The Summer Garden
Inspired by Versailles, the Summer Garden was one of Peter the Great's passions. The park was personally designed by Czar Peter in 1704, supposedly, with the assistance of the Dutch gardener and physician Nicolaas Bidloo. The Summer Garden was largely completed in 1719.
Just a bit of History
The Summer Garden is set apart from the embankment by a splendid railing erected in 1770-1784, designed by architect Yuri Felten. The 36 granite columns embellished with alternating vases and urns are united by a light grille which appears to hang in the air. Experts agree that this is one of the finest examples of artistic wrought-iron work in the world. A curious historical note: In early 19th century an English yacht entered the waters of the Neva river and dropped anchor by the Summer Garden. The owner of the vessel, a lord and a patron of the arts, admired the open-worked grille of the garden and then, withouth even going ashore, he ordered the sails raised and returned to England. When asked the reason for his action, the lord replied that the goal of his journey had been achieved, that this sight was unsurpassed in splendor.
The work on laying out the Summer garden began in 1704. It was created in "regular" style, geometrically precise lines dominating its planning. The garden originally had dozens of fountains depicting subjects from Aesop's fables. It was in those years that the river feeding those fountains got its name - Fontanka (derived from the Russian word ?????? (fontan) meaning fountain. The fountains existed until 1777 when they were damaged by the floods.
Peter was particularly fond of his new summer garden, where he himself worked planting trees, and so on. D. He searched everywhere for master gardners and in Revel met a Hanoverian native gardener Caspar Voght (1718), talked to him about his art. Peter liked Voght and invited him to come to St. Petersburg. Not daring to refuse the Emperor, Voght, however, protested, citing that he missed his wife and children, who were in his homeland. Peter strongly demanded and ordered a deadline by which the gardner had come to St. Petersburg. Voght at the appointed time came to St. Petersburg. But what a surprise it was for Voght when having arrived at the czar's palace, he saw there his wife and children!
Old Petersburg, M. Pylyaev, 1898
Sculptures of the Summer Garden
Many of the sculptures now adorning the Summer Garden date back to the early 18th century. In the 19th century, the intended arrangement of the decorative sculptures in the Summer Garden was forgotten, quite a few of the sculptures were no longer extant, and those remaing were moved from place to place, thus destroying the original design. In late 20th century, all sculptures were rearranged and today they stand in accordance with the aesthetic ideas charactertistic of the beginning of the 18th century.
Before the northern facade of the Summer Palace, stands the group Peace and Abundance (Pietro Baratta, 1722), an allegorical depiction of Russia's victory in the Northern war. The central figure in the composition is Russia represented as a young womand holding the horn of plenty in her left hand and an upturned torch symbolising the end of war in her right hand. Beside it stands the winged Goddess of Victory. With one hand she crowns Russia with a laurel wreath and in the other holds a palm frond, the symbol of peace; the goddess stands with her foot on a slain lion.
The balustrade, which has for some years been one of the principal ornaments of the town. This sumptuous work of art forms the boundary of the summer-garden, running in a line with the houses on the bank of the Neva, and consists of six and thirty massy columns of granite, connected together by an iron palisade of exquisite workmanship.. The columns are two fathoms in height, and their diameter, exceeds three feet. They rest on granite pedestals of six cubic feet, and are ornamented at top by a regular interchange of urns and vases. The huge masses of stone, the wonderful ingenuity displayed in the iron work, the ornaments whereof are highly gilt, the connection of the whole with the superb edifices ranging at either end, and the view of the Neva with its granite quay, confer advantages on this part of the residence, which perhaps cannot be matched by any of the magnificent capitals in Europe.
Heinrich von Storch, Picture of Petersburg, 1801
One of the oldest sculptures in the Summer Garden, a bust of the Polish King Jan Sobieski, famed for his victories over the Turks, may be found in Palace Alley. Modelled in 1683, the bust is a fair likeness of the king, but bears the somewhat idealised majestic appearance typical of formal portraits of that period.
Do not forget to take a look at the bust of the Roman Empress Agrippina in the main alley between the first and the fourth clearings. Dissolute and thirsting for power, this infamous lady murdered her husband, the Emperor Claudius, and placed on the throne her son Nero, expecting that she would rule the empire. However, Nero, who guessed his mother's designs, ordered his retainers to kill the ambitious empress. When you look at Agrippina, you feel the emotional tenseness her image harbors. The baroque style of the bust is emphasized by the ermine mantle. The eyes and the tentacles of the octopus symbolising Agrippina's depravity, can be seen protruding from the folds of the mantle. The empress's countenance is severe and anxious, as though the sculptor were attempting to communicate the sensation of impending death at the hands of her own son.
In the evenings of July and August the summer gardens are ?lled with crowds of commoners, who promenade and listen to the bands of the imperial Guards.
John Maxwell. The Czar, His Court and People, 1876
Among the earliest sculptures of the Summer Garden is the bust of the Swedish Queen Christina (17th century). In stands in the main alley between the first and second clearings. The queen's necklace of precious stones is half-concealed by lace. The soft folds of her dress, the ruffles of the lace, the fur on her robes, even her hair, worn in a style typical of that time, are all the details highly characteristic of Baroque. Christina's countenance is serene, the mouth only twised in a capricious smile. It should be said that the queen's biography is not a dull one. In her youth she was famous for her fantastic extravagance. Highly cultured and passionately interested in learning, she rose at five in the morning to read and invited eminent foreign writers, musicians, and scholars to her court For her wit and learning, all Europe called her the Minerva of the North; she was, however, extravagant, too free in giving away crown lands, and intent on a luxurious court in a country that could not support it and did not want it.
The sculptural group Cupid and Psyche (17th century) situated near the terrace by the Swan Ditch (Lebazhya Kanavka) is also worthy of note. One of the myths of ancient Rome, recounted by Apuleius, holds that Psyche became the wife of the god of love, Cupid, but she only met her chosen one in the dark and never saw his face. Psyche's wicked sisters convinced her that her husband was a repulsive monster. One night Psyche lit a lamp to take a look at her husband and kill him with a dagger, but on her nuptial couch she saw handsome Cupid and was filled with love. The composition is a typical example of Baroque.
Venus of Tauride in the Summer Garden
In its early years the alleys of the Summer Garden faced the Neva – there was no embankment. The main entrance to the garden was a marina. Here, at the dock, there were three wooden galleries. Peter’s guests arrived here. Peter the Great forbade the use of carriages (there were very few in Peter's St. Petersburg - about twenty!), and city nobles had to cross the city by water, on boats – those were given to them free of charge at the shipyard that built these boats on the left bank of the Fontanka River opposite the Summer Garden.
One of the galleries had a marble statue of Venus. It was perhaps the most famous decoration of the Summer Garden. Made in the III century BC., the statue was found in 1718 underground in the vicinity of Rome. Peter’s art agent Yuri Kologrivov, who was an outstanding art expert, was quick to recognize the importance of the discovery and immediately bought the statue and ordered it be sent to St. Petersburg. In March 1719 he wrote to Peter, "... I bought an ancient statue of Venus."
But at that time there was a ban (imposed by the Pope) on exporting Rome's ancient art. An examination confirmed the high artistic value of the sculpture, and the Vatican took over the treasure. To help Kologrivov, Peter sent the skillful diplomat Savva Raguzinsky and Beklemishev, the Russian Ambassador in Venice. They conveyed Peter’s offer to exchange the statue of Venus for the relics of St. Brigitte (moved to St. Petersburg from Revel after the city was taken from the Swedes). Vatican could not reject this offer and choose the image of the pagan goddess of love over the relics of Saint Brigitte, so revered among devout Catholics. The Vatican was forced to accept Peter’s offer. And so the remains of Brigitte were sent to Rome and the marble Venus - later to be called Venus of Tauride (as it would be moved to the Tauride Palace and later to the Hermitage) went to Russia.
The famous grille of the Summer Garden
The delicate and light grille of the Summer Garden is one of the most beautiful ornaments on the Neva. At times it seems that it was created by nature, so naturally do the subtly-designed patterns of this metal lattice combine with the patterns on the crowns of old trees.
If you approach the Summer Garden from the waterfront, it is difficult to imagine that in the early days of Petersburg the river claimed part of the garden too.
It took almost fifteen years to build the fence on the Neva (north) side of the Summer Garden - from 1770 to 1784. However, by that time the garden little resembled the one conceived by Peter I. As years went by, the popularity of regular parks gradually declined and instead landscape parks became fashionable. Landscape parks made you believe they were natural creations: meandering waters, shady picturesque alleys, free-growing shrubs and trees. The garden became shady and dense.
The fence that borders the Summer Garden on the side of the Neva is truly worthy of admiration: it is a simple structure, but even so majestic and sublime; iron, covered with gold ornaments, placed on a pedestal of polished granite, it is supported at intervals by pilasters of polished granite, topped with beautiful vases of the same material, very artistic and delicate.
Voyage à Saint-Petersbourg en 1799 - 1800,
When finished, the fence consisted of 36 granite pillars, 32 links forged lattice two small gates, left and right, and some large - in the center. Each granite column ends with a bouquet vase, straight clean lines of the lattice soften delicate gilded rosettes in the center, as well as gold-plated ornament at the top, thus softening the effect of the massive granite.
Chapel by the Summer Garden. Photo by Carl Bulla, 1890.
The grille is decorated with medallions depicting Gorgon – her face contorted with rage – a character of the ancient Greek mythology. The legend tells us that the king Polydectes sent Perseus (son of Zeus) on the edge of the Earth to the Gorgon sisters, from which no one returned alive. Polydectes ordered Perseus to give him the head of one of the sisters - Medusa. It was almost an impossible task. The body of Medusa was covered with copper scales while in her hair poisonous snakes twisted and hissed viciously – and the glance of Medusa turned all living things to stone...
The walks are laid out in straight lines, and adorned by marble busts and statues, but the principal ornament is the celebrated palisade facing the river, which is exceedingly fine. The Russians have a story of an Englishman who came to Petersburg on purpose to see this palisade, and who rowed up the river to it, gazed at it, and having gratified his curiosity, returned home without having set foot on Russian soil. Though not quite worthy of so long a pilgrimage as this gentleman is supposed to have taken, it is a most beautiful work.
Domestic Scenes in Russia, Richard Venables, 1837
Before embarking on his journey, Perseus called to gods for help. And Athena - the warrior goddess of wisdom, patroness of Sciences and crafts - handed Perseus a polished shield, with the instructions not to look at Medusa directly so that he is not petrified by her looks, and fight with her by looking at her reflection in the shiny shield. Hermes gave Perseus winged sandals. This armor brought Perseus victory. He cut off Medusa's head, and the winged horse Pegasus, born from the body of the killed Medusa, took him back. He brought the severed head of Medusa to Polydectes who turned to stone after looking at her.
During the construction of the lattice of the Summer Garden, the city had to endure terrible disaster: in St. Petersburg in September 1777 was an unprecedented flood. Sitting on the banks of the Neva River, the Summer Garden suffered greatly. All light buildings, fountains, and many old trees were completely ruined. It took a number of years to rebuild the garden and visitors were not allowed during that time.
The Summer Palace
The work on the Summer Palace in the Summer Garden began soon after the laying of the garden. Peter hurried with the construction of his first Summer Palace in St. Petersburg. In September 1711 he ordered Prince Menshikov to take people working on the "winter yard" and allocate them to the Summer Palace project. And next spring, the building was mostly completed. On April 17, 1712, we read the following entry in Peter's Diary: "the rear-admiral (that is, Peter I himself) moved into the Summer House".
The author of the palace project was Domenico Trezzini, who came to Russia at the invitation of Peter the Great from Denmark in 1703 and worked there until the end of his life (1734).
The palace building is very typical of the early architecture of St. Petersburg: simplicity and severity of forms, geometric clarity of the plan, and modestly decorated facades. A small number of rooms (six on each of the two floors) were designed only for the personal needs of the tsar and his family.
After Peter's death the Summer Palace belonged to various members of the royal family and courtiers. In the Elizabethan time the building the Empress rented out the palace (free of charge) to members of her close circle. The Summer Palace seems to have been abandoned in the 1840s, and it was at that time that the idea to recreate it as a museum was born.
Summer Garden Opens to General Public in 1755
With the construction of the Summer Palace for Elizabeth (on the site of the present the Mikhailovsky Castle) balls and masquerades in the old Summer Garden ceased. Since the mid XVIII century the garden becomes a leisure destination, for a small first, and then for a wider range of nobility. One of the Senate decrees from 1752 even spoke of "permission for St. Petersburg residents to walk in 1 and 2 of the imperial gardens on the Neva River, participate in the feasts and in the solemnities, but with the obligation to be in decent clothes." In 1755, it was announced that the Summer Garden would be opened to general public twice a week. This resolution was later confirmed by decrees published in 1762, 1794, and 1827; and all of these decrees invariably spoke of "well dressed public" and prohibited workmen, sailors and soldiers from visiting the park.
And then we come to the Summer Garden, the Hyde Park of St. Petersburg. In former days the sons and daughters of Russian merchants and tradesmen, dressed in their best apparel, assembled in this garden on Whit-Monday to choose partners for life ; but the custom is now almost obsolete. At the entrance of the garden, facing the river, is a chapel, dedicated to the patron saint of the Emperor, marking the spot where he stood when his life was attempted by Karakozoff in 1866. The chapel was raised by public subscription, and is therefore a monument of the love and sympathy of the Russian people, to whom the present Czar has much endeared himself.
A Trip to Saint Petersburg, Roger Gardner, 1878
Monument to Ivan Krylov
In mid 18th century, a monument to the famous Russian write Ivan Krylov was unveiled in the Summer Garden. Ivan Krylov sits in a casual and relaxed pose on a round stone, holding an open book in his hands. He is leafing through this book, but he is not reading it. His gaze is focused on something else - he is immersed in deep thought, and doesn’t pay attention to anything around him.
All is natural and true as life itself: an elderly man goes out for a walk, and having tired a bit, sits down to rest, lost in thought. Perhaps he is inventing a new fable? The sculptor has portrayed the famous Russian fabulist without any embellishment or external effects. We see a man of exceptional intelligence and wisdom.
The pedestal of the monument is small relative to the 3-meter statue. On all four sides it is coated with bronze figures of animals - characters from Krylov's fables.
On the front side we see a Monkey, a Goat, a Donkey and a Bear with musical instruments, which vividly remind us of his famous fable "Quartet". Right above them we see a fox hungrily looking at clusters of grapes, bringing us memories of the fable "The Fox and the Grapes."
Krylov wrote about two hundred fables and the sculptor showed thirty six of them on the pedestal of the monument.
Last Major Restoration of the Summer Garden
The last major restoration work was carried out between 2009 and 2012. According to the restoration team, they were tasked with reconstructing the original “regular park” look, that is, restoring its geometrically regular layout and strict symmetry. That is why in 2009 there appeared so many espaliered linden shrubs in the garden. The espaliers – special support structures for trees - were removed three years later, in 2012. The crown of each tree in the garden was trimmed by professional climbers, and tree branches were worked on by dendrologists. A total of 129 plants had to be removed because they carried potentially infectious deceases. Today, the garden is mainly planted with elms, lindens, maples and oaks. While some of them were only planted about 3 to 5 years ago, about 30% are 100 or even 200 years old. The oldest oak tree, according to a recent study, is 250 years old.
Sculptures Replaced with Copies
Ninety out of ninety one sculptures were replaced with copies. This had to be done because marble busts and statues were getting damaged by the… dripping linden tree juice. Copies are made of marble chips and polyester resin and look exactly like their originals. If you’re curious to feel the difference, you can compare them with the only remaining original sculptural composition "Peace and Victory." You can see it when you turn left from the main entrance by the Neva River. The originals are now stored in the Engineers' Castle.
In the XVIII century there were about 70 fountains in the Summer Garden. All of them were ruined in the catastrophic flood of 1777. After that Catherine the Great decided not to rebuild the fountains. However, eight of them were recreated in the latest restoration project, and four are located in their historic places.
Tips on Visiting the Summer Garden
If you happen to visit the Summer Garden on a Sunday, make sure to drop by the Coffee House for live jazz performances.
There are a number of soda and ice cream stands around the park.
Restrooms are free.
If you need to get on the internet, head to the Tea House for the Wi-Fi
Although you can smoke in the garden, you’re strongly encouraged to refrain from doing so, and a number of posters are put up to deliver the message. It is prohibited to drink alcohol, lie down on the lawn and cycling is forbidden.
1. Neva entrance.
2. Fontanka Entrance.
3. “Peace and Victory”, the only remaining original marble sculpture.
4. “The Habanero”.
5. Krylov Monument.
6. Bird House and Sable Cages.
7. Central Alley.
9. Wi-Fi Zone.
10. Lacoste Fountain.
11. Small Winter Garden and Apothecary Garden.
12. Coffee House.
13. Peter the Great’s Summer Palace.