What do you think of when you hear Saint Petersburg? Most likely it’s Hermitage, Palace Square, beautiful houses all around the city… And it is perfectly fair as Saint Petersburg is most well known as an Imperial Capital of Russia with incredible museums and astounding architectural marvels.
But don’t forget about the Saint-Petersburg suburbs where many summer imperial residences of the czars are located. There are many of them around the Leningrad Region that have been preserved to the present day. One of the most famous and grandiose of them is Peterhof (or Petrodvorets) which is located on the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland.
This summer residence was founded by Peter the Great in the beginning of the 18th century as a monument of triumphal victory in the Northern War to glorify the greatness of Russia and gaining the much desired access to the Baltic Sea. Petergof has been rebuilt and reconstructed numerous times during the reign of Peters heirs and was almost completely destroyed during World War II and fascist occupation. However, the residence was reborn as a Phoenix from the ashes to become one of the biggest museum complexes in the world known as Russian Versailles.The association with the French Château de Versailles is not random – the inspiration for the Peterhof Palaces and Gardens came to Peter during his visit to France. The varied system of alleys, beautiful gardens, antique sculptures and the grand scale and grandeur – all of this Peter the Great wanted to encompass at the Peterhof.
The main attractions of Peterhof are definitely the Grand Palace and beautiful Lower Park with fountains.
The Grand Peterhof Palace has changed its appearance several times: from the compact two-story building build under the supervision of Peter the Great to the great luxurious Palace in Baroque style constructed under Elizaveta Petrovna. Eventually the palace was redesigned in the classical style by Catherine II and currently combines a variety of styles and elements from different eras and embodies a living history of this amazing place. As the mansion is so large a private guided tour will enable you to see all its major parts and understand and trace the palaces historical changes.
Lower Park is a masterpiece of fountain craft – it has 150 fountains, including fountain cascades and trick fountains which were intended to amuse both children and adults alike. Trick fountains are a great way to refresh during the hot days in summer and to have fun at the same time:) One of the most fascinating things about Peterhof is that the fountain system operates without any pumps. The system uses only the natural water pressure, provided by the elevation difference - as the park is located on a hillsides. The Lower Park is divided into three parts: central (Grand), western (Marly) and eastern (Monplaisir). Each of them has a Palace with the same name, a fountain cascade and all three are interconnected by long alleys with lots of statues, fountains and garden decorations.
The most well-known and significant part of the park ensemble is the Grand cascade, located in front of the Grand Palace. The key feature of cascade’s composition is the Samson fountain which is presented in the form of a statue of Samson tearing apart the jaws of the lion. This statue is a symbol of Russia’s victory over Sweden in the Northern War. Admire the gold sculptures and silver water jets but be careful as your eyes might hurt from all the greatness and royal magnificence:).
The other “pearl” of Peterhof is the favorite summer Palace of Peter the Great – Monplaisir (“my pleasure” in French). Located on the shore of the Finnish Gulf in the eastern part of Lower Park it’s architecture and interiors reflect Peter’s main passion - the sea and the fleet. Monplaisir has almost completely preserved its original appearance and decoration through the ages. Dutch architecture, marine themed interior, Western European paintings of 17-18 centuries, navigation tools, personal items of Peter the Great, and a breathtaking view of the Gulf of Finland, Kronstadt and Saint Petersburg – all this creates a unique atmosphere of the past era.
After walking along the Monplasir embankment you can go to the pier and take a hydrofoil boat back to Saint-Petersburg while enjoying the splendid views of the Finnish Gulf and Neva River. This will definitely be the cherry on top of your visit to Petergof.