Petit Futé's opinion on PETERHOF PALACE
With Versailles, you thought you had seen everything in terms of splendour and monarchical excess? Let's talk about it again after Peterhof!
This visit outside the walls of Piter is not to be missed under any circumstances! Stretching along the Gulf of Finland, the city of palaces, fountains and terraced parks, which was called Petrodvorets from 1944 to 1997 before recovering its original name, has often been compared to Versailles. Founded in 1774 by Peter the Great, the New Peterhof, with its beautiful fountain and statue gardens, and its pavilions - Marly, Hermitage and Monplaisir - had to reflect with dignity the power of the Russian Empire. To the south-west of the Grand Palais, enlarged by Elizabeth Petrovna, a palace of classical style was added by Catherine II, who also created the English landscape park surrounding it. Further parks and a few pavilions were added to the complex under Nicholas I. To the east of Petrodvorets, the small palace in Alexandra Park was used in the second half of the 19th century for the Imperial family's stays. However, in the summer, concerts were held in the Grands Appartements, which were then open to the public. The palaces and parks of this complex take on their full splendour in summer, when the fountains are turned on, brightening and refreshing the atmosphere.
A clever blend of rococo and classical, Peterhof is the Versailles or the Sans-Souci of St. Petersburg, with those extravagant touches that are typical of the city's culture.
The Great Staircase, created by Rastrelli, is resplendent in gilding. It is notably decorated with trompe-l'oeil paintings, baroque sculptures and statues representing the four seasons.
In the ceremonial rooms, the Tchesmé room is decorated with paintings depicting the battle of Tchesmé against the Turks on 26 June 1770. It was of course the Russians who won the victory... To inspire the painter, the empress had blown up a Russian frigate in front of him in the roadstead of Livorno.
On the right, the dance hall is a masterpiece by Rastrelli. It occupies the entire wing of the palace on nearly 300 m2! The mirrors and windows make the space even larger. On the ceiling, the painting Parnassus by Tarsia pays homage to Elisabeth.
The Throne Room, which follows, is also huge with more than 300 m². It was rebuilt at the end of the 18th century in a baroque rococo style. Here you will see portraits of Peter the Great and the empresses Catherine I, Anna Ivanovna and Elisabeth Petrovna. In the centre, above the throne, Catherine II is depicted on a horse in the Preobrazhenski regimental uniform.
The courtroom has retained the décor of Rastrelli, a resplendent Baroque style. All gilded, with an abundance of mouldings, mirrors and false windows, it truly casts a spell. Initially intended for official receptions, this room was later reserved for the bridesmaids of honour, and it was here that they dined at the great feasts.
You then enter the white dining room, where the great ceremonial meals were held. The white walls contrast in their sobriety with the sumptuousness of the décor, where stucco features horns of plenty and still lifes, and where (magnificent) bronze and purple crystal chandeliers cast strange reflections.
The Portrait Room, located in the centre of the palace, offers a superb view of the canal and the great waterfall. It is decorated with 368 portraits of women from different social backgrounds. The Italian painter Rostari was commissioned to glorify the country by depicting these women in national costumes.
You then enter the imperial apartments, located in the row following the second Chinese cabinet. The Partridge Room takes its name from the bird painted on the silks covering the walls, the cabinet and the alcove curtains. The authentic furniture dates from the 18th century.
In the living room on the couch, you will be surprised by the lascivious character of this enormous sofa, which looks more like a bed. Catherine II would have received these two sofas from her lover Potemkin, and would have assembled them to copy Turkish fashion. She held real meetings in this living room and made important decisions.
In the empress's bathroom you can admire a very beautiful pink porcelain.
The Empress' cabinet is decorated with furniture and portraits of the imperial family. It was here that the tsarina signed acts of state. One can recognize Voltaire and Rousseau, whose enlightened ideas inspired the Empress throughout the exercise of her power.
The Knights' Hall was intended to accommodate the knights of the court and the senior officers of the guard. In order to bear witness to the authority exercised over them, all the symbols of power were kept there.
The Crown Hall is actually the bedroom of Catherine II. It is decorated with Chinese silk panels. Quite picturesque element: the pierced seat of the tsarina, golden and majestic, which thrones in the middle of the room.
Finally, the oak cabinet, which still contains personal objects of Peter the Great (books, a clock, a globe). It is decorated with oak panelling carved by Nicolas Pineau in the years 1718-1720. The architect Jean-Baptiste Leblond, the first architect of the palace, designed this room, the only one that has survived.
The gardens of the Peterhof estate also offer a number of wonders and are dotted with small palaces, statues and fountains.
Information on PETERHOF PALACE
Grand Palais: Tuesday to Sunday 10.30am-6pm. Closed on the last Tuesday of the month. 1,000 RUB. Tickets to be booked in advance.
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