Friday, December 6, 2013

“St. Petersburg, the most abstract and intentional city on the entire globe.” - Fyodor Dostoyevsky


Saint Petersburg is a city and a federal subject (a federal city) of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. In 1914 the name of the city was changed from Saint Petersburg to Petrograd, in 1924 to Leningrad, and in 1991, back to Saint Petersburg. In Russian literature, informal documents, and discourse, the "Saint" is usually omitted, leaving Petersburg. In common parlance Russians may drop "-burg" as well, referring to it as Pieter. Saint Petersburg was founded by the Tsar Peter the Great on May 27 [O.S. 16] 1703. From 1713 to 1728 and from 1732 to 1918, Saint Petersburg was the Imperial capital of Russia. In 1918 the central government bodies moved from Saint Petersburg (then named Petrograd) to Moscow. It is Russia's second largest city after Moscow with 5 million inhabitants (2012) and the fourth most populated federal subject. Saint Petersburg is a major European cultural center, and also an important Russian port on the Baltic Sea. Saint Petersburg is often described as the most Western city of Russia, as well as its cultural capital. It is the northernmost city in the world to have a population of over one million. The Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Saint Petersburg is also home to The Hermitage, one of the largest art museums in the world. A large number of foreign consulates, international corporations, banks and other businesses are located in Saint Petersburg.

1. Peterhof Palace

The Peterhof Palace is a series of palaces and gardens located in Saint Petersburg, Russia, laid out on the orders of Peter the Great. The palace-ensemble along with the city centre is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Looking especially stunning now the Grand Cascade fountains have been regilded, Peterhof (Petrodvorets), 29 km. west of St Petersburg on the Gulf of Finland, is arguably the most impressive of St Petersburg's suburban palaces. This 'Russian Versailles' is a far cry from the original cabin Peter the Great had built here to oversee construction of Kronshtadt naval base.

He liked the place so much he built a villa, Monplaisir, and then a whole series of palaces across an estate originally called Peterhof (pronounced Petergof), which has been called Petrodvorets (Peter's Palace) since 1944. All are set within a spectacular ensemble of gravity-powered fountains that are now the site's main attraction.
While Petrodvorets was trashed by the Germans in WWII (what you see today is largely a reconstruction), according to recent historians it suffered heaviest damage under Soviet bombing raids in December 1941 and January 1942. This was because Stalin was determined to stop Hitler from his plan of hosting a New Year's victory celebration inside the palace. While a visit here is highly recommended, if you plan to see all the various museums in the estate it can also be an expensive and frustrating affair.

The total cost for entering the lower park and all the palaces and museums is R1900. Plus many of the museums have different closing days, and some are closed or only open for weekends from October to May.
Once a formal garden built for Peter the Great, this popular park still has more than 80 of the original marble statues and sculptures and houses Peter's Summer Palace, a simply designed two-story building that now displays many of the ruler's own artifacts. Beautiful Palace, full a golden statues and elegant fountains. Walking around the grounds is a great way to spend time here. If you like gold this is the place for you! Lots of fountains - with gold and very like Versailles in many ways - but the inside was absolutely covered in gold - and lots outside too.

The Upper Park is free - the gardens here are lovely. Admission to the Lower Park is payable at the cash booths on the jetty and outside the gates leading to the Grand Cascade; hold on to your ticket when exiting this area so you can go back in later if you need to.
This place is phenomenal , the inside is literally covered in gold in most rooms, lots of portraits of the family and really nice to see all the different rooms and features. The only let down is how many people they allow in at one go, you may have to wait in some rooms for far too long twiddling your thumbs whilst the group in front will be mucking about, no photos allowed inside but you can try and get some sneaky ones. The staff aren't helpful and seem to view you as a nuisance.

The gardens and fountains are absolutely magnificent, glorious and probably more worth seeing then the palace, lots of room outside to slowly enjoy what you are seeing and lots of photo opportunities, be aware of pick pockets who usually try and distract you with a card trick , well worth visiting though all in all.
The Grand Cascade is modelled on one constructed for Louis XIV at his Ch√Ęteau de Marly, which is likewise memorialised in one of the park's outbuildings. At the centre of the cascade is an artificial grotto with two stories, faced inside and out with hewn brown stone. It currently contains a modest museum of the fountains' history. One of the exhibits is a table carrying a bowl of (artificial) fruit, a replica of a similar table built under Peter's direction.

The table is rigged with jets of water that soak visitors when they reach for the fruit, a feature from Mannerist gardens that remained popular in Germany. The grotto is connected to the palace above and behind by a hidden corridor.
The fountains of the Grand Cascade are located below the grotto and on either side of it. Their waters flow into a semicircular pool, the terminus of the fountain-lined Sea Channel. In the 1730s, the large Samson Fountain was placed in this pool. It depicts the moment when Samson tears open the jaws of a lion, representing Russia's victory over Sweden in the Great Northern War, and is doubly symbolic. The lion is an element of the Swedish coat of arms, and one of the great victories of the war was won on St Samson's Day.

From the lion's mouth shoots a 20-metre-high vertical jet of water, the highest in all of Peterhof. This masterpiece by Mikhail Kozlovsky was looted by the invading Germans during the Second World War; see History below. A replica of the statue was installed in 1947.
Perhaps the greatest technological achievement of Peterhof is that all of the fountains operate without the use of pumps. Water is supplied from natural springs and collects in reservoirs in the Upper Gardens. The elevation difference creates the pressure that drives most of the fountains of the Lower Gardens, including the Grand Cascade. The Samson Fountain is supplied by a special aqueduct, over four km in length, drawing water and pressure from a high-elevation source.

The expanse of the Lower Gardens is designed in the formal style of french formal gardens of the 17th century. Although many trees are overgrown, in the recent years the formal clipping along the many allees has resumed in order to restore the original appearance of the garden.
The many fountains located here exhibit an unusual degree of creativity. One of the most notable designs is entitled 'The Sun'. A disk radiating water jets from its edge creates an image of the sun's rays, and the whole structure rotates about a vertical axis so that the direction in which the "sun" faces is constantly changing.

The largest of Peterhof's palaces looks truly imposing when seen from the Lower or Upper Gardens, but in fact it is quite narrow and not overly large. Of its approximately thirty rooms, several deserve mention. The Chesma Hall is decorated with twelve large paintings of the Battle of Chesma, a stunning naval victory of the Russo-Turkish War, 1768-1774. These were painted between 1771 and 1773 by the German artist Jacob Philipp Hackert.
His first renderings of the great battle scenes were criticised by witnesses as not showing realistically the effect of exploding ships the flying timbers, great flames, smoke, and fireballs. Catherine II assisted the artist by exploding a frigate in the harbour of Livorno, Italy, for the benefit of Hackert, who had never seen a naval battle first-hand. Hackert also did not research the actual positions of the Russian and Turkish forces during the battle, so the scenes depicted are somewhat fanciful, but do effectively convey drama and destruction of naval warfare.

The East and West Chinese Cabinets were decorated between 1766 and 1769 to exhibit objects of decorative art imported from the East. The walls were decorated with imitation Oriental patterns by Russian craftsmen, and hung with Chinese landscape paintings in yellow and black lacquer. Another room, positioned at the centre of the palace, bears the name of the Picture Hall.
Its walls are almost entirely covered by a series of 368 paintings, mostly of variously dressed women, differing in appearance and even age, yet most were drawn from a single model. These were purchased in 1764 from the widow of the Italian artist P. Rotari, who died in St. Petersburg. The Grand Palace is not the only historic royal building in Peterhof. The palaces of Monplaisir and Marly, as well as the pavilion known as the 'Hermitage', were all raised during the initial construction of Peterhof during the reign of Peter the Great. The Lower Gardens also contain a large greenhouse, and in the Alexandrine Park stands the palace of Nicholas I.

Like the Lower Gardens, the Upper Gardens contain many fountains, distributed among seven broad pools. The landscaping, though, is entirely different; unlike the Lower Gardens (which are strictly geometric), the Upper Gardens are not. While a few of the fountains have curious sculpture, the waterworks themselves are comparatively unimpressive.

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