The Catherine Palace is the compositional center of a big architectural and park ensemble. The Catherine Park is an inseparable and extremely poetic part of the ensemble. It is a magnificent work of creative labor by several generations of talented Russian architects, sculptors, gardeners, engineers and thousands of craftsmen and working people of various specializations.
The magnificent avenues of the old park are crowded with people both in the summer and in winter. Not only St Petersburg residents come here but also tourists from all over Russia and from abroad.
To take a look at the symmetrical and landscape parks, the most interesting monuments, and the park sculptures, it is best to enter the park through the gate by the Swan Fountain. You begin your walk near the main entrane of the Catherine Palace on the terrace of the Old Garden (now part of the park) which was laid out at the beginning of the 18th century during the reign of Catherine I.
At the time, French gardens were popular in Russia. The basis of this composition was the idea of the exact symmetry of the areas around the palace which was the main element in the ensemble, a strict system of individual pavilions and structures. Embellished with straight, geometrically divided rows of trees trimmed in the form of balls and cubes, and the whimsical patterns of the parterres, the French garden corresponded completely to the current aesthetic ideals of the first half of the 18th century which were engendered in France in the 17th century.
However, in their artistic design the Russian parks of that time were rather original owning to national traditions and natural conditions and, most important, the local species of trees such as firs, birches, and junipers, which replaced the European box-trees in the parks.
The simple lawn was considered a splendid decorative element in the cold climate. Its green carpet combined with the slender rows of trees imparted an elegant, monumental nature to Russian park composition.
In the Catherine Park you can see original features of landscape gardening art characteristic of a Russian estate at the end of the 17th century: the palace, the center of the ensemble, picturesquely located on a natural hill as if on a pedestal, or the structures skillfully interwoven with the landscape, clumps of lime-trees which are resistant to the northern frosts, the moist soil and the damp climate prevailing. The lawn of the Old Garden laid out on the slopes of the gradually descending earthen terraces and in geometrically-shaped glades were almost the main decorative element in the park composition of the Old Garden.
The Tsarskoe Selo Park is 27 versts in circumference (over 6 miles) and contains a large number of elm, larch and oak trees that seem to thrive in this field. Nowhere would you find the more carefully maintained gardens; nowhere else, trees and flowers are kept with such careful attention. It would even be difficult to mentio all the care that was taken to properly adorn this magnificent Imperial residence.
St Petersburg Guide, Jean Bastin, 1874
All these peculiarities of the Russian garden and park style you can see in the elegant part of the Catherine Park recreated in the post-war years from the surviving drawings and notes of Kvasov, Chevakinsky, and Rastrelli.
The symmetrical composition of the Catherine Park occupying an area of 102 hectares between the palace and the cascade ponds produces an austere and solemn impression. The slender rows of the live colonnade of tree trunks disappear into the distance. Paths branch out as radii. The central avenue of the Old Garden is the main compositional axis of the ensemble, connecting the palace with the Hermitage.