The Lower Park of Peterhof

- Library - Peterhof -
The Lower Park of Peterhof
- Library -
- Peterhof -

The Lower Park of Peterhof

Peter the Great is considered to be not only the founder, but the first designer of Peterhof. There are dozens of drawings made by his own hand in the archives, depicting the plan of the Lower Garden in Peterhof. In 1714 they have started the development of the garden. The first artist to start the designs here was J.F. Braunstein. Two years later Peter invited to Russia Jean-Baptiste Le Blond, the student of A. Le Notre, the brilliant French master who had laid out the Versailles garden. Later on N. Miketti and M. Zemtsov joined the works. Sertainly Peter, when he visited France, was very much impressed by Versailles, but he wanted the main feature of Peterhof to be the fountains.

The fountains plumbing scheme was completed between 1721 and 1722. Peter the Great together with the first hydraulics engineer in Russia, Vasily Tuvolkov, developed this system. It is an outstanding achievement of the 18th century technology. About 14 miles of ducts and piping were constructed. Water for the fountains was flowing under its own pressure without the aid of any pumps.

The main idea behind most of the decorations in the park is memorizing Russian victory over the Swedes in 1721, ensuring the outlet to the Baltic Sea for our country. The coast of the Gulf of Finland was irrigated and fertilized to lay out the formal French garden here. The proximity to the Gulf of Finland coast was the most important idea for Peter – the possession of that coast was the main achievement of the Northern war.

Today the number of fountains in Peterhof is over 150, and all of them are playing according to the principle of communicating vessels. Each fountain has its own unique design.The overall area of the park is about 250 acres.

Architectural ensemble of the Lower Park

The Sea Canal in the Lower Park of Peterhof is dividing the area into two symmetrical parts, the western and the eastern one. The Sea Canal is the artificial water way, connecting the Gulf of Finland with the Grand Cascade.

The Grand Cascade is one of the biggest fountain edifices in the world. There are 17 waterfalls, the elaborate grotto underneath the structure, 64 sprinklers, 142 water jets and 37 gilded bronze statues. The cascade starts underneath the balustrade of the Grand Palace. The architectural ensemble of the palace and the cascade is the focal point of the Lower Park. At the foot of the cascade in the middle of the artificial round pond there is the rough stone pedestal. On top of it there is the statue of Samson, made of gilded bronze. Samson is tearing open the jaws of the lion with his bare hands. This Biblical subject is the allegory of Russian victory in Poltava battle. The sculpture of Samson was installed here in 1735, after the death of Peter the Great, to commemorate this victory. Out of the lions jaws the 65-feet stream of water is spurting into the air. During the Great Patriotic war the statue was stolen by the Nazis. Today we see the new sculpture of Samson, which was created in 1947 and has become the symbol of the resilience of the Russian people defying the enemy.

There are 3 cascades in the park: the Grand Cascade in the middle, the Chessboard Hill in the east and the Golden Hill in the west. This is the symmetry of formal gardens implemented. Each cascade is the focal point, from where the alleys are starting. Two more focal points are the simple but elegant classical fountains: Adam in the east and Eve in the west. There are Italian marble statues of the progenitors of humankind, each encircled by the water jets. Adam was the first fountain in Peterhof which was tried and tested by Peter himself. Eve fountain was created after Peter’s reign when his widow was on the Russian throne.

The fountains in the eastern part of the Lower Park are the most admired ones in Peterhof. The Chessboard Hill has got its name because of the design of the slope, decorated with three plateaus patterned like the chessboard in black and white squares. Water slides down the hill into the little pond underneath the cascade. On both sides of the cascade there are statues of antique deities and heroes. On the top of the hill there is a small grotto. Three Chinese-style dragons are sitting by the grotto entrance. It is yet another example now popular Oriental style was in the 18th century.

The great terrace in front of the cascade is decorated with two identical Roman fountains. These marble compositions in 1730s were copied from the fountains in the St Peter Square in Rome. In the end of the 18th century they were fully altered but the name remained.

Architectural ensemble of Monplaisir Palace is attracting everybody’s attention. The Monplaisir Palace was the favorite place of Peter I. It is the small brick structure standing on the shore of the gulf, where Peter arrived on board of his yacht. By the sides of this structure there are Catherine Block and Bath Block. Bath Block is the former kitchen and bathhouse of the royal family and Catherine Block is the building where Catherine the Great started her rise to power in 1762.

Here along with the architectural wonders we can see and experience the “practical jokes” of Peter the Great. They are the variety of trick fountains (Oak Tree, Water road, Umbrella, Benches in Monplaisir garden) that start unexpectedly, sprinkling water on everybody around, to the great joy of young and old. Peter loved such practical jokes immensely, and no reception in Peterhof went without Peter’s guests getting wet in the park.

In the middle of the alley leading towards the sea there is the statue of Peter the Great by the famous sculptor Mark Antokolsky.

The western part of the Lower Park bears more resemblance to Versailles.

The Golden Hill cascade is the glorious staircase flanked by the gilded statues of mythological gods and goddesses. The vertical sides of the stairs are plaited with gilded bronze – hence the name. At the foot of the cascade there are two identical huge jets of water. They are named Menazherny fountains (“menager” is “to economize” in French). The cones are placed into the aperture of the jets and the thin gap is left all around the stream. The stream of water is hollow inside and indeed economizing water.

The architectural highlights of the western side are as follows:

  • Marli Palace, which was built for Peter the Great after chateau de Marli, meant to be for the imperial family. Marli rampart is the artificial hill protecting the apple orchard near the palace. At the front of Marli Palace there is a man-made pond where the imperial family was catching the fishes;
  • Hermitage pavilion – the very first “place of solitude” in Russia, built for Peter the Great on the shore of the sea;
  • Lions Cascade, which is the latest fountain in the park. It was designed by Stakenschneider in the middle of the 19th century. The composition resembles the Greek colonnade flanked by two bronze lions.
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