Address: Oranienbaum (Lomonosov)
Still commonly known by its post-war name of Lomonosov, the estate at Oranienbaum is the oldest of the Imperial Palaces around St. Petersburg, and also the only one not to be captured by Nazi forces during the Great Patriotic War. Founded by Prince Menshikov, Peter the Great's closest adviser, the Grand Palace is one of the most opulent examples of Petrine architecture to have survived to the present, although until very recently the palace itself has been greatly neglected. After Menshikov's death, Oranienbaum passed to the state, and was used as a hospice until, in 1743, it was presented by Empress Elizabeth to her nephew, the future Peter III. Peter made Oranienbaum his official summer residence and transformed one corner of the park, ordering the construction of a "Joke" Castle and a small citadel manned by his Holstein guards. This peculiar ensemble, called Petershtadt, was mostly demolished during Pavel's reign. Antonio Rinaldi, the Italian-born architect who also designed the Grand Palace at Gatchina and the Marble Palace in St. Petersburg, was commissioned by Peter in 1758 to build a modest stone palace next to the fortress, and this has survived.
After Peter was deposed, Rinaldi was commissioned by Catherine the Great to build the Chinese Palace, in the Upper Park, as her official country residence. However, Catherine spent little time at Oranienbaum, which she had grown to hate during her marriage to Peter, and by the end of the 18th century the estate had been turned into a Naval Cadet College. The palace became an Imperial residence again in the reign of Alexander I, and retained that status until the Revolution, when it was immediately opened as a museum. Although never captured by the Germans, Oranienbaum was bombarded during the war and, while the Grand Menshikov Palace survived intact, its restoration was given much lower priority than the more famous estates at Peterhof and Tsarskoe Selo. Today, the small but elegant park has been almost completely restored, while the full restoration of the palaces has finally gained momentum over the last decade.
Oranienbaum is only 12km along the coast from Peterhof, so it is possible for those with some stamina to combine the two in a single daytrip. A marshrutka minibus (K-348) connects the two estates. From St. Petersburg it is possible to take a minibus (K-300) from Avtovo Metro Station, or suburban trains from Baltiskiy Station. Either way, the journey takes a little under one hour.
Grand Menshikov Palace
The lands on which Oranienbaum and the town of Lomonosov were established were first presented by Peter the Great to Grand Duke Alexander Menshikov around 1710. At the time, Menshikov was overseeing the fortification of the sea fort at Kronshtadt on Kotlin Island, 5km from the site across the Gulf of Finland.
Menshikov began to build his residence here in 1713, at about the same time as Peter began work on his own estate at Peterhof. Menshikov seemed intent on outdoing his master in terms of scale and grandeur, and commissioned architects Giovanni Mario Fontana and Gottfried Schadel, who were already building the Menshikov Palace in St. Petersburg, to design his seaside palace. After over a decade of work, which eventually bankrupted Menshikov, the palace was completed.
Peter III's Palace
Built between 1758 and 1762 by Antonio Rinaldi, the small Palace of Peter III is, along with the nearby Gate of Honour, all that remains of Petershtadt, the model fortress that Peter III had built for himself and his Holstein bodyguards. The bizarre set-up of Petershtadt adds weight to the traditional perception of Peter as immature, obsessed with militarism, and decidedly unfit to become Emperor of Russia. The citadel, of which Peter declared himself "Commandant", was surrounded by motes and earthen ramparts, and consisted of a barracks and officers' mess, an arsenal, a parade ground, and a Lutheran church.
Most of the buildings that comprised Petershtadt were demolished in 1798, When Peter's son, Paul I, ordered the removal of all wooden structures in the park. The Gate of Honour, which led onto Petershtadt's parade ground, is an elegant late Baroque gate tower with a narrow gold spire atop a wide arch and an octagonal turret that was once used as a look-out post. It now stands alone, and looks rather out of place among the overgrown shrubbery. However, its archway does provide a superb view of the Lower Pond and the eastern wing of the Grand Palace.
The Chinese Palace
There is nothing particularly Chinese about this charming building in the southern corner of the park at Oranienbaum. Built by Antonio Rinaldi between 1762 and 1768, it was the first major building project to be ordered by Catherine the Great, who planned for the building to serve as her private dacha. In fact the Empress spent only 48 days there during the 34 years of her reign. However, the building, which is currently undergoing full-scale renovation, is considered one of the finest examples of rococo in Russia, with has superbly ornate interiors featuring a range of late 18th century styles, including Chinoiserie, a trend imported to St. Petersburg from England rather than from the East.
Like the fabulous buildings at Oranienbaum, the park around them is in need of a great deal of tender, loving cate to restore it to its former glories. While some parts of the varied parkland can still give a fair impression of the carefully planned landscaping carried out in the reign of Catherine the Great, others are so overgrown as to have become just wilderness.
The Upper Park, to the south-west of the Grand Menshikov Palace, is the most beautiful section of the estate, with varied woodland interlaced with canals, bridges and ponds. Laid out in the reign of Catherine the Great by Joseph Bush, the rolling parkland contains the Chinese Palace and Antonio Rinaldi's equally fascinating Sliding Hill, a three-storey, blue-and-white baroque pavilion that was once the starting point for a 500m "rollercoaster" using sledges or wheeled carts. Other buildings in the Upper Park include the Stone Hall, used in Catherine's reign for masquerades, the late 19th century Pergola, and the simple neoclassical Cavaliers' Room, which now houses a cafe. The Upper Park also boasts a deer enclosure with tame and very friedly inmates.