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Petergof, St Petersburg

PETERGOF

This most visually stunning of the tsarist palaces around St Petersburg was first built by Peter the Great, although it was constantly improved upon over the years by his successors to create the astounding ensemble seen today. Comparisons to Versailles abound and it’s easy to see why – the sheer scale of the main palace and its incredible garden were heavily influenced by Louis XIV’s own summer residence, although the centrepiece, the Grand Cascade, is all Peter’s own work. While Petrodvorets is the most popular day trip from St Petersburg for visitors, it’s still one undiminished by mass tourism and the fact that it’s accessible by hydrofoil from St Petersburg makes it a hugely enjoyable day trip.
The vast palace and grounds you see today are a far cry from the original cabin Peter the Great had built here to oversee construction of this Kronshtadt naval base. He liked the place so much that he built a villa, Monplaisir, and then a whole series of palaces across an estate originally called Peterhof, which has been called Petrodvorets (pet-ra-dvar-yets; Peter’s Palace) since 1944. All are set within a spectacular
ensemble of gravity-powered fountains that are now the site’s main attraction.

While Petrodvorets was sadly left in ruins by the Germans in WWII (what you see is largely a reconstruction, the main palace being completely gutted with only some of its walls left standing), it suffered heaviest damage under Soviet bombing raids in December 1941 and January 1942 (according to more recent historians). Hitler, abandoning his hopes for a New Year’s victory celebration inside St Petersburg’s Astoria Hotel, planned to throw a party here and, as with the Astoria, he drew up pompous invitations. Stalin ordered the place be heavily attacked to thwart this.

Inexplicably, each museum within the estate has different closing days, and some are closed or open only on weekends from October to May.
All the museums are open Friday to Sunday, so if at all possible come on a Friday as the place is swarming with visitors at weekends.
All the attractions charge separate admissions. Admission to the grounds is payable at the cash booths on the jetty (for those arriving by boat) and outside the gates leading to the Grand Cascade if you come by land.

The uncontested centrepiece is the Grand Cascade and Water Avenue, a symphony of over 140 fountains and canals partly engineered by Peter himself.
The central statue of Samson tearing open a lion’s jaws celebrates – as so many things in St Petersburg also do – Peter’s victory over the Swedes at Poltava. It was unveiled for the 25th anniversary of the battle in 1735 by Rastrelli. There are trick fountains – each triggered by hidden switches (hidden, that is, by hordes of kids jumping on them) -designed to squirt unsuspecting passers-by.

Between the Grand Cascade and the formal Upper Garden is the Grand Palace. Peter’s modest project, finished just before his death, was grossly enlarged by Rastrelli for Empress Elizabeth. Many people suggested that Rastrelli’s interiors were so obscenely lavish that they were mocking Elizabeth’s shameless love of opulence. Later Catherine the Great toned things down a little with a redecoration, although not much: it’s now a vast museum of lavish rooms and galleries – a monument above all to the craft of reconstruction (which is still going on). Anything not nailed down was removed before the Germans arrived, so the paintings, furniture and chandeliers are original.

Highlights include the Chesma Hall, full of huge paintings of Russia’s destruction of the Turkish fleet at Cesme in 1770. Of some Transport Distance from St Petersburg 2 Direction West Travel Time About 45 minutes Boat From May to September, a fine alternative is the Meteor hydrofoil (R300 one-way, 30 minutes) from the jetty in front of St Petersburg’s Hermitage, which goes every 20 to 30 minutes from 9.30am to at least 7pm. Be aware that queues for people taking the boat back to St Petersburg can get very long later on in the day, so don’t leave it too late to return. Bus From Avtovo metro station you can take bus No 424, or bus No 103 from Leninsky Pr metro station. The trip takes about half an hour. Train Elektrichki (suburban trains) leave St Petersburg’s Baltiisky Station every 15 to 30 minutes throughout the day. You need to get off at the Novy Petrodvorets Station (not Stary Petrodvorets).
From here you can either walk to the palace grounds (about 20 minutes) or take marshrutkas 350,351,351A, 352, 353,354 or 356, getting off at the fifth stop.

Adv: Gold Fly – http://vkak.ru/shpanskayamushka.php

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