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The idea to build a suburban residence that would compete in its luxury with the famous Versailles of the French, came to Peter the Great in 1714. The Tsar's surviving drawings, decrees and notes on some documents allow us to maintain that the general concept of the ensemble layout and even the detailed design of some elements in the architectural projects and fountain structures belonged to the founder of Peterhof himself. The French ambassador Campredon, in his letter to Louis XV, wrote that the progress in the construction of the palace was "striking and amazing". In August 1723, the ceremony of the inauguration of Peterhof ("Peter's court" in Dutch) took place. By that time the Lower Park was laid out, the Sea Canal dug up, a number of the fountains were functioning, the Upper Mansion was being decorated, the Monplaisir and Marly palaces built and the Hermitage Pavilion nearly completed. But on the whole, work on the construction of the ensemble would continue for about two centuries.

The focal centre of the ensemble is the Great Palace which towers above the edge of the 16-metre-high terrace. The elegant three-storey building provided with galleries and flanking blocks, the Court Church and the Coat-of-Arms Pavilion, shining with their gilded cupolas, make up the facade extending for about 300 metres along the terrace. The Great Cascade serves as a magnificent pedestal for the palace. The wealth of gold, the vivid expressiveness of the architecture, the powerful motion and roar of falling water, all here creates the atmosphere of exultation, majesty and life-asserting festivity.

It was not soon after the foundation, however, that the palace acquired its present-day appearance. Originally, its site was occupied by a rather modest Upper Mansion built in 1714-21 by the architects Jean-Baptiste Le Blond, Johann Braunstein and Niccolo Michetti. During the age of Peter the Great, the mansion served as a formal royal residence. The building was repeatedly reconstructed, but after Peter's death the construction work came to a standstill. It was only during the reign of his daughter, Elizabeth Petrovna, that a true flowering of Peterhof began. By that time, the old Peterhof Mansion could not meet the tastes of the growing Imperial court any more, and Elizabeth commissioned the Italian architect Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli to put up a new building, the Great Palace, on the same site. Moreover, it was decided to preserve the historical central part of Peter's Upper Mansion by integrating it into the structure of the newly-built palace.The work began in 1747 and as early as 1756 sumptuous festivities took place there.

The palace's interiors, created by the outstanding talents of the architect and a hundred of master-craftsmen, never failed to overwhelm their visitors by their luxury and huge dimensions. The design of the state residence was strictly subordinated to its underlying emotional and artistic concept of a ceaselessly unfolding theatrical performance. The layout of the halls as an enfilade of rooms perfectly suited that concept of festive processions which would definitely take place not only during famous "entries" of the monarch, but in the course of all kinds of ceremonies, rituals and procedures and even during balls.

The splendidly gilded state staircase led to the no less magnificent Ball Room and then to the Antechamber, also decorated with gilded carving and ceiling paintings. On passing it and turning to the right, guests would find themselves at the axis of the main suite of rooms of the palace, a suite which seemed to be endless. Moreover, this reigning feeling of space was enhanced by a large window in its depth which afforded a breath-taking view of the parkland - one's sight could easily penetrate into it.

Rastrelli's creations emerged during the last decade before the end of the Baroque era and therefore many of them were doomed to have a short life. The 1760s saw the rapid spread of a new style, Classicism, in Russia, which brought with it a new wave of alterations in the interiors of the Great Palace. In 1766-67, Jean-Baptiste Vallin de la Mothe decorated the two Chinese Lobbies adjoining Peter's Hall in the centre of the palace. But the most radical changes came with the architect YuryVelten in the 1770s. His designs were used to make major alterations in the architectural decor of a number of living apartments and state halls - the Banqueting Hall, the Great Hall and the Antechamber. Velten was to resolve a very complicated task. It was necessary to redecorate these rooms and halls in Classical manner, without fundamentally changing their volumes, or the number and shape of the windows. The architect perfectly succeeded in overcoming all the difficulties he had faced. The subsequent sixty-five years saw no significant changes in the rooms of the Peterhof Palace.

As a result of the Imperial residence's two-hundred history, there emerged a palace in which, next to the interiors preserving their appearance from the Petrine age, were the sumptuous and majestic halls of the mid-eighteenth century, the quiet and austere halls of the Classicist period, as well as the mid-nineteenth-century interiors based on the revival of the fundamental Rococo principles.

During the two centuries, there was accumulated a large number of beautiful works of painting, sculpture, furniture, artistic bronzeware, porcelain and glass. Well-known craftsmen working in the various fields of decorative art added to the wealth and magnificence of the Great Palace making it an outstanding treasure-house of culture.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Peterhof Palace was the central structure of the official, "crowned" residence of the Russian Emperors. Many remarkable events took place in its halls, from large-scale festivals to grand receptions. On festive occasions tables were laid simultaneously in many halls and even on the terraces under the galleries of the palace. About three thousand guests gathered there for great Imperial balls; and the illumination amounted to over ten thousand candles. Festivities used to last until morning.

The daily life of Peterhof and the Great Palace radically changed in the early 20th century. After the fall of the Tsarist regime there were some irresolute attempts at recording the innumerable riches housed in the palace. But soon the Provisional Government, afraid of the advancing German troops, ordered to evacuate the treasures to Moscow. It was only in 1920 that all these objects were returned to Peterhof. The subsequent years saw great efforts undertaken to reorganize the Great Palace into a museum.

During World War II the palace was greatly damaged. But already in 1947 the project of its restoration was prepared. In 1957, the magnificent facade of the Great Palace began to crown once again the terrace over the Great Cascade and in 1964 first visitors came to the newly restored halls.

The view of the Great Palace from the Lower Garden.

The view of the Great Palace
from the Upper Garden

The view of the Great Palace
from the Upper Garden

The chapel Royal.

The Pavilion with
the Double Eagle.

The view of the Great Palace
from the Upper Garden

The double eagle on the top of the Pavilion.

t o p   o f   p a g e  
The official homepage of the Peterhof:
Complete playbill of all St. Petersburg,Russia theatres, shows, concerts, etcComplete playbill of all St. Petersburg,Russia theatres, shows, concerts, etc. !
World-known music festival "The Stars of the White Nights". Artistic director - Valery Gergiev (Mariinky (Kirov) Opera and Ballet)World-known music festival "The Stars of the White Nights".
Artistic director - Valery Gergiev (Mariinky (Kirov) Opera and Ballet)

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