Monplaisir Palace and Bathhouse Block in Peterhof
The building complex which is situated on the shore of the Gulf of Finland in the eastern part of the Lower Garden is commonly named Monplaisir ensemble. It has started with the small brick pavilion built for Peter the Great and a number of outbuildings. Now there are two museums which every visitor to Peterhof is eager to see: Monplaisir Palace and Bath Block.
Monplaisir is the French word that stands for “my pleasure”. It is the small one-storey building. Despite its French name, Monplaisir has much more in common with the practical Dutch building traditions. Peter himself developed the idea of this summer pavilion on the shore of the gulf. As he put it, the sea breeze was better for him than any medicine. The construction works started in 1714, the architects involved were A. Schlüter, J. Braunstein, J.B. Le Blond and N. Miketti. By 1723 Monplaisir Palace was ready. It is the unique monument of Peter’s times, reflecting his personal tastes and lifestyle to the full. The Tsar personally supervised the construction of this summer pavilion and knew exactly how it should look and what kind of interiors to set up.
There are two elongated galleries on both sides of the building – here Peter the Great kept the artworks he was buying in Europe. Most of them are the Dutch marines. Peter was the first Russian ruler to collect European fine art. His favorite Dutch artist was Adam Silo, the former captain. Peter met this artist when he was in Amsterdam and even took drawing lessons in his workshop.
Peter was developing diplomatic connections not only with the West but also with the East. There is the lacquered Chinese Cabinet in the palace where the diplomatic gifts from China are on display.
There is only one gala hall in Monplaisir. The palace was supposed to function as the private summer home of the Tsar, and formal receptions were rare here and could include only a small number of guests. The walls are lined up with seasoned wood panels; the ceiling is decorated with stucco paintings.
By the gala room there is pantry and kitchen. These rooms are arranged in the Dutch style, very tidy and practical. Here Peter installed the true technical innovation of the period – water supply and sewerage pipes. All the waste water sank away into the gulf.
There is also the Maritime study of Peter the Great. The Tsar was never idle and worked even when he had some time off. His greatest achievement was the creation of the Navy in Russia. The chamber is decorated with the Dutch-style tiles bearing images of 13 different types of ships at Peter’s time. Here from the window the Tsar could enjoy the view of the Gulf of Finland, Kronshtadt and St Petersburg. There are scientific instruments, watches and long glass of Peter the Great here. Peter could built the ship with his own hands and be the captain.
In the bedroom we can see the personal artifacts that belonged to the Tsar: his nightcap, towel, washing jug.
Monplaisir was treated like the memorial place of Peter the Great by all the Romanovs, that is why its interior was not changed. During the Great Patriotic war the building was badly damaged and took several decades to restore.
Traditional Russian banya has not changed much over the centuries. “Banya” is the term that stands for the bath in Russian. This is one of the oldest Russian traditions which is still popular today. In Peterhof Bath Blok museum you can learn about the traditional bath procedure in Russia, and other interesting aspects of the court daily life. The museum complex is combining three buildings:
Assembly Hall (1730s, architect M. Zemtsov)
Bathhouse Block and washroom (1860s, architect E. L. Gan)
Kitchen Block (1740s, architect F. B. Rastrelli).
The Assembly Hall is the oldest and gets its name from Peter’s famous parties – assemblies. The hall was intended for the gala dinners and banquets. Here they exhibit the first tapestries produced in Russia at St Petersburg tapestry factory that was established by Peter the Great. The tables in the room are set with the Imperial porcelain services and imperial silverware.
The Bathouse block was constructed in stone on the site of the former wooden bathhouses. Under Peter the Great on this spot was the bath where Peter and his family bathed. Here were also “the guest quarters”, where Peter arranged lodging for the visitors coming to Peterhof. These buildings were demolished over the course of time. In 1860s Empress Maria, the wife of Alexander II, suffered from tuberculosis. Her doctors developed the special water treatment system for her. It was decided that Peterhof on the shore of the sea was the best place to construct the house for hydrotherapy procedures of the Empress. After the procedures the Empress, if shewas alright and had no fever, could go to the traditional steam room and take regular Russian “banya”. There are various bath utilities on display as well as he elegant applied art pieces popular in 1860s. The washroom is also the traditional bathhouse, intended for the cavaliers of the court. Ladies and cavaliers, definitely, washed and soaped themselves in the different buildings. Here the visitors experience yet another trick fountain in Peterhof, which is set indoors.
The Imperial kitchen is the highly interesting exhibition telling about food at the Russian Imperial court. The food for the royal banquets taking place in Peterhof was cooked here. There is Pantry where they stored all glassware, dishes and linen, the actual kitchen and coffee-room. There are kitchen utensils, tablecloths, traditional Russian stoves, old samovars (water boilers for tea) on display. This was indeed the hard work to feed and serve all the royal retinue, the work that usually goes behind the scenes of the gorgeous palaces.