Peterhof Palace

Peterhof Palace

Only a man as powerful and as influential and the amazing Peter the Great could have created not only one of the world’s greatest cities, but also one of the world’s greatest royal palaces. The stunning Peterhoff Palace, just outside of St Petersburg is one of the world’s greatest residences, heavily influenced in it’s design and layout by the equally impressive French palace of Versailles, and is deservedly recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site.


The Samson fountain symbolises Peter the Great's victory over the Swedish.

In addition to the palace itself, the complex is best known for it’s amazing gardens (with dozens of other buildings and structures) and the incredible fountains. Considered to be one of the most amazing feats of fountain design and construction in existence, the fountains are all gravity-fed – there are no pumps used anywhere. The largest and most impressive of the fountains is directly in front of the Grand Palace (Bolshoi Dvorets) and it is known as the The Grand Cascade and Samson Fountain.

The central piece of the Samson Fountain is a gold statue of Samson defeating a lion. As the lion is a feature on the Swedish coat of arms, this statue symbolises Peter the Great’s victory over the invading Swedish armies – one of the events that led to the establishment of St Petersburg and Peterhof by the great tsar. Sadly the original fountain was looted by the nazis in World War Two (more on that era shortly), so the current statue is a replica dating from 1947.

Both the cascades and the fountain feed into a circular pool, which then becomes a long straight canal (called the Sea Channel) that leads all the way to ocean several hundred metres away.

The fountains are switched on daily at around 10am for visitors, and the entire display is choreographed to classical music. In Peter’s day the tsar would have his own orchestra play for his guests’ amusement, but today we must be content with a pre-recorded piece.


The Sea Channel leads from the Samson fountain to the ocean along a tree-lined avenue.

Looking at the main palace from the canal or the fountain courtyard, it certainly appears foreboding. But while tall, wide and grand, it actually isn’t very deep – only a few rooms from front to back. But this is also the way Versailles, upon which it is said to have been modelled, is designed, so that shouldn’t be too surprising.

The extensive gardens are neatly divided into two. Behind the Grand Palace (to the south) are the smaller Upper Gardens (known in Russian as the Verhnyy Sad). The palace sites at the edge of a crest that dominates the site and runs parallel to the ocean. Between this ridge and the ocean are the Lower Gardens (the Nizhny Sad), more then one square kilometre of forest, gardens, buildings and even more fountains.

Possibly the most important of the fountains in the lower gardens are the two fountains “adam” and “eve”, which are strategically positioned on symmetrically opposite sides of the canal. There are also a number of novelty “hidden” fountains disguised as chairs and statues designed to soak unsuspecting visitors, a particular favourite joke of Peter’s.


Some of the lesser buildings at Peterhof in themselves are grander than many other european palaces

While the main palace is an impressive sight, many of the outbuildings and other structures are equally attractive, and some of them alone rivalling the grandest houses in Europe. One of the quaintest of these is Monplaisir, Peter’s “Dutch house”, a private retreat modelled on his loved Dutch houses, located away from the main building. Here he would spend many peaceful hours away from court, often with male friends playing cards or drinking dangerous amounts of alcohol.

The palace is located west of St Petersburg, near the naval fortress island of Kronstadt. Peter the Great first mentioned the site of Peterhof in 1705 as a good mainland access point for Kornstadt, and he began building his first house on the site, Monplaisir (“my pleasure”) in 1714. He subsequently built the palace complex and gardens further inland in later years, making his final mark in 1725. Many extensions and alterations were made by later tsars, most notably Empress Elizabeth, including the two main wings, which turned what Peter called his “Upper” house into the grand palace we see today.

The chapel at Peterhof Palace

As impressive as these grounds and buildings are today, what we see now is extensively repaired, or at least refurbished. Unfortunately, during World War Two, the site was occupied for three years by the nazis (it was the closest they got to St Petersburg), and they not only looted and pillaged the vast majority of the treasures, but they also bombed many of the buildings, including the Grand Palace itself, largely destroying much of the building. Restoration work began almost immediately after the war, and even continues today.

The gardens were both decorative and functional, with many orchards and vegetable gardens to feed the palaces, and a number of large lakes and ponds stocked with fish. There are extensive forest walks too, where brave squirrels will happily eat from your hand, or even climb up the unsuspecting visitor looking for food.

One of the most touching locations is the memorial tribute built by Tsar Nicholas I for his youngest daughter, Alexandra. Shortly after marrying Prince Frederick William of Hesse she became ill with tuberculosis, and her health only continued to decline. Later, her poor health led to a child being born three months premature. It died soon after, and she died later that day. In a quiet corner of the garden the grieving father had a bust of her built, and then a seat, so that he could continue to visit and talk to her. The Tsar and Tsarina continued to grieve for her all their lives.

Whether or not you are a fan of Peter the Great, it is hard not be impressed by the achievements of the man. Much of his vision for a more modern, more westernised Russia, is evident at Peterhof.

(There are many more photos of Peterhof Palace, including the gardens and other buildings, in the desktop backgrounds and iPhone wallpaper pages.)


The magnificent Grand Palace at Peterhof






4 Responses to Peterhof Palace

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  3. […] by Italian Bartolomeo Rastrelli, the same architect responsible for Catherine Palace, much of Peterhoff, and many other palaces in St Petersburg. While it has been modified and rebuilt a few times, the […]

  4. Kandra Burgees says:

    Wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

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