Outside St Petersburg
A truly exquisite estate with gorgeous gardens, fantastic fountains and picturesque palaces, if you only have time to visit
one place outside of St Petersburg it should definitely be Peterhof. Founded by Peter the Great, construction of the estate began in earnest in 1714. Peter was heavily involved in designing the estate before choosing German architect Johann-Friedrich Braunstein to realize his vision. Other architects to work on the project included Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Le Blond, Italian Nicolo Michetti and Russian Mikhail Zemtsov. The result is a palace and park complex that matches any in Europe and has been called “The Russian Versailles.” The estate consists of the Upper Gardens and the Lower Gardens which are separated by a natural 16 meter high bluff. On this bluff is the focal point of Peterhof: the Grand Palace and the Grand Cascade.
The Grand Palace is not the most imposing building from the outside, but the interiors are truly spectacular in their lavishness.
As is the most famous feature of Peterhof: the Grand Cascade. One of the largest fountain ensembles in the world, water flows down steps and past the grotto to a pool at the bottom. The pool is connected to the Baltic Sea by a canal that dissects the lower gardens. The most powerful water jet in the ensemble, which sprays water to a height of 20 meters, is adorned by the statue of Samson Rending Open the Jaws of the Lion. This sculpture, originally by Mikhail Kozlovsky is symbolic of Russia’s decisive victory over the Swedish at the Battle of Poltava in 1709. There are a number of other palaces and buildings in the Lower Gardens. Meanwhile, the Upper Gardens is a more demure but equally enchanting area which is well worth exploring. Entry to the Upper Gardens is free. Entry to the Lower Gardens costs 300R ($11) and entry to the palaces costs an additional 430R ($16).
Directions: The most scenic way to get to and from Peterhof is by the ferry that leaves from the jetty outside the Winter Palace and arrives to the Lower Gardens. Alternatively you can take a bus or taxi van from outside Baltiiskaya metro which arrives to the Upper Gardens. Parks open Tue-Sun 10:00-20:00, Palaces Tue-Sun 10:30-17:00. Fountains operate mid-May to mid-October.
Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin).
Another entrancingly elegant estate, Tsarskoye Selo underwent its first real development during the reign of Empress Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great. The main architects she commissioned for the project were Bartolomeo Rastrelli, Mikhail Zemtsov and Savva Chevakinsky. With their help the estate became a beautiful landscape of serene gardens speckled with ponds and marble sculptures, charming pavilions and opulent palaces. The most spectacular feature of the estate, both then and now, is the exquisite baroque Catherine Palace, designed by Rastrelli. Unfortunately the building was almost completely destroyed during the Siege of Leningrad in World War Two, so the Catherine Palace of today is actually a meticulous restoration. But that makes it no less breath-taking. The interior is equally amazing. After all, the Catherine Palace is the home of the famous Amber Room. While the surrounding gardens might not be as enchanting as the ones at Peterhof, they have their own charm and feature some unusual buildings. Admission to the park is a reasonable 140R ($5) but entry to the Catherine Palace is a whopping 520R ($19).
Directions: A number of buses and taxi vans go to Tsarskoye Selo from Moskovskaya metro station. Park open Wed-Mon 9:00-20:00. Palace open Wed-Mon 10:00-18:00. Website: www.tzar.ru.
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