The Marly or the Golden Hill Cascade
The Marly Cascade is the main feature in the western area's scheme of water decoration. Work on it began in 1722, a year after Peter ordered Michetti to draw up plans for a cascade copying the French original of similar structure at Marly-le-Roi. The Marly Cascade, however, must be regarded as a purely Russian work of art, for the original idea underwent complete transformation in the process of designing and building. Thus, Peter reduced the number of steps to suit the natural incline of the slope; and in 1723 he directed Zemtsov to prepare a design for the sculptural group of Hercules Wrestling with the Seven-headed Hydra, which was to crown the cascade. This group was only a part of the rich sculptural decor which was to have been made for the cascade by Bartolomeo Carlo Rastrelli, the sculptor, from drawings by Michetti and Zemtsov. But all that Rastrelli ever did were three gilded lead masks of the Medusa, with cartouche supports of gilded lead and bronze. Water spurted from the gilded Medusa masks and flowed down the stone steps, which were lined with planks painted in imitation of marble. In order to complete the cascade as soon as possible, Zemtsov produced a simplified version of the decoration, which Usov began work on in 1726. Work was stopped during the next year, and did not begin again until 1731, when Zemtsov was again ordered to complete the cascade. In the summer of 1732 the construction and decoration of the cascade were completed, and the Lower Park was enriched by a new piece of water display, retaining only the name of its French prototype. Zemtsov placed the emphasis on the twenty-one steps of the cascade strairway, widening them to almost fourteen metres, and increasing the overall length of the cascade and its pool to sixty metres. He accentuated the outlines of the steps by edging them with marble and by lining the risers with gilded sheet copper. This element of the decoration caused the cascade to be called the Golden Hill. While retaining the Medusa masks on the back wall, which had the form of an attic, Zemtsov surmounted it by three statues of Carrara marble, of Neptune, a Triton, and a Nymph; he placed sculptures of Andromeda and Venus with a Cupid at the sides of the bottom steps; and on the massive volute-shaped pedestals, which terminated the parapets, he erected two gilded lead statues. Instead of the wide pool at the foot of the cascade, Zemtsov created a small basin of formal shape, with a sculpture in the centre. The cascade thus acquired great dignity and splendour.
The Marly Cascade did not undergo any significant alterations until 1870, when Nikolay Benois carried out major restoration work. Marble was now used to face the entire surface of the steps and not just the edges, as had been the case before. At the same time, the already deformed leaden figures were replaced by ten statues of Carrara marble, executed in Italy.
During the War of 1941-45 almost all the sculptures and decorations of the Marly Cascade, including the rare Rastrelli masks, were hidden, and thus saved. Between 1946 and 1949 they were returned to their former places. In 1970 the second major restoration programme in the cascade's history was begun. The old lateral stairways and balustrades of wood have been remade in stone; the facing of the parapets has been cleaned and restored; and slabs of Pudost limestone are being used to fill the gaps in the facing of the steps. This work will ensure a long life for one of the finest examples of Russian garden architecture from the first half of the eighteenth century.
The Marly Cascade (395 Kb)
The Marly or
the Golden Hill Cascade
The Marly Cascade:
the garden of Bacchus.
Venus (Flora) and Cupid.
The Marly Cascade.
Decoration of the back wall.