Joe Hendren

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Travels: Peterhof

Visit to Summer Palace of the Romanov family

Thursday September 19, 2002

Cathedral of St Peter 

Today we departed from our hotel soon after 9am in order to drive out to the Summer Palace, which is an hour or so out of St Petersburg, in a town called Peterhof. Passed some really beautiful old Russian cottages in the outskirts of St Petersburg. Many are painted white and sky blue, in the colours of the Winter Palace, with large sections of the outside walls covered with dense vines and undergrowth (yes if you think blue and white fairy tale cottages you have the image about right). Some are likely to be as old as St Petersburg itself. I wanted to slam on the breaks of the bus to take a photo!

In Peterhof we stopped to have a look at the Cathedral of St Peter and Paul. While this Cathedral looks like an Orthodox cathedral in the classical style, it was in fact built in the 20th Century - such buildings are referred to as ‘pseudorussian’ as they are not actually old.

The Summer Palace was commissioned by Peter the Great to be in the style of Versailles in France. The grounds are lined with shaped trees and fountains. The fountains are powered only by gravity. Water flows 20 miles from a hill above the Palace, up through each of the 150 fountains in the surrounding park, making its way to the sea. Peterhof, or Peter's Court, is as old as St Petersburg itself, designed as the royal residence for Peter's new capital


Front of the Summer Palace

The Summer Palace is a beautiful building, decorated in the pastels of white and gold-like yellow. Our group stopped to take pictures in the gardens of paths, fountains, pools, trees and grass on the front side of the palace. We then went around to the other side of the building to the main tourist entrance.

Opposite the entrance, looking out to sea there is a large canal, beginning with a pool with the largest fountain at its centre. Large stairs on either side, also lined on each level with fountains, descend from the level of the Palace to the pool. The canal makes its way from the palace to the sea, lined on either side with fountains, dispersed with bridges across its breadth. The canal was wider in Peter the Great's time, allowing Peter to sail his beloved large boats right up to the main stairs of his favourite residence.

Canal and fountains looking back towards Peterhof

Each of the rooms inside the palace is decorated in a different style, reflecting the differing tastes each of the Tsars. The sheer opulence and attention to detail is amazing. Many of the works of gold were constructed from hundreds of layers of gold wafer thinner than a sheet of paper, each painstakingly applied by hand. In one room mirrors are arranged opposite each other in order creating a gold and white corridor effect in both directions.

The study of Peter the Great is significantly different to the other rooms as it contains no gold, being decorated by wood carvings in the Dutch style favoured by Peter. This room is still undergoing restoration.

During World War II (known as the Great Patriotic War to Russians) Peterhof was occupied by the Germans for 28 months. While around 50% of the treasures were evacuated prior to the arrival of the Nazis, many objects either disappeared or were destroyed. During the Nazi withdraw, the Germans attempted to obliterate the palace, but they were only partially successful, however, a shell of was all that remained.

Restoration work began soon after WWII, with the proviso that only the old techniques were to be used. Restoration work still continues today, after more than 50 years.

Link to more info about Peterhof

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