Peterhof (Petrodvorets Review
Peterhof (Petrodvorets,It's hard to believe that virtually all of Peterhof and the other palaces were almost completely in ruins toward the end of World War II, when the Germans were finally driven out of the area. Many priceless objects had been removed to safety before the Germans advanced, but a great deal was left behind and was looted. Now, after decades of painstaking work, art historians and craftspeople, have used photographs and other records to return the palaces to their former splendor. Peterhof and its neighboring palaces are so vast, however, that renovation work will continue for many years to come.
The complex of gardens and residences at Peterhof was masterminded by Peter the Great, who personally drew up the original plans, starting around 1720. His motivation was twofold. First, he was proud of the capital city he was creating and wanted its evolving Imperial grandeur showcased with a proper summer palace. Second, he became attached to this spot while erecting the naval fortress of Kronshtadt on a nearby island across the Gulf of Finland; because it lay in easy view, he often stayed here during the fort's construction. When the fort was finished, he had had a series of naval victories (including the Northern War against the Swedes), so he threw himself into establishing many parts of the grounds that would be called Peterhof (Peter's Court). This German name was changed to Petrodvorets after World War II.
If you travel by hydrofoil, you'll arrive at the pier of the Lower Park, from which you work your way up to the Great Palace. If you arrive by land, you'll go through the process in reverse. Either way, the perspective always emphasizes the mightiness of water. Half-encircled by the sea, filled with fountains and other water monuments, and with the Marine Canal running straight from the foot of the palace into the bay, Peter's palace was also intended as a tribute to the role of water in the life, and strength, of his city. The Lower Park is a formal baroque garden in the French style, adorned with statues and cascades. Peter's playful spirit is still very much in evidence here. The tsar installed "trick fountains"—hidden water sprays built into trees and tiny plazas. The fountains come with life when staff press hidden mechanisms, much to the surprise of the unsuspecting visitor and the delight of the squealing children who love to race through the resulting showers on hot summer days. Located in the eastern half of Lower Park is the oldest building at Peterhof, Monplaisir (literally "My Pleasure"), completed in 1721. This is where Peter the Great lived while overseeing construction of the main Imperial residence. As was typical with Peter, he greatly preferred this modest Dutch-style villa to his later, more extravagant living quarters. The house is open to the public and makes for a pleasant tour. Some of its most interesting rooms are the Lacquered Study, decorated with panels painted in the Chinese style (these are replicas; the originals were destroyed during World War II); Peter's Naval Study; and his bedroom, where some personal effects, such as his nightcap and a quilt made by his wife, are on display. Attached to Peter's villa is the so-called Catherine Wing, built by Rastrelli in the mid-18th century in a completely different style. The future Catherine the Great was staying here at the time of the coup that overthrew her husband and placed her on the throne; the space was later used mainly for balls.
In the western section of the Lower Park is another famous structure, the Hermitage, built in 1725. It may be the first of the great Imperial hermitages (the most famous, of course, still stands in St. Petersburg), or retreats, in Russia. This two-story pavilion, which was used primarily as a banqueting hall for special guests, was at one time equipped with a device that would hoist the dining table area—diners and all—from the ground floor to the private dining room above. A slightly different system was put in place after Tsar Paul I's chair broke during one such exercise. The center part of the table could be lifted out, and guests would write down their dinner preferences and then signal for their notes to be lifted away. Shortly thereafter, the separated section would be lowered, complete with the meals everyone had ordered. The only way to the Hermitage was over a drawbridge, so privacy was ensured.
Almost adjacent to the Hermitage is the Marly Palace, a modest Peter the Great construction that is more of a country retreat than a palace. As with Monplaisir, there's mostly Peter-related memorabilia on display here. The four ponds around the back were used by Catherine the Great to stock fish.
A walk up the path through the center of the Lower Park (along the Marine Canal) leads you to the famous Great Cascade (Bolshoi Kaskad). Running down the steep ridge separating the Lower Park and the Great Palace towering above, the cascade comprises three waterfalls, 64 fountains, and 37 gilt statues. The system of waterworks has remained virtually unchanged since 1721. The ducts and pipes convey water over a distance of some 20 km (12 mi). The centerpiece of the waterfalls is a gilt Samson forcing open the jaws of a lion, out of which a jet of water spurts into the air. The statue represents the 1709 Russian victory over the Swedes at Poltava on St. Samson's day. The present figure is a meticulous replica of the original, which was carried away by the Germans during World War II. A small entrance halfway up the right-hand staircase (as you look at the palace above) leads to the grotto, where you can step out onto a terrace to get a bit closer to Samson before going inside to have a look under the waterworks.
Crowning the ridge above the cascade is the magnificent Bolshoi Dvorets. Little remains of Peter's original two-story house, built between 1714 and 1725 under the architects Leblond, Braunstein, and Machetti. The building was considerably altered and enlarged by Peter's daughter, Elizabeth. She entrusted the reconstruction to her favorite architect, Bartolomeo Rastrelli, who transformed the modest residence into a blend of medieval architecture and Russian baroque. Before you begin your tour of the palace interiors, pause for a moment to take in the breathtaking view from the marble terrace. From here a full view of the grounds below unfolds, stretching from the cascades to the Gulf of Finland and on to the city horizon on the shore beyond.
As for the main palace building, the lavish interiors are primarily the work of Rastrelli, although several of the rooms were redesigned during the reign of Catherine the Great to accord with the more classical style that prevailed in her day. Of Peter's original design, only his Oak Study Room (Dubovy Kabinet) survived the numerous reconstructions. The fine oak panels (some are originals) lining the walls were designed by the French sculptor Pineau. The entire room and all its furnishings are of wood, with the exception of the white-marble fireplace, above whose mantel hangs a long mirror framed in carved oak.
One of the largest rooms in the palace is the classically designed Throne Room (Tronny Zal), which takes up the entire width of the building. This majestic room—once the scene of receptions and ceremonies—has exquisite parquet floors, elaborate stucco ceiling moldings, and dazzling chandeliers. The pale-green and dark-red decor is bathed in light, which pours in through two tiers of windows (28 in all) taking up the long sides of the room. Behind Peter the Great's throne at the eastern end of the room hangs a huge portrait of Catherine the Great. The empress, the epitome of confidence after her successful coup, is shown astride a horse, dressed in the uniform of the guard regiment that supported her bid for power.
Next to the Throne Room is the Chesma Hall (Chesmensky Zal), whose interior is dedicated entirely to the Russian naval victory over the Turks in 1770. The walls are covered with 12 huge canvases depicting the battles; they were created for Catherine by the German painter Phillip Hackert. Arguably the most dazzling of the rooms is the Audience Hall (Audients Zal). Rastrelli created the definitive baroque interior with this glittering room of white, red, and gold. Gilt baroque bas-reliefs adorn the stark white walls, along which tall mirrors hang, further reflecting the richness of the decor.
Other notable rooms include the Chinese Study Rooms (Kitaiskye Kabinety), designed by Vallin de la Mothe in the 1760s. Following the European fashion of the time, the rooms are ornately decorated with Chinese motifs. Finely carved black-lacquer panels depict various Chinese scenes. Between the two rooms of the study is the Picture Hall (Kartinny Zal), whose walls are paneled with 368 oil paintings by the Italian artist Rotari. The artist used just eight models for these paintings, which depict young women in national dress.
A tour of the palace interiors is offered regularly in English. After this, a stroll through the Upper Park, on the south side of the palace, is in order. This symmetrical formal garden is far less imaginative than the Lower Park. Its focal point is the Neptune Fountain, made in Germany in the 17th century and bought by Paul I in 1782. During World War II this three-tier group of bronze sculptures was carried away by the Germans, but it was recovered and reinstalled in 1956.
You can reach the palace by commuter train from St. Petersburg but as long as you're visiting in the summer and there isn't too much fog, the best way to go is by hydrofoil. This way your first view is the panorama of the grand palace overlooking the sea. The lines to get into the palace can be excruciatingly long in summer, and sometimes guided tours get preferential treatment. The ticket office for foreigners is inside the palace, and although admission is more expensive than it is for Russians, the lines are significantly shorter. Some park pavilions are closed Wednesday and others on Thursday; visiting on the weekend is the best chance to see everything.
An integral part of visiting any museum-palace in Russia is encountering the autocratic babushki (a colloquial term for museum caretakers, often slightly officious grandmothers). As you enter the palace, you'll be given tattered shoe covers to wear, so as to protect the halls' highly polished floors. On most occasions, flash photography is not allowed, although for a fee, video may be used.
- Address: 2 ul. Razvodnaya, Peterhof, 198516
- Phone: 812/450-6527; 812/450-6513 kassa (ticket window)
- Cost: Palace 520R, park 350R, separate admission fees (100R-- 360R) for park pavilions
- Hours: Great Palace Tues.--Sun. 10:30--5; some park pavilions are closed Wed. and others on Thurs. Closed last Tues. of month
- Website: peterhofmuseum.ru
- Location: Peterhof (Petrodvorets)
Free Fodor's Newsletter
Subscribe today for weekly travel inspiration, tips, and special offers.
Fodor's Trip Planning Ideas
- Weekend Getaways: Fodor's Recommends the Best Weekend Escapes in the US
- Great American Vacation: Find Your Next U.S. Trip with Fodor's
- 80 Degrees: Fodor's Helps You Find Your Best Beach Vacation Spots
- Go List: Fodor's Top 25 Places to Go in 2013
- Hotel Awards 2012: Fodor's 100 Top Hotels
- Best of Europe: Fodor's Picks the Best Places to Visit in Europe
- ASAP Tickets Sale! Flights to Saint Petersburg From 497 R/T ASAPTickets.com
- 3-Star Nevsky Central Fr $144+/Nt Save with Hotels.com, $26/night less
- Save Big This May! Book 3 Nts at Nas Fr $278+/Nt Expedia
- Last Minute Vacation Sale! 3 Nts St. Petersburg + Air Fr $992 Travelocity
- Hot Deal on a 27 Nt Cruise! Seabourn Cruise Line Fr $5,499 Expedia
This is a series of Trip reports that I originally posted on Trip Advisor. Read more
Hello. Read more
What is a visa? Read more
· News & Features
Why not take that classic walking city tour to new heights with this new trend of rooftop tours?... Read more
Feeling that Olympics fever?... Read more
From Arkansas to Nicaragua, we've got our ear to the ground when it comes to the hottest new hotels.... Read more