The Brilliant Peterhof, Russian Versailles

Peterhof, St Petersburg

It was Peter the Great who dared outdo Versailles by creating a shiny new residence on the road from the capital to the port-city of Kronshtadt. Hence the name Peterhof which means ‘the court of Peter’ (aka Petrodvorets). Since the Peter’s times it has grown and bloomed and become a true treasure of the country.

Peterhof, St Petersburg

Peterhof is one of the most famous and popular environs of St Petersburg – at least the most brilliant one. It is situated to the west of St Petersburg, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland. To the students of my alma mater, the St Petersburg State University, it’s best known for the campus misplaced situated 29 km from the city.

Peterhof, St Petersburg

Its location on the Gulf of Finland adds up to the particularly effective impression one gets when arriving there from St Petersburg on board of a hovercraft. This long promenade with the Grand Cascade and the Palace designed by Rastrelli (the same guy who built the Hermitage, Smolny Cathedral and Catherine’s Palace in Tsarskoye Selo) right in front of you.

Peterhof, St Petersburg

But we arrived from the other side, walking first in the town to the Lower Park. Close to Aleksandria Park there is this vast red-brick ensemble of the emperor’s stables. Part of the buildings are still occupied by a sanatorium (yes, people are housed in the ex-stables. But those were EMPEROR’s stables!) though there are plans to reconstruct the stables making yet another sight for the tourists.

Peterhof, St Petersburg

The ensemble was designed by Nikolas Benois, the emperor’s architect, in 1848-55 in pseudo-Gothic style. It does look like a castle!

Peterhof, St Petersburg

With various towers growing up towards the sky🙂

Peterhof, St Petersburg

Once you’ve paid for your ticket to enter the Lower Park (called so in contrast to the Upper Garden, situated higher, obviously, farther from the water), you soon start the descent to see the main attraction of the ensemble – the Grand Cascade and the Grand Palace – in its entirety.

Peterhof, St Petersburg

The levels on which the two parks are situated is visible on this photo:

Peterhof, St Petersburg

I took it from the Lower Park and on top, beyond the tourists, there’s the Upper Garden (with free entrance, smaller and less posh). I must warn you that you will walk a lot🙂 There are now even tourist mini-trains and something like golf cars for the tired visitors. So take it easy, make frequent stops and enjoy the beautiful regular gardens, splashes of fountains (there’s enough wind there, so close to the Baltic sea!) and – probably less so – myriads of tourists even during the week.

Peterhof, St Petersburg

This is the iconic view of the Grand Cascade. And here is how it looked like after the Second World war… It got so ruined, looted and ravaged that there were only walls left. And then it was literally reborn from ashes, with the works starting right from January 1944 when Peterhof was reconquered by the Soviet army and continuing up to now. The process has been painstaking to say the least. Some of the statues were buried in the ground in an attempt to preserve at least something from the rapidly advancing Hitler’s army in September 1941. Some treasures got evacuated from the city when the war broke out. But who could have saved all of the beauty…

Peterhof, St Petersburg

Seeing it now in all its luster (compared even to what I recall from my school-time visits) makes me at the same time proud and also somewhat estranged. I mean, the parks are great, the palaces are shiny and most of the objects are carefully renovated – but it feels a little bit soul-less… though when I was a child this place was like a holiday in itself, like a luna-park and ice-cream combined🙂

Peterhof, St Petersburg

This is one of my favourite shutikha – a ‘cracker’ fountain which gets you all soaking wet just when you think you are ‘in control’ and in safety🙂 See that guy on the green bench? Previously he (it’s usually a guy – and what a job!) was pedaling right at the moment when a ‘victim’ (mostly kids) was nonchalantly hopping from one pebble to the other, trying to find that very stone that will switch the fountain on🙂 Now the guy is a bit lazy so he’s operating the switch a bit randomly. Sorry if I’ve ruined the mystery!🙂 When we learnt it with my sister back then, it was like finding out that all your letters to the Father Frost (Santa Claus) never made it to the North Pole cause he didn’t exist! I remember I was convinced each time that only I knew which stone was the ‘button’ to make the fountain work – and the result was inevitable change of clothes (thoughtfully foreseen by my Mother), a lot of excitement and once even a minus one primary tooth in my mouth :)  There are various other fun fountains in the park, like a mushroom with water running from its cap or an entire part of an alley suddenly turning all the passers by wet as mice (well, not suddenly after all – it operates on a strict schedule with PA announcements made in advance!). And there are, well, the other sides of the fountains too:

Peterhof, St Petersburg

This is Eve (Adam’s on the opposite side of the park). But the place I still love the most is this ridge with a row of trees running parallel to the water:

Peterhof, St Petersburg

This is the easternmost end of the park, and beyond the bridge there’s the Gulf of Finland. The wind up there between the trees just sweeps you off your feet!

Peterhof, St Petersburg

Walking up there you can see both Kronshtadt to the left and St Petersburg to the right.

Peterhof, St Petersburg

Feels like you’re on the seashore… That makes me think that although Peter the Great might have exaggerated a bit with the utmost necessity of building St Petersburg right there on the bogs (the location is one of the things the citizens keep blaming Peter the I for🙂, the are so many things we enjoy about it, like this pearl called Peterhof, Peter’s court.

Peterhof, St Petersburg

He built his Mon Plaisir palace for his own little retreats here and, well, we can understand why! If by then you are tired of the crowds, you can leave the Lower Park and go into the Upper Garden with its ivy alleys and straight-cut bushes. There’s also much to see apart from the tourist-packed parks. The center of Peterhof is a UNESCO World Heritage sight as well as the parks are. While we were driving through the town I could spot some modernistic cottages and these wooden houses too. There are also more ponds and pavilions and churches in Peterhof. A true open air museum!

Peterhof, St Petersburg

This is St Peter and Paul’s Cathedral, is a 1894-1904 neo-Russian church designed by Nicolas Sultanov. I cannot say that I like the neo-Russian style that much (at least here there too many details piled up) but I definitely liked the majolica decorations. And here’s where we end our journey for today.

Peterhof, St Petersburg

Some useful info on Peterhof: The park is huge so plan your visit ahead (there are eating places but also benches for buterbrod🙂. There are numerous pavilions, grottoes, museums and small and big palaces to visit, so if you’re looking forward to seeing lots of gold and porcelain, you might want to get a composite ticket. Otherwise you just get the entrance ticket and then pay for each other object separately. The Lower Park is where all the cascades and fountains are – and the entrance costs 500 rub. (you can enter the park only once with this ticket). The Upper Garden has free entrance. Aleksandria Park (a less popular landscape park) requires a separate ticket. If you arrive by public transport and not by water, choose the entrance close to Aleksandria Park – by walking some metres away from the main entrance you will avoid awful crowds and lines.

To get there you can take a bus number 200, 210 or marshrutka (commercial bus) number 224, 300, 424, 424-A from metro station Avtovo; marshrutka 103 (K-224), 420 from metro Leninsky Prospekt; marshrutka 343, 639-b from metro Prospekt Veteranov; marshrutka number 404 from metro Baltiyskaya. The stop you need is called Fontany. You can also try elektrichka, a suburban train (about 45 minutes) from railway station Baltiysky to Novy Peterhof from where you should take bus number 344, 348, 350, 351, 352, 355, 356 to get to the park. You can also choose a very convenient means that will take you right from the Hermitage or the Bronze Horseman to the Lower Park by water – a hovercraft (meteor). It costs quite a lot but takes just 30 minutes to travel. But do not buy a 2 way ticket for the hovercraft, cause once you enter the Lower Park where the passengers leave the boat  and then leave it to go to Upper Garden or the town, for example, you will have to buy the entrance ticket to Lower Park again – to get on board of the boat…

Adding this to my St Petersburg posts.

G.

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