August 31 St. Petersburg, Peterhof, Russia

In order to establish their mark on St. Petersburg, the Tsars built bigger and better palaces. The communists decided that it was easier to just change the city’s name.. So the name of the city was changed in 1914 to Petrograd, meaning “Peter’s City”, to remove the German words Sankt and Burg .And then on January 26, 1924, five days after Lenin’s death, Petrograd was renamed Leningrad in honor on Lenin. And when the communist party lost power in 1991, it was changed back to Saint Petersburg.

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Peterhof Palace

Peterhof is a series of palaces and gardens laid out on the orders of Peter the Great. Peter the Great first mentions the Peterhof site in his journal in 1705, during the Great Northern War, as a good place to construct a landing for use in travelling to and from his island fortress.  And in 1714, Peter began construction of the Monplaisir (“my pleasure”) Palace based on his own sketches of the palace that he wanted close to the shoreline. This was Peter’s Summer Palace that he would use on his way coming and going from Europe through the harbor at Kronstadt.

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The front entrance to the Grand Palace at Peterhof

There is a triple-headed eagle on top of the palace. With three heads, it always looks like a double-headed eagle, no matter which direction you are facing when you look up to it. The double-headed eagle is  the symbol of Russia. It symbolizes how Russia always has one head facing Asia, and one head facing Europe.

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The triple-headed eagle that always looks double-headed

The Grand Palace of Peterhof looks truly imposing when seen from the Lower or Upper Gardens, but in fact it is quite narrow and not very large. It has only about thirty rooms.

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Peterhof Palace, as seen from the garden looking up the Grand Cascade

Perhaps the most important change augmenting Peter’s design was the elevation of the Grand Palace to central status and prominence. The Grand Palace was originally called simply ‘Upper’, and was hardly larger than any of the other structures of the complex. The addition of wings, undertaken between 1745 and 1755, was one of the many projects commissioned by Tsar Elizabeth. Likewise, the Grand Cascade was more sparsely decorated when it was initially built. She added both more statues and gilded many of them with gold.

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Looking up at the Grand Cascades

The Grand Cascade is modeled on one constructed for King Louis XIV at his Chateau de Marly.These Palaces and gardens are sometimes referred as the “Russian Versailles” because of their elaborate gardens and fountains. The Grand Cascade and the Grand Palace are the center pieces of the entire complex. .

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Looking sideways at the Grand Cascades

At the foot of the Grand Cascade begins the Sea Channel, one of the most extensive waterworks of the Baroque period, which bisects the Lower Gardens.

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Looking down at the Sea Channel from the top of the Grand Cascades

The fountains of the Grand Cascade are located below the grotto and on either side of it. Their waters flow into a semicircular pool, into the end of the fountain-lined Sea Channel. In the 1730s, the large Samson Fountain was placed in this pool. It depicts the moment when Samson tears open the jaws of a lion, representing Russia’s victory over Sweden in the great Northern War.

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The pool at the bottom of the Grand Cascade

The lion is an element of the Swedish coat of arms, and one of the great victories of the war was won on St Samson’s Day. (There is a St. Samson’s Day? That would be another one that is possibly unique to Russian Orthodoxy, as I have never heard of.) From the lion’s mouth shoots a 20 meter high jet of water, the highest in all of Peterhof.

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The statue of Samson and the Lion in the bottom pool of the Grand Cascade

Perhaps the greatest technological achievement of Peterhof is that all of the fountains operate without the use of pumps.  Water is supplied from natural springs and collects in reservoirs in the Upper Gardens. The elevation difference creates the pressure that drives most of the fountains of the Lower Gardens, including the Grand Cascade. The Samson Fountain is supplied by a special aqueduct, over four km in length, drawing water and pressure from a high-elevation source.

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A fountain in the lower garden

To the east is the Chess Mountain, a broad chute whose surface is tiled black and white like a chessboard.

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Looking up at the chessboard cascade at Peterhof

Here is a close up photo of the cute dragon statues at the top of the chessboard cascade!

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Dragon statues at the top of the chessboard cascade

The expanse of the Lower Gardens is designed in the formal style of French gardens in the 17th century. There are many fountains located here.

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Jeff is standing in a section of the lower garden of Peterhof

Peterhof was captured by the Germans in 1941 and held until 1944. In the few months that elapsed between the outbreak of war in the west and the appearance of the German Army, employees were only able to save a portion of the treasures of the palaces and fountains. The German Army largely destroyed Peterhof. Many of the fountains were destroyed, and the palace was partially exploded and left to burn. Restoration work began almost immediately after the end of the war and continues to this day.

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A section of the formal garden at Peterhof

The G20 summit was going to be held at Peterhof and Catherine Palace, starting the day after our tour. So we were one of the last tour groups to get to go through these places before they were closed to the public until after the summit. We could see them setting up for this conference in many rooms of the palaces, but it was most obvious in the gardens at Peterhof. Jeff managed to get some good photos where the extra equipment is not so obvious, but I also wanted to include this one where you can see the extra chaos.

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Equipment for the light show at Peterhof during the G20 summit

I was very impressed again with St. Petersburg and its surrounding summer palaces at the end of our second day of touring Russia. I hope that I get to go back and see them again sometime!

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