When Peter the Great visited Versailles he thought, “I want one”. I’ve always thought the same thing. An upside of being Tsar is that you actually can have one. When Peter returned from his 1717 stay in France, he began expanding on the small, for a tsar, island complex he called Peterhof, determined to have his own magnificent showpiece.
He had chosen this location to escape the heat of St Petersburg and keep to keep a strategic eye on the ships coming and going in the Baltic Sea. He designed a summer getaway, over looking the sea, called Monplaisir. It was his favorite residence. After his trip to France he decided to expand the compound and started work on his Grand Palace and the hundreds of fountains surrounding it.
Though his intention was to rival Versailles, he actually kept the building relatively simple. His daughter, Empress Elizabeth and her heir Catherine the Great, turned it into a lavish ornate fantasy palace. That no one ever lived in it. It was used for ceremonial purposes to show off the glory of Russia.
Impress it did. For nearly 200 years, until the Nazis used it as their headquarters during the siege of Leningrad. They vandalized the buildings, ruined the fountains, stole the treasures, cut down ancient trees and dug trenches in the gardens. Shockingly little survived. So awful and complete was the destruction of Peterhof that it was labeled a crime against humanity at the Nuremburg Trials. Salvation seemed impossible; but almost the minute the Germans left, locals and experts started working on its restoration.
Hunter and I jumped on the hydrofoil and went out, along with thousands of other tourists, to see for ourselves.
On display are photographs of what it looked like at the end of the war. Very very sad. At the start of the war, staff was able to hide a few things. What you see today is only 30 % original. The rest has been painstakingly restored and renovated over the past 70 years. The recovery is still on going. The work is amazing. The Grand Palace has been returned to its entire gaudy gilded splendor. Most of the fountains are now working again. We loved it!
Though my current motto is buy experiences, not things, in my heart of hearts, I still want one.
(because all my photos were on my lost camera, all these modern day ones are from saint-petersburg.com; the post war destruction photo is from lindsayfisher.com)