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The eastern cascade stairway: Aphroditae.No visit to St. Petersburg would be complete without a visit to the beautiful palace of Peterhof (also called Petergof, Petrodvorets and Peter's Palace). The world-famous palace, fountain and park ensemble of Peterhof is an outstanding landmark of Russian artistic culture of the 18-19th centuries.

Founded in the very beginning of the eighteenth century by Emperor Peter the Great not far from his new northern capital St Petersburg (about 30 kilometers west of St. Petersburg.), Peterhof was intended to become the most splendid official royal summer residence.

One of the statues of the Grand Cascade.The main reason to visit Peterhof is to spend the day at Peter's Palace. The palace is a fabulously ornate structure built to rival the Palace of Versailles. You can take a guided tour of the interior of the palace or spend the day strolling through the formal upper gardens and the park-like lower grounds, with more than 150 very unique fountains.

Peterhof (or Petrodvorets), one of the oldest summer residences in the vicinity of St.Petersburg. Peterhof means in-German "Peter's Court". Note, that between 1944 and the early 90s the town was called Petrodvorets, and some guide books might still list it under that name. It was founded in 1710, when Peter and Paul Fortress lost its military significance, and Peter the Great started to built another fortress on Kotlin Island to protect St.Petersburg.

The shores of the Gulf of Finland, below the Cottage, S.M. Vorobiov, 1853The Tsar visited the island very often to observe the construction. He made most of his journeys by boat, on the occasions when the weather was stormy, rainy, he could wait for the weather improvement in a small wooden building on a raised site overlooking the Gulf of Finland. After important victories near Poltava Peter the Great wanted something more grander, he commissioned a Versailles-by - the Sea.

Fountains and canals of  Peterhof.
Looking across the Grand Cascade down Water Ave, an elaborate system of fountains and canals in Peterhof.

Attracted by its convenient location between Kronstadt and St Petersburg, Peter chose it as a stopping place on his journeys, and named it after himself.
Here, in a grove by the sea, he built a small wooden palace in 1710. By the end of his reign the wooden palace was altered and it became known as the"Great Palace", the Monplaisir Palace was built on the sea front. The Upper Park and the Lower Park were laid out. First 50 fountains started to play in 1721.

Peter's Palace (Front View)

Peterhof arose, as if by magic, rivalling in splendour the magnificent park-and-palace complexes of France, Germany, and Italy, and amazed Europe no less than did the newly-built St Petersburg itself. It was regarded as an artistic miracle and as a revelation of the creative abilities of the Russian people. During Peter's lifetime, Peterhof was already a symbol of the blossoming of a young, reformed Russia.

The Tsaritsyn Island and Pavilion in the Columns Park, J. Meier, 1845.The focal point of both the Lower Park and the Upper Garden is the magnificent Grand Palace (Bolshoi Dvorets) with the Grand Cascade (Bolshoi Kaskad) in front of it. The Grand Cascade, which goes downhill from the palace towards the Baltic Sea, is one of the largest fountain ensembles in the world.

Despite all the damage done to the Grand Palace during WWII, its interiors have been carefully restored and are truly breathtaking.

The Great Cascade in front of the Great Palace flows down twin marble stairways which flank a deep grotto.The stairs are decorated with gilded statues,the central basin is a golden Samson opening the jaws of a golden lion.From the basin,the waterflows toward the sea through a long canal.
At the beginging of the 18th century the canal was rather deep, the central bridge was an open one, and small sailing ships brought the quests up to the foot of the palace.The Marine canal is flanked by rows of trees, more fountains, the jets of water look like trunks of exotic crystal trees, hence the name of the alley, the Alley of Fountains.

The present-day aspect of the cascade has been formed over a century ago, but it was Peter the Great himself who conceived its general scheme. His first surviving sketches of the future Peterhof structures show that the Tsar was familiar with their European prototypes. Peter the Great offered to erect on the slope of the terrace two grottos and two cascade stairways to let water run down to a rectangular pool connected by a canal with the sea.

The Grand Cascade.To provide water for the fountains, a gravity-fed water system, twenty-two kilometres long, was designed by Vastly Tuvolkov, the first Russian hydraulic engineer. Skilfully exploiting the natural slope of the terrain from the springs of Ropsha towards the sea, he constructed a reliable hydrotechnical system here. The water-jets of the Great Cascade, and one of the fountains in the flower parterre of the Lower Gardens in front of the Great Palace, were turned on for the first time (to test the water pressure) in the summer of 1721.

Extended and improved in the first half of the nineteenth century, this system still supplies enough water to the fountains and cascades of Peterhof to keep them working for up to ten hours a day.
Peterhof. The Western Cascade Stairway.
Peterhof. The Western Cascade Stairway.

Portrait of Empress Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great.
1760.Peterhof is an immensely luxurious royal estate, lying on the shore of the Gulf of Finland (Baltic Sea), a combination of several palaces and parks, the "Capital of Russian fountains".

mpress Elizaberth Petrovna, Peter's daughter, also took an interest in Peterhof. During her reign the Great Palace was enlarged, more fountains were added. Peterhof was even further developed by tzar Nicholas I.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Peterhof Palace was the central structure of the official, "crowned" residence of the Russian Emperors.

Many remarkable events took place in its halls, from large-scale festivals to grand receptions. On festive occasions tables were laid simultaneously in many halls and even on the terraces under the galleries of the palace. About three thousand guests gathered there for great Imperial balls; and the illumination amounted to over ten thousand candles. Festivities used to last until morning.

Peterhof. The Throne Room.

Beyond the limits of the seemingly endless royal parks lies the town of Peterhof. It has a population of 82 thousand and is renowned throughout Russia for the "Raketa" wrist-watches, which are produced there.

The Great Cascade. The enter to the Upper Grotto. The Great Cascade. The enter to the Upper Grotto.

After the October Revolution of 1917, all the park-and-palace complexes became national property.

Vase in the Cascade stairway.In the first few months of the Eecond World War of 1941-45, the staff of the Peterhof museums took all possible measures to save the art collections. Pictures, statues, and many thousands of objects of applied art were taken away to Leningrad or to distant parts of the country. Many marble and bronze sculptures were buried in the ground or stowed in secret caches.

The Cottage Palace.For twenty-eight months, from 21 September 1941 to 19 January 1944, Peterhof was in the enemy-occupied territory. The invaders cut down more than 10,000 of the 30,000 trees in the Lower Park. The walks and lawns were mined, pitted with trenches, dugouts, and craters, and fenced with barbed wire. Centuries-old trees were used to build pill-boxes and bunkers. The Great Palace was severely damaged by an explosion and a great fire. The Catherine House in the Monplaisir complex and the Orangery were almost entirely destroyed. The cascades, fountains, sluices, and canals of Peterhof, together with those parts of the hydrotechnical system which fed the Peterhof waterworks with water from Ropsha springs, suffered serious damage or were completely wrecked.

Peterhof. The Great Cascade.

The statues of Samson, the Volkhov, the Neva, and the Tritons, together with the lead bas-reliefs of the Great Cascade and many other sculptural works which it had been impossible to remove to safety, were stolen by the invaders.

The painstaking work was done by the Soviet restorers. Today eight palaces are open to the public, 173 fountains and 3 Cascades were returned to life. The wide variety of fountains is the principal feature of Peterhof, its glory. Water plumes and sprays from hundred of imaginative fountains over statues of gods and goddesses, horses and fish.

To see more pictures and learn more about Peterhof please visit their official site.

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