Peterhof, St. Petersburg, Russia
One of the World's most famous palace-park ensembles, Peterhof is a series of palaces and gardens known as The Peterhof Palace recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As a former residence of the Russian monarchs, Peterhof brings together the finest achievements in national and international culture. This unique complex was created by outstanding architects, decorators and sculptors, whose spectacular works of art slot perfectly into the natural beauty of the coastal landscape. Peter the Great planned Peterhof as the residence of a sea king. This was to be his incarnation of Russia as a great European power, with a foothold on the shores of the world's oceans, capable of competing with the finest Western courts - above all, with Versailles.
The history of Peterhof begins back in 1705, when travelling chambers were built for Peter the Great on the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland. Soon, not far from this place, work began on the creation of a new imperial residence, which, Peter determined, would one day outshine all the other royal palaces of Europe. The Tsar deliberately built his new residence by the sea, as a triumphant symbol of the successful conclusion of Russia's long struggle for an outlet to the Baltic Sea. Peterhof was officially opened in the presence of the Tsar and foreign diplomats in August 1723. The architecture and decor of Peterhof reflects all the artistic styles of the past and the personal tastes and preferences of every Russian monarch.
Peterhof was virtually destroyed during World War II. The post-war resurrection of the entire complex was one of the finest chapters in the history of restoration in Russia. The present-day beauty of Peterhof is the result of decades of painstaking work by architects, painters and masters of decorative and applied art. Restoration work continues even to this day, in the Chapel Royal of the Grand Palace, which ought to be completed by May 2011.
The Fountains of Peterhof
The fountains of Peterhof are one of Russia's most famous tourist attractions. Fountains were intrinsic to Peter the Great's original plans for Peterhof - it was the impossibility of engineering sufficiently powerful jets of water that prompted him to move his attentions from the Strelna site to Peterhof - and subsequent generations competed with their predecessors to add grander and ever more ingenious water features to the parkland surrounding the Grand Palace.
The most famous group of fountains, the Grand Cascade, which runs from the northern façade of the Grand Palace to the Marine Canal, comprises 64 different fountains, and over 200 bronze statues, bas-reliefs, and other decorations. At the center stands Rastrelli's spectacular statue of Samson wrestling the jaws of a lion. The vista of the Grand Cascade with the Grand Palace behind it, the first sight to great visitors who arrive in Peterhof by sea, is truly breathtaking. Elsewhere in the park, the range and diversity of fountains is astounding, from further monumental ensembles like the Chess Cascade and the Pyramid Fountain, to the ever-popular Joke Fountains, including one which sprays unwary passers-by who step on a particular paving stone.
The Grand Palace
The Grand Palace lies at the very heart of Peterhof. Facing the Gulf of Finland, the palace - rises above the Grand Cascade and the Lower Park, stretching along the upper terrace for almost 300 yards. The original idea for the location and general appearance of the "Upper Chambers" - as the Grand Palace was first known - belonged to Peter the Great. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the finest Russian and West European architects worked on the facades and the interior decor. But the greatest contribution was made by Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli, who transformed the Grand Palace into a masterpiece of Baroque art during the reign of Peter's illustrious daughter, Empress Elizabeth, in the 18th century.
The Grand Palace is as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside. In the 19th century, the ornate Baroque interiors were embellished with Neoclassical details and light touches of Late Rococo. The palace boasts such masterpieces of decorative art as the Oak Cabinet of Peter the Great with carved panels by Nicolas Pineau; the grand staircase and golden enfilade of state apartments; the Ball Room and the Picture Gallery with 368 paintings by Pietro Antonio Rotari; the Cesme Room created for Catherine the Great in honor of Russian naval victories; the Chinese Rooms and the Throne Room with its Romanov portrait gallery. Today, the Grand Palace is a unique museum of history and art.
The Peterhof Museum Complex
The Peterhof Museum Complex is one of the most popular museums not only in Russia, but in the whole World. Even a few hours here are enough to feel the spirit of history, which still lives on and breathes in this magnificent place. The museum complex stretches across 500 hectares of territory, embracing Strelna, Peterhof and Oranienbaum. Dotted with sparkling fountains, the Lower Park and Upper Gardens flow effortlessly into the shady and romantic glades of Alexandria, forming a unique fusion of regular and landscape parks. Every day, more than 20 museums - vastly different in their origins, ideas and contents - delight visitors with exciting new discoveries and the joy of their handsome treasures.