Catherine Park is the perfect combination of the general horticultural fashion of the 18th century and personal artistic tastes of its most famous owner, Catherine the Great. If it was not for her personal life and political achievements, we could have different garden altogether. The park consists of two distinctive parts. They are French-style regular garden, dating back to Empress Elisabeth, Peter’s daughter; and English-style landscape garden that was developed by the “Russian Minerva” Catherine the Great.
Catherine Park, just like the palace, is named after the first owner – Catherine I. This is rather funny, since the first Empress Catherine, the peasant bride of Peter the Great, had the least influence on design and construction and choice of the architects among all of the other crowned heads residing in Tsarskoye Selo. On the contrary, Catherine II was directly involved into the landscape design works, giving her own ideas, and strictly supervising all details.
History of the Catherine Park
It has all started with the small vegetable garden, placed nearby the first modest manor house of 1710s. Empress Catherine I, second wife of Peter the Great lived there in the summer season. Besides the practical vegetable beds, where they were growing food for the imperial table, it was decided to develop some kind of the formal garden as well. Peter the Great invited the Dutch gardeners Jan Roosen and Johann Focht to fulfill this task. The laid out garden was rather small in size and reminded of the Amsterdam courtyard gardens affectionately cultivated by the Dutch burgers. The special features were two symmetrical square-shaped Mirror ponds; each pond was nourished by its own spring.
Elisabeth, the only surviving heir of Peter I and Catherine, appreciated French fashions and the garden was expanded and abridged according to the French landscape design. The grand gilded Catherine Palace needed the formal Royal garden to match its luxury.
Under Catherine the Great fashions have changed. New Empress favored English natural parks, and she hired London gardener Bush to lay out the new landscape park.
Set on the shore of the lake, this lovely blue and white baroque pavilion was constructed under Elisabeth and her grand festivals. Her successor Catherine the Great used this building in a different way. Catherine loved to hide here early in the summer mornings, slipping away from the palace for reading and paperwork. She used to name this attraction “the morning hall”. Tranquility was precious to the empress; she liked to enjoy the cool summer breeze from the mirror-like lake waters.
One of the most beautiful buildings in the park is created by architect Rastrelli for Elisabeth. Design of this pavilion is matching the grand baroque architecture of the big Catherine Palace. The building gets its name from the French word for “a place of solitude” – “l'Ermitage”. The solitude was intended for the special “dinners without servants”, which Elisabeth arranged quite often. The Hermitage is fitted with mechanisms enabling the table on the top floor to be raised and lowered, avoiding the presence of waiters and other servants at the royal party. After the guests finished their food, tables went down and they could dance all night through in this dazzling gilded chamber.
The Cameron Gallery
Commonly this name usually refers to the ensemble of two attractions, located next to each other and created for the same empress. These are the Gallery itself and the building which is named The Agate Rooms. Both were done by architect Charles Cameron for Catherine the Great. The Agate Rooms on the upper floor of the Cold Bath Pavilion, which sits between the Catherine Palace and the Cameron Gallery, are a masterpiece of interior design retaining their original 18th century décor. These were completely private quarters of Catherine the Great; here she loved to retreat from affairs of state.
The gallery looks like colonnade. It was intended for strolls of Catherine the Great. empress ordered the gallery to be decorated with the bronze busts of gods, poets, philosophers, military leaders and rulers of the ancient world. They were made as the copies of the antique originals. The stairs leading up to the colonnade are decorated with the large bronze figures of Hercules and Flora. The lower floor of the gallery had rooms for the court ladies of Catherine.
The Cold Baths, also known as the Agate rooms, are shaped as the two-storey building. The lower floor looks like the antique ruined house, faced with the massive blocks of grey limestone. Here on the ground floor Charles Cameron has recreated the complex of the ancient Roman Thermae for Catherine the Great: the washing room, warm and hot baths, swimming pool, dressing room. Cameron was basing his work on the plans for the bath of the Roman Emperor Constantine.
The upper floor was superbly elegant set of chambers faced with jasper, which was known to the Russian stonecutters as the “flesh” agate. Catherine’s library, drawing room and small studies are faced with materials found in Urals and Altai mountains. Along with the jasper there are designs from marble, porphyry and details of guided bronze.
The Hanging garden links the Agate rooms with the private chambers of the Empress in the palace and with the colonnade.
The Chesma Column
Rising out of the pond, this marble monument is the homage to the most brilliant Russian naval victory. In 1770 the entire Turkish fleet was burned down in the Chesma bay. The column reminds of the Rostral columns in the city: it is also decorated with rosters and resembling the lighthouse.
This exclusive Neo-Gothic ensemble is located on the bank of the large pond. Admiralty is one of the monuments dedicated to the successful Russo-Turkish Wars having taken place during the reign of Catherine the Great. The Admiralty is dedicated to the conquering of Crimea. The large central structure was intended to keep the boats for the summer entertainments. For a while they kept here one of the artifacts of Peter the Great – the Gottorp globe. There were aviaries nearby where ducks, swans and pheasants lived under the Tsars. This tradition is absolutely loved and supported by the locals. Ducks in Tsarskoye Selo do not migrate for the harsh winter: they have special aerated pools especially for the birds by le lakeshores, the locals and museum gardeners feed the ducks.
One of the most unusual pavilions of the Catherine Park, the Turkish bath is standing on the shore of the lake. It is dating back to Catherine II and reflecting her Turkish campaigns. This attraction holds the interior reminding of a mysterious Oriental fairy tale. The skillfully restored rooms of the pavilion are finished in “Moorish” style and beautifully decorated with multicolored mosaics, marbled fountains, gilding. Some of the furnishings according to the legend were brought from the bath of the real Turkish sultana.
The girl with the pitcher
The only fountain in the garden is depicting a milk maid from the La Fontaine fable, crying over the broken jug of milk. The poor peasant maid is depicted as the antique serene statue of bronze, personifying the futility of human dreams. It was made by the order of Alexander I in the early 1800s. Alexander Pushkin glorified this fountain in his romantic poem as “he girl with the pitcher”. The stream of water is running down from the pitcher, which is lying broken by the legs of the milk girl.