry vases set in niches create a noble color gamut. This exquisite chromatic solution is further enriched by mahogany and rosewood panels of the door and many-coloured inlaid parquet floor produced from drawings by Yury Felten. An important role in the decoration of the interior belongs to numerous ornaments of gilded bronze.