The Grand Palace is the largest palace in the Peterhof ensemble of palaces, parks, and fountains. It is the structural center of the Upper Gardens and the Lower Park. The axis of the parterre in the south and the straight line of the Marine Canal I the north are both perpendicular to its center. The palace stands on the edge of a sixteen-meter high terrace, adorned with gold statues, the crystal jets of the Great Cascade and the terrace fountains. The gleaming gold, the exquisite architecture and the splashing of the fountains create a most impressive sight.
Peter the Great Designed the Original Peterhof Palace
The palace was not like this originally, however. Nor was its role as the architectural center of a splendid ensemble determined right from the start. Peter’s original plans were very modest. In 1714, at the same time as the construction of the Marine Canal, the grotto and the cascade, work began on some modest Upper Chambers with a heated (winter) and an unheated (summer) sections. Judging by the documents, the author of the first plan for the chambers was Peter the Great himself. The construction was supervised by Johann Braunstein. It proceeded with “haste” and by 1716 the small building with its rather ordinary architecture was ready.
Neither the appearance of the chambers nor their dimensions were in keeping with the role of the building as the center of the splendid park ensemble which had already been conceived by that time.
Also in 1716 the new chief architect Jean-Baptiste Le Blond presented the tsar with a design for rebuilding and extending the building. His design was not approved in full. A certain amount of rebuilding was carried out, however.
In 1721 Niccolo Michettu, who succeeded Le Blond as chief architect, presented his design for extending the Upper Chambers, which not only envisaged increasing the dimensions of the palace, but also, more important, disregarded the original compact plan of the chambers, the breadth of which was restricted by the Great Cascade.
He added a long, single-story gallery on either side of the existing building ending with two-storied side pavilions containing living quarters. These two side pavilions were in line with the Chalice Fountains in the parterre and the flowerbeds at the bottom of the terrace. Thus, Michetti was the first to present the architectural design which when developed would to the creation of a masterpiece of Russian architecture.
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
Even the new palace, which stretched 160 meters along the edge of the terrace, did not solve the problem of where to accommodate the growing court.
Elizabeth I and Bartolomeo Rastrelli - Baroque
In 1747 with the blessing of Peter’s daughter, the Empress Elizabeth, Bartolomeo Rastrelli embarked upon a radical rebuilding of the Upper Chambers. All that remained of the former building was the central section erected in Peter’s time.
The new palace was built with unprecedented speed. By 1755 the décor was almost complete. The size and sumptuousness of the rooms, the remarkable skill of the architect and craftsmen astounded contemporaries.
Rastrelli retained the existing division of the palace into a central section with galleries and side buildings. But he added galleries that south in the direction of the Upper Gardens. He did away with the small pavilions at the east and west ends of the palace, replacing them with other building.
The palace interiors were in keeping with its external appearance. Its spacious and airy rooms were adorned with rich moldings, splendid parquet flooring, exquisite carving, painted ceiling, and canvases by great masters. Rastrelli’s interiors appeared in the last decade of Baroque, so many of them were not destined to last for long. In subsequent decades many famous architects with different architectural styles enriched the exterior and interiors of the Grand Palace.
So alongside the rooms dating back to the Petrine period were the splendid halls that appeared in the mid-18th century and then the dignified, austere halls of the Classical period that were later replaced by the interiors of the mid-19th century reflecting a revival of the main artistic principles of Rococo.
It must be mentioned that the architects who worked in the Grand Palace showed considerable respect for the work of their predecessors. In some interiors the changes affected only certain sections of the walls. Rastrelli, for example, sometimes limited himself to the finish of panels and doorways and left the molding and painting of the Petrine period unaltered, while Velten, who worked in the Classical style, deliberately left Rastrelli’s carved ornament. Individual details that appeared in the mid-19th century in the old rooms blended well with the existing décor. Because this mixture of styles was the work of outstanding masters there no trace of eclecticism here. On the contrary, the styles blend together in a remarkable way to form a complex and fascinating unity.
Treasure Trove of Art
Over the two centuries of its existence, the Grand Palace has become a kind of treasure trove of outstanding works of art, furniture, bronzes, china, glass and everyday objects.