Address: 18 miles west of St. Petersburg, 2 Razvodnaya Ulitsa
One of St. Petersburg's most famous and popular visitor attractions, the palace and park at Peterhof (also known as Petrodvorets) are often referred to as "the Russian Versaille", although many visitors conclude that the comparison does a disservice to the grandeur and scope of this majestic estate.
Versailles was, however, the inspiration for Peter the Great's desire to build an imperial palace in the suburbs of his new city and, after an aborted attempt at Strelna, Peterhof - which means "Peter's Court" in German - became the site for the Tsar's Monplaisir Palace, and then of the original Grand Palace. The estate was equally popular with Peter's granddaughter, Empress Elizabeth, who ordered the expansion of the Grand Palace and greatly extended the park and the famous system of fountains, including the truly spectacular Grand Cascade.
Improvements to the park continued throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Catherine the Great, after leaving her own mark on the park, moved the court to Pushkin, but Peterhof once again became the official Imperial Residence in the reign of Nicholas I, who ordered the building of the modest Cottage Palace in 1826.
Like almost all St. Petersburg's suburban estates, Peterhof was ravaged by German troops during the Second World War. It was, however, one of the first to be resurrected and, thanks to the work of military engineers and over 1,000 volunteers, most of the estate's major structures had been fully restored by 1947. The name was also de-Germanicized after the war, becoming Petrodvorets, the name under which the surrounding town is still known. The palace and park are once again known as Peterhof.
The Grand Palace at Peterhof was designed to be the centerpiece of Peter the Great's "Russian Versaille". Around 1720, the Tsar gave up on attempts to establish his court at Strelna, mainly because the boggy ground proved entirely unsuitable for the canals and fountains that he envisioned. Moving his attentions further east to Peterhof, the Tsar began to draw up his own plans for the grounds and palace. Work had already begun on a modest palace, designed by Jean-Baptiste Le Blond, in 1714, and that building was completed in 1721.
Peterhof Park and Gardens
The spectacular parkland at Peterhof is remarkable for the sheer variety of styles encompassed in its layout and features. Representing nearly two centuries of European aristocratic fashion executed to the highest standards, Peterhof is like an encyclopedia of park design through the age of empire. Particularly impressive is the fact that the master landscapers and garden designers who worked on the estate at Peterhof managed to overcome the extremely inclement conditions of the northern climate to create a wonderland of greenery and flowers, sweeping vistas and ornate architectural decorations.
The Fountains of Peterhof
The fountains of Peterhof are one of Russia's most famous tourist attractions, drawing millions of visitors every year. 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.
Peter the Great's pet project at Peterhof was this small but charming summer palace, which the Tsar designed by and for himself, although he sought the help of several architects to do so. If you arrive in Peterhof by boat, Monplaisir is one of the first sights to greet you. Sitting in the eastern corner of the Lower Park, right on the shoreline of the Gulf of Finland, Monplaisir vaguely resembles a Dutch Colonial mansion, with its high gabled roof over the central corpus and narrow rectangular windows to keep out the wintry north wind. The facade on the opposite side of the palace is quite different, with long single-storey galleries topped by a balustraded terrace and supported by slender columns. Here, large French windows allow natural light to pour into the rooms, giving the whole building a summery, almost tropical feel.
Located in the western half of the Lower Park, the Marly Palace is a charming baroque mansion that was built on the orders of Peter the Great as an intimate retreat in the grounds of the Grand Palace. Peter's inspiration was the royal hunting lodge at Marly Le Roi, just outside Paris. Louis XIV had commissioned his residence there as a private, peaceful alternative to Versailles. Peter visited Marly Le Roi during his visit to France in 1717, and, when creating the "Russian Versailles" at Peterhof, he decided to have his own personal sanctuary built in the grounds.
Standing on a moted island right on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, the graceful two-storey Peterhof Hermitage was envisioned by Peter the Great as an informal dining room for his closest associates, with a system of pulleys used to serve food and ensure the privacy of the diners.
Cottage Palace and Alexandria Park
To the west of the main park at Peterhof lies an expanse of landscaped parkland in the English style, named after Alexandra Fedorovna, wife of Nicholas I. Originally divided amongst Peter the Great's favourites, including Alexander Menshikov, who began to build a palace here shortly before he was disgraced and exiled, the land was used as a royal hunting ground for most of the 18th century, and then left to go wild after the court moved to Tsarskoe Selo.
More information about Peterhorf Palace here