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The Summer Garden & Palace of Peter I


A 19th century statue of Apollo. An Italian copy of the ancient Roman original.The Summer Garden (Russian: Ле́тний сад, Letny Sad) is reached by leaving Nevsky Prospekt near Gostinny Dvor and turning north up Sadovaya Street. Then after passing the Mikhailovsky (Engineer's) Castle, the Summer Garden comes into view on the right. The Garden sits on an island formed by the Fontanka, Moika and the Swan Canal and has the railings of its northern perimeter running along the left bank of the Neva. It occupies a plot of almost 12 hectares, although it originally stretched down nearly as far as Nevsky Prospekt.

Often favored by Petersburgers for romantic walks, and summer siestas, it is a place that also attracts many city visitors all the year round. The Garden was created in 1704 by the direct decree of Peter the Great and it became an exclusive urban park for the elite. For over a century only the nobility and those with court privileges were allowed to use the Gardens, until Tsar Nicholas I permitted the public to enter, but only by adhering to a strict dress code which continued right up to the Revolution.   

 

A popular rendezvous spot for friends and lovers. J-B. LeBlond, who also played a big part in the design of the Nevsky Prospekt, was given the remit from Peter to plan the Summer Garden, but it was the combined efforts of several architect-designers, such as I. Matviev, I. Zemtsov and C. Schroeder, as well as the numerous unknown gardeners, laborers and serfs, who created Russia's first public Garden.

The Garden was laid out in the formal French style, mimicking Versailles - the geometric paths were flanked with rows of finely trimmed oak and elm trees, whilst numerous fountains adorned the open areas. Those fountains were probably the first park fountains in Russia. They were made of colored marble, Poudozh stone and wood.

The Fontanka was so named after water was pumped from it to feed the fountains. Apart from the abundance of fountains in the Summer Garden at the time of Peter the Great, there were many other amusements including music from a water-propelled organ. The whole area was a labyrinth of lanes surrounded by the walls of bushes, the embellishment of 32 fountains, plus various Italian-made statues based on Aesop's fables. Unfortunately, a disastrous flood in 1777 wrecked the garden, uprooted trees and destroyed the fountains. Reconstruction took place during the reign of Catherine the Great, who preferred the less formal English-style garden that survives until today. Sadly, of the original 250 statues and sculptured busts, only 89 have survived the rigors of floods, severe winters and war. Each winter now, the statues are protected from the elements by what bizarrely appear to be individual upright wooden coffins. In the southern part of the Summer Garden was the Swan Lake (Karpiev Pond) with a multi-jet fountain in the middle, plus there were several reservoirs for the breeding of water fowl and various kinds of fish.

 

Hyperlink - A lazy Sunday afternoon view of Peter I's palace from the granite Prachechny Most (Laundry Bridge) over the Fontanka

Planned in 1710 and completed in 1714, in the northeast corner of the Summer Garden, the Palace of Peter the Great was built by architect Domenico Trezzini. Compared with other palaces of the time, this was a very modest building and reminiscent of the style of houses for Dutch Burghers from the same period. Each of the two floors have seven rooms with a similar plan. Peter had the first floor whilst Catherine and their children lived above him. The palace was decorated with a frieze of 29 bas-reliefs by the German architect Andreas Schlüter, depicting scenes from ancient myths and victorious Russia's battles in the Severnaya (Northern) war. There was a small harbor to the right of the building where a boat was kept in readiness, but this was filled in with earth many years ago and the palace has since become a museum.

 

The machine in Peter's workshop (Tokarnaya) room No.5, shows the time, wind direction and force. It was made by the Dinglinger firm of Dresden.
 The red satin bedroom of Peter the Great
Peter's dining room

Amongst those who contributed to the decoration of Peter's Palace were, Mikhail Zemtsov, Andreas Schlüter and Niccolo Michetti. A characteristic feature of the interior is its design as a sequence of rooms. Most of the rooms have walls of red and green which host oak panels. Plus unusual original heating provided by Dutch tiled stoves in blue and white.

After the death of Peter I in 1725, the building was occupied for several years by members of the Imperial family and their courtiers. From the time of Catherine II's reign the palace was used by court officials during the summer months and as a result the interior was altered. Many of the original fittings have been lost, but since 1934 this has been a museum featuring the daily life of Peter the Great and where possible historical Petrine period relics have been replaced.

 

The palace now almost dwarfed by some of the larger lime trees, has retained its original external Petrine features. Not only was this the first palace in Saint Petersburg, it was the first building in the city to have piped water.

Inside much has changed since Peter's time, although the oak staircase has survived, as the upper and lower kitchens have. Catherine's apartments on the upper floor include the Green Drawing Room which contains period paintings, Petrine furniture, tapestries, china and glassware.

Looking directly acroos the Fontanka to the Palace - Hyperlink to 800 pixel image

The 'Coffee House' - Hyperlink to 700 pixel image

In 1826 this Coffee House pavilion was designed by Carlo Rossi and in 1827  Ludwig Charlemagne created a wooden pavilion called the "Tea House". The Coffee house was built on the site of the former Grotto Pavilion which was designed by Mikhail Zemtsov.

On the shore of the Swan Lake (or Carp Pond, Karpiev Prud), stands this giant vase made of pink porphyry. A gift from Swedish King Karl XIV to the Russian Tsar Nicholas I.

Vase from King Karl Johan XIV

In time the Garden gradually turned from the elitist place of the tsarist residency into a municipal garden. Gone were the original fountains, early pavilions, hothouses and flower beds, but the overall serenity lays protected under the now huge urban trees.

The World War II inflicted great damage to the Summer Garden and its premises. During the first days of the war the marble statues were buried in the grounds of the garden for protection. Explosions of bombs and shells damaged or destroyed many trees and German artillery shells were found here as late as 1989. After the war, restoration began immediately. Back on their pedestals went the restored statues and busts, new lawns were as green as ever and newly gilded railings were shining brightly.

At the present time the Summer Garden boasts 89 splendid marble sculptures. Whilst few are of particular artistic merit, collectively they evoke a romantic charm of a bygone era. The sculptures fall into three main theme groups: Historical, Allegorical (Truth, Beauty, Faith, Nobility, Glory, Victory) and Mythological characters. "Peace and Abundance" sculpted by Pietro Baratta c1722, is sited in front of the southern facade of the Summer Palace and symbolizes the victory of Russia over Sweden in the Northern (Severnaya) war and is an allegorical representation of the Niestadt Peace Treaty. 

 

'Peace and Abundance' by P. Baratta 1722, faces the 
                  Summer Palace and is one of the most valuable sculptures in the Garden.
Bust of Carlo Rossi(1775-1849), architect of many 
                  fine buildings in the city, including the nearby 'Coffee House'.
Ceres the Roman Goddess, by unknown sculptor early 18th century.

 

Another series of sculptures symbolizes different times of the day : Goddess of Dawn, "Aurora", "Noon", "Sunset" and "Night". Whilst Statues "Navigation" and "Glory" symbolize the victory in the Northern war.

The earliest and one one the most distinguished statues in the Garden is the magnificent sculptural group "Psyche and Cupid", representing a scene from a poetic legend where the son of Venus, Cupid lays sleeping and his lover called Psyche, holds a lamp above his face..

Immobile on their pedestals are the busts or statues of Roman Emperors Julius Caesar, Augustus, Claudius, his wife Agrippina and Nero their stepson, Polish King Jan Sobieski, Queen Christiana of Sweden, and ancient Greek military leader Alexander the Great, to name a few. 

Cupid and Psyche, prior to restoration.

 

Ivan Krylov and hyperlink to a 640x474 image

In front of the "Tea house" stands a statue of a famous Russian fabulist Ivan Krylov designed by Piotr Klodt (The same person who designed the stallions on Nevsky's Anichkov Bridge). The pedestal of the monument is decorated with bas-relief compositions designed by the painter A. Agin and representing various characters from Krylov's fables. 

The Neva side of the Garden has a line of railings made from gold-tipped wrought-iron spears, which are supported by 36 pink granite columns. The fence is now listed as a Heritage Landmark by UNESCO. One of the gates is shown here, with golden motifs complementing the grille. This world renowned work of art was created 1770-54 by architect Peter Egorov and Yuri Velten whose German father came to St. Petersburg as a master chef for Peter the Great in 1703. The appearance of this sturdy fence was altered in the late 1860s when a chapel, commemorating the unsuccessful terrorist attempt to assassinate Alexander II in the Summer Garden on April 4th 1866, was built right in the face close to the entrance of the park. The chapel was destroyed in 1930, and the fence was later restored to its pre-1866 form.

One of the gates within the railings on the Neva side of the Garden.

Open Hours: Nov-Apr: 8am-8pm daily; May-Oct: 8am-10pm daily; closed mid to end April

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