The world-famous "capital of fountains" or "Russian Versailles" was founded by Peter I. Construction of the palace and park ensemble began in the early 1700s. The first palaces and pavilions were erected, parks were laid out and a network of fountains constructed. These were later repeatedly expanded and modified. After the revolution the main summer residence of the Russian emperors became state property and by 1941 ten museums of art and history had been opened on its premises. During the war of 1941-45, Peterhof was razed to the ground by the Nazis. Photos of the damage can be seen in the grounds. As soon as the Nazis were expelled restoration work began to return the ensemble to its former splendour. The first fountain began to operate once more in 1946. The Hermitage pavilion reopened in 1952 and the Great Palace in 1964. In 1966 the Great Cascade was fully reconstructed.
The centrepiece of the Peterhof ensemble is the Great Palace, which stands on a natural terrace facing the sea. The original building was completed in 1725, but when Empress Elizabeth came to the throne she wanted a more grandiose palace and ordered the architect Rastrelli to reconstruct the palace. The interiors of the palace - the Throne Hall, Peter I's oak-panelled study, the Chinese Lobbies, the Portrait Hall, the White Dining-Room, and others - are all master pieces of decorative and applied art.
The picturesque parks play an important part in the Peterhof ensemble. These include the regular Upper Gardens, the Lower Park, the gardens of Venus and Bacchus and the landscaped English and Meadow Parks, amongst others.
However it is Peterhof’s unique network of fountains which has brought it worldwide acclaim. The better-known Great Cascade, consisting of 64 fountains (the largest of which is Sampson Tearing Open the Jaws of the Lion), is the work of the sculptor Mikhail Kozlovsky. There are over 200 sculptures lining the Great Cascade designed by many of the most famous sculptors of the time. The Avenue of Fountains, the Fountain of Marble Benches, the Chessboard Hill, the Golden Hill, the Pyramid fountain and the Sun fountain are a few of the spectacular fountains in the lower gardens. There is a total of 4 cascades and 144 fountains in Peterhof’s parks.
In the lower gardens there are several pavilions which can also be entered for a fee. On the shore of the Gulf of Finland stands the one-storey Monplaisir Palace. This was where Peter the Great enjoyed entertaining his close acquaintances. Items of 18th-century palace decor and Western European paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries taken from Peter I's collection are on display in the rooms and galleries that lead off from the central State Hall.
Peter I's relics, and paintings by Western European artists, can be seen in the Marly Palace on the western side of the gardens. The Hermitage Pavilion served as the prototype for all similar 18th century pavilions in St. Petersburg and Moscow. The interiors of the vestibule, kitchen and pantry on the ground floor have been restored along with the large hall on the first floor in which 124 Western European paintings are exhibited.
Peterhof is probably the one place that should be visited outside of St. Petersburg if you can only afford one day out of the city during your stay. The grounds are unlike any others in Russia, and the palace is just as magnificent as all the others. On a sunny summer’s day, a visit to this marvellous ensemble can’t be beaten!