Peterhof

 

The marble obelisk by the railings of the Upper Garden in Peterhof has the numbers 26 and 29 engraved upon it. The first indicates versts (the old Russian measure of distance) and the second – kilometers. This was the distance from the Obvodnoy Canal, the old limit of St. Petersburg, to Peterhof, the former country residence of the Russian Emperors and now the world-famous park and palace museum ensemble of 18th- and 19th- century Russian art in the town of Peterhof.

In May 1703 at the mouth of the River Neva Peter the Great founded the city of St Petersburg which became Russia’s new capital in 1712. To defend the town from attack by sea construction began in 1703 of a fortress, later named Kronstadt, on the island of Kotlin which guarded the entrance to the eastern end of the Gulf of Finland. Peter personally supervised the building of the fortress. The way to the new fortress from Saint Petersburg was by sea, but in inclement weather you had to travel along the southern shore of the Gulf, where a small house was built for Peter to rest.

To the east of this in 1714 construction began of the Upper Chambers (the future Great Palace). It was not fitting for the emperor to stay, albeit for a short while, in a lowly cottage. So another project was launched to construct a small palace called Montplaisir. Drawings and notes on documents show that the overall plan and the detailed design of some of the architectural elements belong to the tsar himself, a man of many talents and interests.

The first general plan of Peterhof was drawn up in 1716 by the architect Johann Friedrich Braunstein. It shows that by this year the layout of the central and eastern sections of the Lower Park was mostly completed. In 1720, work began on the Chateau de Marly, this determining not only the western limit of the park, but also its architectural center from which three avenues fan out across the park from west to east. A year later the Hermitage Pavilion was built on the seashore symmetrical with Montplaisir. Together with the avenue from the Upper Chambers to Montplaisir and the Marine Canal, the avenue to the Hermitage Pavilion formed another trident running from the terrace to the sea. This completed the main network of avenues.

The construction of this residence [Peterhof Palace], in a very lovely setting, was begun in 1720. The Palace, located on a 60 feet high hill, was built by Leblond under the direction of Peter the Great and became one of the main attractions of the city. Although all the emperors and empresses have left their mark on the architecture with later additions and alterations, the character of the set is the same as that of all the palaces built by Peter the First. The yellow color itself, which was its original color is always renewed, and the architecture of all these buildings offers nothing more remarkable than any great Tsar had built during his reign.

St Petersburg Guide, Jean Bastin, 1874

The Lower Park was set out like a typical formal French Garden. As in Versailles it was originally conceived as a park with fountains. In selecting this site for Peterhof, Peter took into account the abundant supply of water that could be used to feed the fountains. The emperor entrusted the planning of the hydraulic system for the fountains to the 23-year old Vasily Tuvolkov, who had studied hydraulic engineering in Holland and France. Under his supervision in the summer of 1721 the sluice and ducts were installed along which the first water flowed to Peterhof on 9 August, 1721. Construction of the fountains and improvement of the hydraulic system continued up to the middle of the 19th century.

The Lower Park is the most beautiful. Nature has blessed it with magnificent views of the Gulf of Finland, and all the resources of art and wealth have been devoted to its decoration. It slopes down to the beach in terraces laid out in gardens, irrigated by sparkling streams and fountains, and shaded by oaks and limes, some of which Peter planted with his own hands. The waters are collected in ponds and lakelets, in which large fish swim lazily about waiting their appointed meal-times. Out of the waters rise Neptunes, Nymphs, Tritons, dolphins, storks, swans, and fantastic rocks and grottoes copied from the engravings in a famous eighteenth century book on Landscape Gardening.

Through Finland to St. Petersburg, Alexander Scott, 1914

The formal opening of Peterhof took place on 15 August, 1723. By then some of the fountains were already working, the Upper Chambers, the Montplaisir Palace and the Chateau de Marly had been built, and the Hermitage Pavilion nearly completed. With the death of Peter the Great in 1725, followed by that of his wife Catherine I in 1727, building in Peterhof ceased. The court moved back to Moscow, and the Imperial residence fell into neglect. The buildings became dilapidated, the paths overgrown, and only when Peter’s niece Anne came to power in 1739 did Peterhof come to life again: new fountains were built and those begun during Peter’s lifetime were completed.

The real flowering of Peterhof is associated with Peter’s daughter Elizabeth who ruled from 1741 to 1761. Between the mid-forties and mid-fifties the architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli turned the Upper Chambers into the sumptuous Great Palace, built the Catherine Wing of Montplaisir and designed some new fountains.

The situation of Peterhof is perhaps unrivaled. About five hundred fathoms from the sea shore this region has a second cliff, almost perpendicular, near twelve fathoms high. Bordering on this precipice stands the palace, thereby acquiring a certain peculiar prospect over the gardens and the gulf, to the shores of Karelia, to St. Petersburg, and to Cronstadt.

The Picture of Petersburg, Heinrich Friedrich von Storch, 1801

In 1762 as a result of a palace coup the Russian throne went to Catherine II. The new Empresses’ interests and ideals were in keeping with the Classical style then prevalent in Russia. In 1770 she commissioned the architect Giacomo Quarenghi to begin construction of New Peterhof to the south-west of the Upper Gardens. Quarenghi designed the English Park and built the English Palace, a fine specimen of Classical architecture.

Subsequent master brought good and bad times to the history of Peterhof. Some monarchs forgot about it and left it to decay, while others remembered it and new fountains, sculptures and palaces appeared in its grounds.

With the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, more than 10 palaces and pavilions at Peterhof were turned into museums.

The 1941 season was due to open on June 22, but on that very day the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union. In the very first few weeks several trainloads of museum exhibits were removed from Petehof to safety far away from the enemy. The marble sculptures were buried in the Lower Park and the bronze was hidden in an old drainage tunnel on the slope of the terrace below the Great Palace. But a great deal could not be removed or hidden in time. On September 23 the Germans broke into Peterhof.

The same day they set fire to the Great Palace, burned the Catherine Palace of Montplaisir and devastated the Montplaisir Palace itself. The Hermitage Pavilion was also sacked and looted.

The sculptural groups of the Great Cascade that had not been removed in time, Samson, the Neva, the Volkhov and the Tritons, were either stolen or destroyed. The English Palace was destroyed down to its very foundations, and the Chateau de Marly blown up.

The Lower Park was a mass of dug-outs and trenches, its avenues strewn with piles of felled trees. An anti-tank ditch ran across the Upper Gardens, and the Germans completely destroyed the hydraulic system.

The barbaric occupation came to an end on January 19, 1944, when Soviet troops liberated Petehof. It looked as if it would never rise from the ashes again. At the Nuremberg trials the destruction of Peterhof was described as a crime against humanity.

Restoration work began almost immediately after liberation. Another year of war lay ahead, but the architects were already drawing up designs for reconstruction. The fountains and the hydraulic system were being repaired, the statues dug up and restored to their former places. The formal opening of the Lower Park took place in June 17, 1945, and the following year Peterhof fountains began to play once more.

 

Saint Petersburg (Russian: Санкт-Петербург) is the second largest city in Russia. It is located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. St Petersburg is often described as the most westernized city of Russia, as well as its cultural capital.It is the northernmost city in the world with a population of over one million.

Population: 5 197 114 (2015)
Founded : 1703
Time zone : UTC+4
Federal District : Northwest
Area code : (00 7) 812
Postal code : 190000-199406
Former name : Petrograd (1914-1924)
Former name : Leningrad (1924-1991)