The summer palace known as Peterhof sited on the shores of the Gulf of Finland is one of St. Petersburg’s premier attractions. And for good reason: it’s spectacular.
Centered in an enormous park, it was completed in 1725 after ten years of labor by thousands of architects and artisans from all over Europe. Then, it received continuing modifications throughout the rest of the century. Much of them were designed by the creator of many of St. Petersburg’s finest landmarks, Francesco Rastrelli. He was responsible for the Winter Palace, Smolny Cathedral, and many more.
Not surprisingly, many parts of the palace and grounds were damaged during WWII. But after 60 years of such thorough restoration, it’s becoming difficult to spot where. The result is a mixture of the original Baroque, 18th and 19th-century modifications and careful re-creation of all the original elements.
There are numerous pavilions and smaller structures, including Peter the Great’s favorite, Monplaisir (French for ‘My Pleasure’). Situated near the shore, it’s the perfect spot to catch a cool breeze on one of St. Petersburg’s warm summer days. Another is the two-story Marly Palace, completed in 1723. The English-style Cottage Palace, completed in 1829, is also a favorite of locals and tourists alike.
The grounds once hosted many Imperial gatherings and, looking around, it’s easy to see why. One of the best areas is the 16m/52ft high bluff near the shoreline. From that vantage point, visitors can see much of the grounds and take in an awe-inspiring wide view of Peterhof. From there, it’s a fine walk across the Lower Gardens (Nizhny Sad) that make up a large portion of the total.
Also from there, one can see what is perhaps the primary reason that Peterhof continues to attract large crowds: the fountains.
These famed 120 water-themed sculptures festoon the grounds. Rightly known as the Capital of Fountains, Peterhof hosts an array that marvels the finest in Rome. The result is both an artistic and an engineering feat. Adorned with sculptures of Neptune, Chinese dragons, and many other mythical figures, the entire system is plumbed together.
The series contains no pumps, yet produces sprays from an ingenious system designed by the engineer Tuvolkov in the 18th century. The water and pressure arise from elevation differences among natural springs.
In the Lower Park, between the shore and the Grand Palace is one of the world’s largest such system and the source of the site’s popular designation as the ‘Russian Versailles’.
The Upper Garden, between St. Petersburg Highway and the Grand Palace, contains five that are particularly noteworthy. Perhaps the most often visited are the Adam and Eve fountains that are placed on either side of the Sea Channel. They sit at the center of eight separate paths.
But, the Great Cascade (Bolshoi Kaskad) is one of the most beloved. Modeled after a fountain constructed by Louis XIV at Château de Marly, and located below the Grand Palace, it features a golden statue of Samson wrestling with the fabled lion. The sculpture is symbolic of Russia’s victory over Sweden, whose coat of arms bears a lion. From its mouth shoots a 20m/65ft spray that is the highest at Peterhof.
For over 300 years, Peterhof has astounded visitors both royal and commoner. Come see why. For an adventurous trip, try the boat ride to reach this destination about 30 minutes from downtown St. Petersburg.