Peterhof Palace, Russia

What began in 1705 as Peter the Great’s dream for a summer residence grew into an opulent complex of palaces, gardens and fountains for Russian emperors. Enjoy exploring the famous Peterhof Palace near Saint Petersburg, Russia. See why all 9,721 acres have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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1 Introduction to Peterhof Palace near Saint Petersburg, Russia

Peter Alexeyevich – better known as Peter the Great – was Tsar of All Russia from 1682 until 1721 when he founded the Russian Empire. He was Russia’s first emperor until he died in 1725. In 1705, Peter I commissioned J. F. Braunstein and later Jean-Baptiste Le Blond – then the Architect to the Crown – to design Peterhof (Peter’s Court) on the Gulf of Finland near Saint Petersburg. He wanted his summer palace to resemble Versailles in France. Empress Elizabeth, Catherine the Great and Nicholas I all expanded the opulent estate and grounds called Peterhof Palace. Today, this historic complex contains an incredible array of palaces, gardens and fountains on 9,721 acres. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is located in the municipal town of Petergof, about a 45 minute drive from Saint Petersburg.

Razvodnaya Ulitsa, 2, Petergof, Sankt-Peterburg, 198516, Russia
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2 Upper Garden at Peterhof Palace near Saint Petersburg, Russia

From 1714 until 1760, three successive architects crafted the Baroque, 37 acre Upper Garden. This impressive approach to Peterhof Palace is worthy of an emperor. Tree-lined paths flank eight rectangular sections divided by two center walkways. The impeccable lawn is accented with flower beds, five fountains plus sculpted trees and bushes. In 1757, Italian sculptor Antonio Bonazza created four marble statues of Roman deities related to gardens. This is Flora, the goddess of spring and flowers. In the background is the Coat-of Arms Pavilion. It was built in 1755 to accommodate distinguished guests. It also was the private apartment for Catherine the Great while Empress of Russia from 1762 until 1796. This western wing of the Grand Palace is now the Special Treasury Museum. Among the displays are jewels of Russian emperors.

Razvodnaya Ulitsa, 2, Petergof, Sankt-Peterburg, 198516, Russia
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3 Grand Palace at Peterhof Palace near Saint Petersburg, Russia

Peter the Great’s summer estate house, Monplaisir, had not been finished before he commissioned a more elaborate palace initially called Hilltop Chambers. Construction was suspended in 1725 when the emperor died at the age of 52. 16 years later his daughter, Elizabeth Petrovna, became empress. She commissioned Bartolomeo Rastrelli to create an extravagant expansion. When work was finished in 1755, the 984 foot Grand Peterhof Palace with its gilded domes on both ends was worthy of its moniker. Further enhancements were made by Catherine II and Nicholas I. During World War II, the Germans occupied Peterhof Palace beginning in 1941. When the soldiers left in 1944, the imperial property was in ruins. In disdain for their enemy, it was given the Russian name of Petrodvorets until the 1990s. Fortunately, Peterhof Palace has been restored to its former glory. In the foreground is Oak Fountain. This round basin was added to the Upper Garden in 1738.

Razvodnaya Ulitsa, 2, Petergof, Sankt-Peterburg, 198516, Russia
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4 Square Ponds at Peterhof Palace near Saint Petersburg, Russia

During the reign of Peter the Great, the Upper Garden was far less decorative and served practical purposes. Crops were grown in the kitchen garden and the fish ponds were gravity-powered water reservoirs for the Lower Park. In the decades following Peter I’s death in 1725, master architects, sculptors, gardeners and fountain builders transformed this approach to the southern façade of the Great Palace into a sculpted parterre of beauty. Nearest the palace are the Square Ponds Fountains. This eastern Square Pond has been accented with various mythological sculptures during its history surrounded by gilded bronze dolphins. Missing from its platform in this photo is the sculpture of Apollo. In the background is the Court Church.

Razvodnaya Ulitsa, 2, Petergof, Sankt-Peterburg, 198516, Russia
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5 Court Church at Peterhof Palace near Saint Petersburg, Russia

Court Church was commissioned by Elizabeth Petrovna, the Empress of Russia from 1741 until 1762. This stunning Baroque eastern wing of Peterhof Palace was dedicated to the Apostles Peter and Paul and designed by Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli. While senior court architect in the mid-18th century, Count Rastrelli created a dozen of Russia’s most elaborate palaces. From 1751 until 1918, the Russian emperors celebrated weddings, baptisms and holidays beneath these five gilded domes. The former chapel is now the Royal Church Museum.

Razvodnaya Ulitsa, 2, Petergof, Sankt-Peterburg, 198516, Russia
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6 Options for Visiting Peterhof Palace near Saint Petersburg, Russia

There are several ways to reach Peterhof Palace from Saint Petersburg. If you arrive by bus, train or private tour, you will approach the southern facade of the Grand Palace from the Upper Garden. A scenic alternative is catching a hydrofoil near the Hermitage. After riding across the Gulf of Finland, you will arrive at the Marine Canal in the Lower Park. Walking through the Upper Garden is free. Prices for all other sections vary depending upon which of the ten museums you wish to explore. The peak season is May through September. Crowds are heaviest during the weekend and midday during the week. The fewest tourists visit on Monday mornings.

Razvodnaya Ulitsa, 2, Petergof, Sankt-Peterburg, 198516, Russia
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7 Northern Terrace View at Peterhof Palace near Saint Petersburg, Russia

Along the north side of the Grand Palace is this checkerboard-tiled terrace over the Large and Small Grottos. Stand behind this marble balustrade and savor the moment. In front of you are the Neva and Volkhov fountains representing two rivers in northwestern Russia. Below your feet is the spectacular Grand Cascade. In the background is the Sea Canal stretching to the shores of the Gulf of Finland. Peter the Great’s guests floated along this waterway in the early 18th century. Also called Fountain Alley, it is the centerpiece of Lower Park. To the left and right of your position are the Terrace Fountains. These Carrara marble water cannons were created by A. N. Voronikhin in 1800.

Razvodnaya Ulitsa, 2, Petergof, Sankt-Peterburg, 198516, Russia
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8 Grand Cascade at Peterhof Palace near Saint Petersburg, Russia

Grand Cascade at Peterhof Palace is among the world’s most famous and opulent water fountains. This architectural masterpiece was first activated in 1721 and inaugurated in 1723. Water flows down two sets of seven staircases decorated with gilded sculptures. The nine vertical sprays of the Basket Fountain on the right partially conceal the Large Grotto. This houses the fountain’s ingenious hydraulic system and pipes. Next to it are the arches of the Small or Lower Grotto. This was an entertainment chamber for Peter the Great.

Razvodnaya Ulitsa, 2, Petergof, Sankt-Peterburg, 198516, Russia
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9 Grand Cascade Statues at Peterhof Palace near Saint Petersburg, Russia

Grand Cascade features 64 fountains, 37 Romanesque sculptures, 16 side vases, 29 bas-reliefs plus statues of dolphins, lions, ducks, turtles and frogs. The original collection totaled 225 pieces by six sculptors. The artworks were initially constructed with lead. They were replaced by gilded bronze versions nearly a century later. Prior to the German occupation in 1941, many of the statues were buried around the property. Unfortunately, most of those left unprotected were destroyed or stolen. This exquisite ensemble was painstakingly reproduced from 1947 through 1950. The Grand Cascade is worthy of countless superlatives.

Razvodnaya Ulitsa, 2, Petergof, Sankt-Peterburg, 198516, Russia
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10 Samson Fountain at Peterhof Palace near Saint Petersburg, Russia

This fountain at the base of the Great Cascade portrays Samson opening the jaws of a lion. The sculpture was the magnum opus of Bartolomeo Carlo Rastrelli. Sampson Fountain was unveiled in 1735 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Poltava when Peter I’s army defeated the Swedish forces during the Great Northern War. This imagery not only portrays the Biblical hero’s superhuman strength over the lion. The sculpture also symbolizes the Russian victory over Charles XII because Sweden’s coat of arms displays two crowned lions. The fountain’s center spray reaches a height of 66 feet and is encircled by eight dolphins. This reproduction by V. L. Simonov was created in 1947.

Razvodnaya Ulitsa, 2, Petergof, Sankt-Peterburg, 198516, Russia
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11 Bowl Fountains at Peterhof Palace near Saint Petersburg, Russia

Alongside the Samson Fountain are two parterre flower beds. In the center of each is a fountain created by Nicola Michetti in 1722. Collectively named the Bowl Fountains, the one in the west is often called the Italian Fountain and this eastern one the French Fountain. The nicknames recognize the nationality of the men who created their hydraulics. The fountains were recrafted from Carrara marble after WWII. These two large, rectangular gardens parallel to the Grand Palace are the demarcation for the Lower Park.

Razvodnaya Ulitsa, 2, Petergof, Sankt-Peterburg, 198516, Russia
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12 Triton Fountain at Peterhof Palace near Saint Petersburg, Russia

The Grand Orangery was built during the mid-1720s as a greenhouse. Adjacent to it is a garden with a small pool and the Triton Fountain. The sculpture of the Greek god of the sea wrestling a sea monster is an allegory for the Russian naval battles against Sweden in the Baltic Sea. The turtles represent the fleeing enemy. The center fountain sprays 26 feet. The original statuary was produced by Carlo Bartolomeo Rastrelli in 1726. The Italian sculptor is famous for creating several busts of Peter the Great including the emperor’s death mask in 1725. The fountain was reproduced in 1956.

Razvodnaya Ulitsa, 2, Petergof, Sankt-Peterburg, 198516, Russia
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13 Chess Hill Cascade at Peterhof Palace near Saint Petersburg, Russia

Lower Park is a fan-shaped landscape between the Grand Palace and the Gulf of Finland. Marly Palace and Monplaisir are in the corners. The Sea Canal flows down the center. The 253 acre garden accessible by walkways was designed by architect Jean-Baptiste Alexandre Le Blond. Le Bond was a protégé of André Le Nôtre who created the gardens at the Palace of Versailles. There are three hillside cascades. In the eastern section is Chessboard Hill. Water spews from the mouths of dragons and falls down four checkerboard platforms before empting into a grotto. Along the staircases are marble sculptures of mythological deities.

Razvodnaya Ulitsa, 2, Petergof, Sankt-Peterburg, 198516, Russia
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14 Sun Fountain and Aviary at Peterhof Palace near Saint Petersburg, Russia

Sun Fountain in the Lower Park was created at the bequest of Catherine the Great during her reign from 1762 until 1796. The fountain’s name is derived from the spinning golden disks atop a bronze column. Water also sprays from the mouths of dolphins at the base in the center of the pond. In the background are one of two Aviaries designed by Nicola Michetti and finished in 1722. Peter the Great enjoyed visiting his collection of birds within the wooden pavilions.

Razvodnaya Ulitsa, 2, Petergof, Sankt-Peterburg, 198516, Russia
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15 Benches Trick Fountain at Peterhof Palace near Saint Petersburg, Russia

There are 150 fountains on the grounds of Petrhof Palace. Several of them are “trick fountains.” These masquerade as trees or pathways designed to spray unsuspecting guests with water as they approached. The first “wet places” installed for the emperor’s amusement were The Benches within Monplaisir Garden in 1723. While the benches seemed to offer the passerby an inviting place to enjoy the park, the sudden water sprays beneath the stones would drench the person before they sat down. These trick fountains are thrilling, challenging and fun for kids. It is unlikely you will see any child with dry clothes during your tour of Peterhof Palace.

Razvodnaya Ulitsa, 2, Petergof, Sankt-Peterburg, 198516, Russia
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16 Monplaisir Palace and Gardens at Peterhof Palace near Saint Petersburg, Russia

Monplaisir was the first structure built on the property that would evolve into today’s expansive Peterhof Palace. Finished in 1723, this summer retreat was modest yet loved by Peter I. Its name means “my pleasure.” On the left is Seaf Fountain. This central pool with a 15 foot water spray was designed by Nicola Michetti and became operational in the same year as the Great Summer Palace. In the southeast section of Monplaisir Garden (right) is the statue Faun with Kid. The early 19th century bronze sculpture copies the original created during the Hellenistic period (323 to 31 BC). It portrays a satyr from Roman mythological (human male with legs, horns and tail of a goat) carrying an infant goat. This is one of four Cloche Fountains in the former emperor’s garden.

Razvodnaya Ulitsa, 2, Petergof, Sankt-Peterburg, 198516, Russia
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17 Bathhouse Block at Peterhof Palace near Saint Petersburg, Russia

Attached to Monplaisir Palace is the Bathouse Block. This complex of buildings and halls were built over nearly 150 years through 1866. The Guest Quarters provided overnight accommodations for the emperor’s guests while the Assembly Hall was the venue for entertaining them during formal dinners. Peter I enjoyed relaxing in the Suds Bath. The empress consort of Alexander II of Russia commissioned the Bathhouse. Inside was a steam room plus warm and cold water pools.

Razvodnaya Ulitsa, 2, Petergof, Sankt-Peterburg, 198516, Russia
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18 Gulf of Finland at Peterhof Palace near Saint Petersburg, Russia

In 1703, Peter the Great captured both the Kotlin Island and a fledging seaport (the future Saint Petersburg) from the Swedish Empire during the Great Northern War. In 1705, during a voyage between the two conquests, Peter I spotted a dilapidated farm along the shore. He envisioned this as an idyllic location for his summer palace. A small wooden home was finished with five years. It was replaced with Monplaisir Palace (on the right) in 1721. This position near the eastern head of the Gulf of Finland gave him solitude. Yet he also had a commanding view of the waterway leading to his new capital city. If you are interested in learning how the Russian emperors – from Peter I through Nicholas II – were infatuated with the sea, make sure you visit the Imperial Yachts Museum near the landing wharf.

Razvodnaya Ulitsa, 2, Petergof, Sankt-Peterburg, 198516, Russia
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19 Adam and Eve Fountains at Peterhof Palace near Saint Petersburg, Russia

Antonio Rizzo was an accomplished 15th century sculptor. Among his credits in Venice were the Adam and Eve sculptures on Doges’ Palace facing San Marco Plaza. Peter the Great commissioned another Venetian artist, Giovanni Bonazza, to duplicate the statues in marble. This one of Adam was finished in 1722. The 18th century sculptures were spared during the German occupation. The Adam and Eve Fountains are on opposite sides of the Sea Canal within the Lower Park. Each is encircled by 16 water jets with a colonnade backdrop.

Razvodnaya Ulitsa, 2, Petergof, Sankt-Peterburg, 198516, Russia
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20 Peter and Paul Cathedral near Saint Petersburg, Russia

If you travel roundtrip to Peterhof Place by water, you might see Peter and Paul Cathedral in the town of Petergof overlooking Olgin Pond. However, you will miss a much-deserved close up. This striking Russian Orthodox church designed by Nikolay Sultanov has Kievan Russian features similar to the famous Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in Saint Petersburg. They are also contemporaries; both were built during the first decade of the 20th century and funded by the imperial family of Nicholas II. What is surprising is this magnificent structure – the tallest of the five spires is nearly 200 feet tall – was built for the townspeople to worship. This church should not be confused with Peter and Paul Cathedral located in Saint Petersburg.

Prospekt Sankt-Peterburgskiy, 32, Petergof, Sankt-Peterburg, Russia, 198510
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