Peterhof Palace is the main landmark of the palace and garden complex on the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland. The town where it is situated is also named Peterhof and is 18 miles distance from St Petersburg. The palace used to be the official summer residence of the Imperial court. Emperor Peter the Great was setting up Peterhof facing the cost of the sea, as the kind of a memorial to the Russian Naval victories. The edifice has three floors, yellow in color and standing on the top of the natural hill above the Lower Garden. The façade is almost 330 yards wide.
Brief history of the palace
Initially the palace was modestly decorated in “Petrian baroque style”. The project was developed by masters J.F. Braunstein, J.-B. Le Blond, N. Michetti. In 1730s architect Mikhail Zemtsov added wings to the building. In 1740s, under Empress Elisabeth, it was decided the structure was too small and plain to match the splendor of the court, and the palace had to be reconstructed. But Elisabeth wanted to preserve some features of her father’s palace as a memory, and that was a challenge in construction works. This task was implemented briliantly by F. B. Rastrelli, the court architect of Elisabeth I. Rastrelli added one more floor, widened the wings, reconstructed the interiors with baroque-style luxury.
The Grand Palace went on to be the place for official court life, receptions and celebrations. Under Catherine the Great several halls were redecorated in classical style by Y.M.Velten and J.-B.Vallin de la Mothe. In 1846 eight rooms of the eastern wing facing the Upper Garden were reconstructed by the architect A. Stackenschneider for the wedding of Grand Duchess Olga, the daughter of Nicholas I. In 1918, after the Russian revolution, the palace in Peterhof became the museum. During the Nazi occupation the palace was blown up and burned down. In 1964 the first five rooms were shown to the public after the painstaking restoration.
The halls of the palace
The palace has about 30 halls altogether, including the gala chambers and the service chambers. The main entrance to the palace was arranged by Bartolomeo Rastrelli in the western annex. The gala halls of the palace are all stretched out one after another into the suite of rooms. The most striking feature of all Rasstrelli’s interiors is gilded woodcarving. The main staircase is lavishly decorated with carved sculptures made of linden, symbolizing seasons of the year. The ceiling painting is glorifying Empress Elisabeth, allegorically painted as the goddess of spring. The walls are painted in tempera technique in floral pattern. This incredible workmanship can be seen also in the first chamber of the gala suite – the Dancing Hall, or Merchants Hall.
The room is airy, light and has the festive atmosphere. There are real double windows on the southern wall, and false mirror windows on the northern wall. There are many mirrors installed in between the windows, this optical trick creates the illusion of bigger space. The parquetry is produced from rich woods – maple wood, walnut, light and dark oak.
The next hall has classical style interior, preferred by Catherine the Great. It bears the name Chesma Hall. This is the memorial chamber, dedicated to the Chesme battle. Chesme battle took place in 1770 in the Aegean Sea; the Russian Navy has vanquished the Turkish Navy. The same year the German artist J. P. Hackert was signed up for the order to paint the series of paintings memorising this victory. There are 12 paintings hanging on the walls, commemorating Chesme battle and Russo-Turkish campaign in general.
The Throne Room is also dating back to Catherine the Great and was decorated in classical style by architect Velten. On the western wall we can see four paintings by Richard Peton, depicting the Chesme battle. This was the very important victory for Russia in the times of Catherine the Great. On the opposite eastern wall there is the large equestrian portrait of Catherine the Great by V. Eriksen. The portrait is titled “Procession towards Peterhof”. Catherine is depicted wearing the uniform of Semyonovsky Lifeguards regiment, riding astride, leading her loyal troops to Peterhof. This is the historical event depicted - the coup d’etat which has brought Catherine to the throne of Russian empire in 1762. The throne chair is standing right beneath the portrait. The hall is decorated with the portraits of the other rulers from the Romanov House and their family members. The hall was intended for the official ceremonies, sometimes there were banquets and balls here.
The Audience chamber keeps the original Rasstrelli décor. There are fanciful gulded carvings, porcelain statuettes in rococo style, mirrors and double windows. The room was supposed to be for the small-scale receptions.
The White Dining Room was decorated in 1774-1775 by Velten. The interior is arranged in rigid classical style, the main color used is white. One of the most celebrated museum exhibits, represented in the hall, is the Husk dinner service by Wedgwood. It was commissioned by Catherine the Great and originally numbered 1500 items. Gala dinners were important part of the court life. This room is the last big gala room in the palace – the others were built supposedly for the private life of the sovereigns.
There are two Chinese Cabinets in the palace. Western and Eastern Chinese Cabinets are exotic interiors, decorated with Chinese porcelain pieces, lacquered furniture and wooden panels. There are diplomatic gifts and chinoiserie pieces done in eighteenth century Europe on display in each cabinet.
The Chinese Cabinets are flanking the Picture Hall, which used to be the central point of Peter the Great’s small –size palace. It is decorated with the canvases by P. Rotari. The plafond is glorifying Peter the Great, depicted as Mars – the god of war.
The Oak Office (or Oak Study) is also interior dating back to Peter the Great. Here we find seasoned oak carved panels framing the walls. The carvings depict naval and military symbols, musical instruments, bas-relief portraits of Peter the Great and his wife Catherine. The Oak Office contains the standards borne by the Russian army and Swedish arm, they are dating back to the Russian-Swedish war of 1700-1721.
When is the best time to visit the palace?
The Grand Palace is extraordinary popular with the visitors. Given the small size of the rooms and the seasonal pattern of Peterhof museum, the best time to see this particular palace is from November till April. This is the time when you can buy tickets online and see the palace without the major high season crowds.