Peterhof Hermitage Pavilion
In the west section of the Lower Park, tucked away along an oblique avenue that runs from the Grand Flower-beds, stands an elegant two-story building - Hermitage Pavilion - on the seashore. Above the entrance is a balcony supported by carved oak corbels. The balcony has wrought-iron railings. The walls are adorned with pilasters with Corinthian capitals and high pedestals. The high glass doors and windows with their magnificent views give the building a special airiness. Its name describes the purpose of the building that was cut off from the inquisitive by a deep moat. Only a drawbridge, that could be lowered or pulled up as the inhabitants of the pavilion wished, linked them with the outside world.
Peter the Great decided to build the Hermitage Pavilion on his return from a visit to Europe where this type of pavilion was in fashion. Its construction, from a design by Johann Braunstein, took a long time and it was not completed until after the Emperor’s death, in the summer of 1725. Everything here was done as Peter had planned it: the lifting mechanisms and the wrought-iron railings on the balconies as on his flagship, the Ingermanlandia, aboard which Peter had commanded the joint fleets of Russia, Britain, and Holland in the Northern War, a table for fourteen people, and a great deal more.
The Hermitage Pavilion suffered greatly during World War II. The Germans set up a cannon on the first floor to bombard the Gulf of Finland. As a result part of the wall and the balconies were destroyed.
In 1952 the Hermitage again opened its doors to the public. It was the first museum in Peterhof to be restored. In 1970-1971 extensive work was carried out to reinforce the base and restore the facing of the moat walls. This made it possible to preserve the pavilion without rebuilding its walls.
The entrance leads to a narrow vestibule beyond which is the large Pantry. It was here that the table was set: through an oval opening in the ceiling with the help of two winches the central part of the table in the Hall on the first floor was lowered along vertical beams to the ground floor; when it had been set up with the requisite cutlery, dishes, etc., it was hauled up again and disappeared through an opening in the ceiling. There was a kitchen with a hearth and spare utensils on the ground floor to the right of the Pantry.
The Empress did not like a great number of servants, waiting at table. To please her, Rastrelli planned the Hermitage, where tables, dishes and plates were brought into the hall by invisible hands and servants were not jneeded. The idea was approved, and a "small" Hermitage was arranged in the palace.
To the left of the Pantry is a staircase leading to the first floor. In the 18th century its place was taken by what might be regarded as the first Russian elevator, a kind of lift-chair for two people. It worked right up to the end of the 18th century. In June 1797 Emperor Paul I and his family decided to visit the Hermitage. As the Emperor was going up in the lift-chair, the mechanism suddenly jammed and the chair with its august passengers was left swinging between the two floors. They had to be rescued with the help of a ladder placed against the balcony. Orders were given for the mechanism to be removed and the present stairs to be built.
The whole of the first floor is taken up by one very light and airy room, the reason why the whole building was erected. The high ceiling, the glass doors and windows on all four sides, and the pictures covering the walls give the room an impressive, dignified air. Originally it was intended for retiring with an intimate circle of friends of similar status and interests. Nothing and no one else was to intrude on the privacy of those assembled here.
Fourteen people sat at the oval table. Each had a place set for him. The central part of the table, as already mentioned, was hauled up from the ground floor with the dishes on it. Yet each of the guests, if he so wished, could order a dish just for himself. All he had to do was write down his request on a piece of paper, put it on a plate and pull a cord. A bell then rang downstairs in the Pantry, and the servants lowered the plate down a special chute. Then the plate was sent up with the order which appeared before the guest as if by magic.