Peterhof is the former summer residence of the Russian emperors, and now it is one of the most beautiful suburbs of St. Petersburg.

History of Peterhof

The history of founding of Peterhof is connected with the history of the Kronstadt fortress on the island of Kotlin. In 1704 Russian Tsar Peter I started the construction of this fortress in the Gulf of Finland, west of St. Petersburg. He frequently inspected the construction site. Usually he travelled by land along the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland to its narrowest place from where he took a boat to Kronstadt. Obviously, he needed a place to rest and two wooden buildings were arranged next to the pier. The place was called Peterhof, which means “Peter’s courtyard”.

Later Peter ordered to build a small stone palace right on the shore of the Gulf of Finland which he called Monplaisir, or “my pleasure”. The real pleasure was to see the Sea and the Kronstadt fortress through the window.

In 1715 Peter started the construction of the Grand Palace in Peterhof. Located on a top of a hill it was called the “upper” palace. A vast garden was laid between the palace and the sea and called the “lower” garden or “lower” park. Its design resembled French gardens in the suburbs of Paris.

According to the memoirs of the courtiers, the first fountains of the Lower Park began working in 1721.

In the 1730’s Anna I ruled Russia. Being a great admirer of hunting, she spent a lot of time in Peterhof in summer.

The next Russian Empress Elizabeth I loved Peterhof. The “upper’ palace was completely rebuilt in 1746 by the Italian Architect F. B. Rastrelli.

Catherine II preferred another residence - Tsarskoe Selo. Nevertheless, during her reign, a road was built between St. Petersburg and Peterhof, and in 1791 the new English Palace (now only ruins remain) was completed.

Paul I and Alexander I didn’t do any significant changes in Peterhof.

Nicholas I of Russia and his family spent almost each summer in Peterhof. As a result, the first serious renovation of the residence was done in that period, the 1830s-40s. Nicholas I ordered to arrange an English landscape park next to Peterhof, he named it - Alexandria Park, in honor of his wife – Empress Alexandra. A small Cottage palace was built in Alexandria. Usually Nicholas and his family stayed there.

The first railway road between St. Petersburg and Peterhof was finished in July 1857. Alexander II and his family could travel to the summer residence by train.

In the late XIX - early XX centuries, receptions of the prominent guests took place in Peterhof. In particular, King of Siam and the Kaiser of Germany were greeted there. Before the First World War, in 1914, French President Poincare visited Peterhof.

The last Russian Emperor Nicholas II and his family stayed in Peterhof frequently. Peterhof had become a small suburban town by that time. The first tennis court, the first bike paths, the Yacht Club and the first power station appeared in Peterhof in those days.

After the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, a museum was opened in Peterhof.

In 1941, Peterhof was occupied and suffered significant damage. The German invaders set up an anti-airborne defense in Lower Park and Alexandria. They installed artillery batteries, set up pillboxes, some of the palaces were rearranged into headquarters, and the Cottage Palace was used as a hospital. Many buildings were destroyed and parks were badly damaged as a result of exchange of heavy artillery fire and bombing.

The restoration of the palace and park complex of Peterhof began immediately after the war. Though some palaces are still waiting for their turn to be restored, for example, the Lower Dacha of Nicholas II.

Peterhof attractions

Top attractions of Peterhof include the Grand Palace, the Lower Park with numerous fountains, Monplaisir Palace, the Marly Palace, the Upper Peterhof Gardens and Alexandria Historical Park.

Grand Palace

The Grand Peterhof Palace was started in 1715. Originally it was designed by a French architect Jean-Baptiste Alexandre Le Blond.

The palace was greatly changed in the middle of the 18th century, during the reign of Elizabeth I. She invited an Italian Architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli. The palace was redesigned in baroque style. Also, the building became larger.

Interiors of the palace are small, but beautiful. The most noteworthy interior is the former Study Room of Peter I.

The Palace has preserved its design almost without any changes since the days of Elizabeth I.

During the Second World War, the Grand Palace was almost destroyed. In 1951, restoration began, and the first restored halls were opened in 1964.

Park, Gardens & fountains

The Lower Park, also known as Peterhof Gardens, was laid out in 1714. The French architect J.-B. Le Blond was in charge of the work.
In 1716, Peter traveled abroad and bought a lot of trees and flowers for his Peterhof Gardens during that trip. Linden trees were purchased in Amsterdam, elms and maples were brought from Moscow province, beech trees were brought from Rostov, apple trees were delivered from Sweden, cedars were brought from Siberia.

Some statues for the decoration of the fountains were made in Rome. The fountain craftsmen were invited from Europe - brothers Giovanni and Giuliano Barratini from Italy, Paul Sualem from France.

The Lower Park is designed as a French Regular park. It has a symmetrical arrangement of alleys, fountains, canals and garden pavilions.

Strictly in the middle of the park there is the Naval Canal, it divides the park into two equal parts, they are distinguished as the Eastern and the Western parts. The Naval Canal interconnects the Grand Palace (Upland Chambers) and the sea.

The Grand Cascade was built on this Canal in 1723.

In Peter’s days, the Cascade was decorated with 16 sculptures (12 months and 4 ancient gods) made of lead. They were designed by J.-B. Le Blond and were cast in England. They faded quickly, and in 1735, Anna I ordered to replace them with new ones.

The main fountain of the Grand Cascade is “Sampson”. It is assumed that Samson, tearing the mouth of a lion, depicts the struggle of Russia against Sweden - the day of the Battle of Poltava took place on the day of Saint Sampson, and the lion is the symbol of Sweden.

Originally, the statue was made of lead. In the beginning of the 19th century, it was replaced with a bronze one. The author of the work was the famous sculptor Kozlovsky. It was destroyed during the WWII. Today, you can see a copy made by the sculptor Simonov in 1947.

In the western part of the Park and towards the Marley Palace, there are the Golden Mountain and the Lion cascades, the Eva fountain and others.

In the eastern part of the park towards the Monplaisir Palace, there are the Chess Mountain cascade, the Adam fountain, the Roman fountains and many others.

The water suppling system of Peterhof fountains is of special interest, it was created by the Russian engineer Vasily Tuvolkov in the time of Peter the Great. It has been preserved to our days almost without any changes. Unlike traditional fountain systems which employ pumps in order to feed fountains with water, the water-supplying system of the Lower Park is operated by natural gravity, pumps or water towers are not used. This huge hydraulic structure with a total length of 25 km needs about 3600 cubic meters of water per hour.

Monplaisir Palace

Monplaisir was Peter's favorite palace in Peterhof. “Monplaisir” is a word of French origin, it means "my pleasure". The palace was built in Dutch style and resembles a house in Saardam (Zaardam or Zaandam), where Peter the Great lived in 1697. By the way, the house has survived to our days - Сzaar Peterhuisje can be seen in the Zaans Museum

During his frequent visits to Peterhof, Peter mostly stayed in Monplaisir. There he met guests and had friendly parties with his confidants. He also enjoyed taking Monplaisir bath-house.

Nowadays this small palace boasts a number of interiors which date back to the early 18th century. The main hall of the palace is decorated with English-style oak panels. A remarkable collection of Chinese porcelain is represented in the Lacquer cabinet. The palace houses a collection of Dutch marine paintings which Peter purchased in Amsterdam. The personal belongings of the Emperor have also been preserved.

Opening hours of Peterhof museum:

Peterhof Lower park: from 09:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Peterhof Grand Palace: from 10:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Peterhof Grand Palace is closed: on Monday and on last Tuesday of each month.

The museum closes at 5.00 pm on holidays and preceding days.

Timetable is subject to change without prior notice.

Questions & Answers

How to get to Peterhof?

Located in about 30 km to the west from St. Petersburg, Peterfoh can be reached by car, bus, commuter train and hydrofoil.