Peterhof (or Peter's Court in German) served as Peter the Great’s personal landing during the later part of his reign as Tsar of Russia. A cluster of breathtaking palaces, the biggest overlooking a lush French formal garden with numerous fountains (all gravity-fed), the locale has been described as the “Russian Versailles.”
Situated on a 16-meter (55-foot) bluff overlooking Kotlin Island (today’s Kronstadt naval base), the site was selected by Peter in 1705 as a landing for ships that would take him on state excursions to Europe. At the time St. Petersburg was hardly two years old, many of its buildings were just barely under construction, and the Great Northern War was ongoing with Sweden. However, the waters off the palace site were sufficiently deep to allow the site to serve as a state reception manor.
After Peter defeated King Charles of Sweden he began construction in the new capital and broke ground for his summer palace called “Monplaisir” or “My Pleasure” in 1714. In 11 years the earliest of the Peterhof palace was erected. Initially designed by Braunstein, later modified by Jean-Baptiste LeBlonde and then by Niccolo Michetti into a Baroque-structure that still stands near the shore. After Peter’s death, the palace was preserved as a private museum dedicated to the Tsar.
Unfortunately the Peterhof complex was was badly damaged during the German occupation at the Siege of Leningrad, yet it has been restored to the most to its original state. Among the other beauties of the complex are the Marly Palace, a Russian replica of the French Château de Marly at Marly le Roi, that served as a repository for Tsar Peter’s many collections. It took until 1982 before the building could again house exhibits and still serves the important purpose of protecting the Upper Gardens from the winds coming off the Gulf of Finland.
Another highlight is the Grand Palace built by Peter’s daughter Elizabeth who brought Bartolomeo Rastrelli that created a new extravagant baroque building between 1747 and 1752. During the siege of Leningrad, the palace was almost completely destroyed, it took 7 years to restore and it was reopened in 1964.
The Samson Fountain, dating back to 1735 and depicting the Greek hero tearing apart the mouth of a lion, had a similar fate. Symbolizing the defeat of the Swedes (which used the lion as an emblem), the statue was badly damaged by the retreating Germans, yet was quickly restored by 1947.
Of course, the greatest fountain at Peterhof is the Grand Cascade. This work of art was modeled on an existing French fountain. It extends downward from the Samson Fountain toward the Baltic Sea. What is more, all of the Peterhof fountains operate without the use of pumps, water is supplied from natural springs. Thus the artistic achievement of the Peterhof is a must-see attraction when visiting St. Petersburg.