No trip to St Petersburg, whether for a day or a month, is complete without a visit to the Peterhof Palace complex. Translating from its Dutch origin to “Peter’s Court”, Peterhof is a complex of gardens and palaces in this Imperial city, and was constructed on the orders of Peter the Great. It is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been referred to as the “Russian Versailles”.
Historically, Peter the Great decided to found St Petersburg at the eastern end of the Gulf of Finland. The site of the city was on the shore; the sea floor to the north was far too shallow for shipping, yet to the west the sea floor dropped off dramatically and was deep enough for warships and trade vessels. Peter wanted his grand imperial palace to reside close to this shoreline, and he took his inspiration from the French Palace of Versailles. The Peterhof site was first mentioned in Peter the Great’s journal of 1705 and construction of the palace began in 1714. It was improved and expanded in turn by Empress Elizabeth, Catherine the Great, and Nicholas I.
The Peterhof complex is dominated by a bluff of sixteen metres; between this bluff and the shore lie the Lower Gardens. Within the gardens are fountains, outbuildings, and several small palaces. To the east lie the Alexandria Park and numerous Gothic Revival buildings, including the gothic chapel.
The Grand Palace stands atop the bluff, overlooking the gardens. At its rear are the small Upper Gardens, and below the palace on the face of the bluff is the Grand Cascade. The Baroque Canal runs through the Lower Gardens.
Must-see features of the Peterhof complex include:
- The Grand Palace: looks imposing yet is actually narrow, comprising thirty rooms. Of particular note are the Chesma Hall, where battle scenes are depicted in artworks; the Chinese Cabinets which were decorated between 1766 and 1769 with Oriental art; and the Picture Hall, with paintings dating from 1764.
- The Grand Cascade: this was inspired by the French cascade at Chateau de Marly, built for Louis XIV. It features an artificial grotto, fountains, gilded statues, and a pool which terminates the Sea Channel. The Samson Fountain dates from circa 1730, and dominates the pool; depicting Samson’s victory over the lion, it is symbolic of Russia’s victory over Sweden. The Peterhof fountains are remarkable in that all operate without pumps. Water comes from natural springs and is collected in Upper Garden reservoirs; the elevation and gravity drives the Lower Gardens fountains.
- The Lower Gardens are inspired by formal French garden geometric design; fountains are abundant and cleverly designed so that visitors can expect to get at least a little wet! Two additional cascades are present; the Golden Mountain, with marble statues, and Chess Mountain, with a tiled black and white chute. Adam and Eve are two fountains which flank the Sea Channel.
- The Upper Gardens are less formal and feature fountains which are distributed between seven pools, and there are eclectic sculptures in some of these.
- Additional buildings in the Peterhof complex include the Hermitage pavilion, Montplaisir Palace (Peter’s original baroque palace), Marly Palace (inspired by the royal French hunting lodge), and the Cottage Palace of Nicholas I in Alexandria Park. There is also a large greenhouse, a gothic capella, a gothic well, the Farmer’s Palace, and a ruined bridge which are of interest.
Scandi Travel offers visa-free three, four and five day tours to St Petersburg. Book your Baltic trip to St Petersburg through our website today, to experience the opulence and charm of the Peterhof palace complex and St Petersburg first-hand. We are the superior Baltic travel company and we look forward to welcoming and introducing you to this amazing corner of the world.